The road to cityhood

April 3, 2022 Ignacio "Toting" Bunye 169 views

Ignacio Bunye(Last March 1, Muntinlupa City celebrated its 27th anniversary as a city. The author, who served as Muntinlupa mayor from 1986 to 1998, relives Muntinlupa’s journey to cityhood in this 3-part article.)

With the significant inflow of money into the municipality’s coffers, I made it a point to make a public accounting yearly of how much we earned and where we spent them. This was the start of the annual State of the Municipality Address, which is now the annual State of the City Address.

The minimum requirements having been complied with, Muntinlupa was now ready to seek an upgrade and to aim for the status of a Highly Urbanized City (HUC).

Why did we need to become a city in the first place, and a Highly Urbanized City (HUC) in particular? There are many advantages. As a Highly Urbanized City, Muntinlupa would be entitled to more autonomy. Muntinlupa would have its own city charter and would also be entitled to its own congressional district.

Becoming a Highly Urbanized City has other advantages, not the least of which is added prestige. It is an accepted fact that mas mabigat talaga ang dating ng isang siyudad kaysa sa isang ordinariyong munisipalidad.

And here is the most important advantage. Muntinlupa would be entitled to a bigger share of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). If memory serves, by the simple act of becoming a city, Muntinlupa’s share of the IRA immediately increased by P100 million yearly.

But preparing for cityhood really entails much more than just having a bigger yearly income or meeting the minimum 150,000 population requirement. It means strengthening Muntinlupa’s bureaucracy and preparing them to meet the challenges and responsibilities that lie ahead. It means energizing them, by instilling in them, first and foremost, pride in serving the public.

Thus, as soon as we earned enough, we started to adjust the salaries of municipal employees. We motivated them by involving them – together with the other stakeholders of Muntinlupa – in the formulation of Muntinlupa’s Vision and Mission. We involved them in bottoms-up budget planning. Batch by batch, we sent them through various in-service training programs. The results were encouraging. The employees became so re-energized that they founded a group called MEHPS or Movement for Efficient and Honest Public Service. One group even composed a song to celebrate their rebirth and renewal as public servants. As the lyrics of their song proclaimed, this batch of trainees wanted to become Mga Alagad ng Pagbabago or Agents of Change.

Preparing for cityhood also means engaging the whole community so that they do not just watch from the sidelines but instead become active participants in the local government’s activities and undertakings.

We engaged the private sector, the NGOs, the civic clubs and invited them to sit in bodies like the Bids and Awards Committee, the School Board, and the Anti-Graft Board. Former prison chaplain, Monsignor Ernesto Espiridion, chaired the Anti-Graft Board. One group – the People’s Economic Council, headed by newspaper publisher Joe Leuterio, even came up with a proposal which led to the founding of the Muntinlupa Polytechnic College – forerunner of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Muntinlupa.

We worked with the Muntinlupa Development Foundation which was active in community affairs especially in the implementation of the Community Mortgage Program – which facilitated onsite resettlement of informal settlers.

We worked with Zonta in helping combat domestic violence against women and children.

Well-meaning new residents of Ayala Alabang began to offer to help Muntinlupa one way or the other. Among them was the renowned architect – Felino “Jun” Palafox – who offered to draw for free the architectural plan of the future Ospital ng Muntinlupa.

Others helped even under extra-ordinary circumstances. At the height of the 1989 coup attempts against the Cory government, several residents with ROTC training, formed the “Alabang militia”.
Among them were the brothers Elo and Ted Javier, Migz Zubiri (now a senator) and Nonoy Andaya – (former congressman and budget secretary). Together with the local police, firemen, barangay officials, the “Alabang militia” blocked suspected rebel forces from accessing government targets in Manila and Quezon City.

Jimmy Fresnedi, then Vice Mayor, was also the Presiding Officer of the Sangguniang Bayan. Under his able leadership, the Sangguniang Bayan passed important ordinances on health, education, welfare and public safety. Altogether, they created an enabling environment which paved the road for Muntinlupa’s cityhood. Muntinlupa steadily began to earn the reputation as a safe, clean, caring and business-friendly community.

Realizing the importance of music and symbols in awakening pride and love of the community, I commissioned songwriter Renato Dilig, more popularly known as “Atong Balatong”, to compose the Muntinlupa hymn. The hymn which exhorts Muntinlupeños to offer “Lakas, Talino at Buhay” is now sung in all official city functions, especially in public schools.

I also commissioned Manuel Amorsolo, son of our national artist Fernando Amorsolo, to design the city seal. The seal features the Philippine Eagle, the biggest , strongest and highest flying bird of the Philippines. We chose the Philippine Eagle not only for its majesty but also for its known quality as a caring mother of its young.

The political opposition expectedly did not like the eagle. They claimed that the eagle was a symbol of my college alma mater – the Ateneo de Manila – and that the eagle in effect represented me.