Friday, October 03, 2008


Shortly after I had left the Office of the Press Secretary under Secretary Rod Reyes to return to the private sector, I received a personal invitation from then Congressman Heherson 'Sonny' Alvarez to join him at the DENR after himself having been invited by 'newly-installed' President Gloria Arroyo to join her cabinet as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). There, I was appointed by Sonny to run the DENR's Public Affairs Office (PAO) and work hand in hand with career government employees numbering around 60 in that department alone. This was quite a positive challenge for me, having worked with a much smaller staff at the OPS. After some time, Secretary Alvarez faced a tough battle with his opponents during the hearings of the powerful Senate Committee on Appointments because he had allegedly stepped on big toes both in the private sector and in government. In one such occasion as in several others, the department was on a head-on collision with then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza who had positioned himself to tear down the historical Mehan Garden, probably a favorite 'pasyalan' of our grandparents during their time. The purpose for this was to give way for the proposed (and approved) construction of a multi-level parking complex and to give way for the construction of a new home for the City Colleges of Manila (CCM). Of course, this immediately confirmed reports that Mayor Atienza was more concerned with the 'economic aspect' of the city rather than its historical character by preserving its parks and monuments. One also remembers how the equally old art-deco Jai-Alai building on Taft Avenue was torn down unremorsefully in the name of 'urban development.' Atienza was an overnight enemy of environmentalists and conservationists. This after repeated calls by no less that the National Historical Institute (NHI) to preserve important historical landmarks in our country - Atienza's Manila included. But as expected, all such appeals fell on the latter's coin-clogged ears. Well, now that the table is turned, and he now heads the very same department he once ignored and ridiculed, I wonder what he feels now that a huge chunk of the DENR's programs are geared towards 'green projects' and clamp down on too much urbanization of an already urban environment such as Manic Manila, and preserve whatever historical landmarks there are in existence? Trees aren't anymore going to grow on concrete. The murdered centuries-old trees on the murdered memories-filled Mehan Garden are gone forever. There we only now see smoke-emitting jeepneys and pedicabs, buses and taxicabs. Thanks to Lito Atienza's cross-eyed (as in doble kita) vision of Manila, a city that was better off without him. A 'friend of the environment' who acts just like its enemy.

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