Makati City Mayor Mar-Len Abigail “Abby” Binay could very well be any writer’s dream interviewee. For one, she’s raw and real. She has no pretensions and is unafraid to show her true colors. She says what’s on her mind—revealing her resoluteness, her passion, and her smarts. Unguarded moments show her softer side, as she chitchats with her staff and pokes fun at herself glamming up for a magazine shoot, and then proceeding straight to her duties as a mayor. “Pwede kaya akong mag-house-to-house ng naka-makeup? ‘Nag-prepare po ako para sa inyo. Nagpa-makeup talaga ako’,” she tells the people in the room, as if addressing the people of Makati. “`Yun nga lang, baka bukas `di na nila ako makilala! (But they might not recognize me tomorrow),” she says laughing. She explains to this writer that she has a daily flesh-pressing schedule in the barangays, to endorse the team she’s running with in the forthcoming elections.
After serving three terms as congressman and one term as mayor, one can see that Mayor Abby has grown accustomed to being in the public eye. She surmises that years of studying in UP Los Baños, where she finished BS Human Ecology, Major in Human Settlements Planning, and in Ateneo Law School, where she took up Law, served her well. Studying in those two schools exposed her to a wide spectrum of personalities and persuasions. She can be masa or alta, depending on who she’s talking to.
Mayor Abby practically grew up in politics. She was 11 years old when her father, Jejomar Binay, started working as a human rights lawyer and was very active during the era of Martial Law. Public service became a normal part of their life when the patriarch won the mayoralty post in Makati and served from 1988 to 1998 and from 2001 to 2010. Her mother, Dr. Elenita Binay, served as city chief from 1998 to 2001. Suffice it to say, politics had been a usual part of the discourse in the Binay household. Mayor Abby is second in a brood of five.
Despite the early exposure, Mayor Abby admits that it was only belatedly in life that she decided to enter politics. “I didn’t really see myself in politics,” she tells this writer. “Even my dad didn’t see me in politics. It was only in 2005 when I’ve decided that I wanted to run for public office,” she says. Her first foray into politics was in 2007, when she won as Representative of the 2nd District of Makati; she served for two more terms after that.
The then-lady legislator was planning to retire from politics after her nine-year tenure, but fate had other plans. The Office of the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal and perpetual disqualification of her brother, then-Mayor Junjun Binay, in connection with the administrative case he was facing over the allegedly overpriced construction of the Makati City Hall Building II. “We had to rethink whether it was a good idea to make him run, because he can get disqualified during the reign,” Mayor Abby recalls. So in 2016, it was agreed that she will run for mayor. And she prevailed over Romulo “Kid” Peña Jr. in the elections.
CHANGING THE STIGMA
“How do you change the perception of people who hate you for your last name?” Mayor Abby asks rhetorically. “You’ll be able to do that, not by disassociating yourself [from your family]. It’s by making your own image not based on your last name, but based on your own achievements,” she remarks. “The hardest people to convince are the nonbelievers. I don’t disown my last name. What I’m saying is, ‘It is both a blessing and a curse.’”
The massive smear campaign in the 2013 presidential elections took a toll on the image of the Binays. Hence, the challenge for Mayor Abby then was to change the stigma—meaning, deal with the corruption issue.
The lady chief is pleased to report that Makati was able to get an “unqualified Commission on Audit (COA) Report,” a first in the history of Makati. She explains, “What the COA is saying through this report is we did a good job. We did what they told us to do. Our procurements and documentations are in order. Malinis ang libro namin (Our accounting book is clean)!”
For Mayor Abby, it’s not just a matter of continuing the programs that her father started, but adapting it to the times and making it better. “May pagkaambisyosa ako, eh. [I’m quite ambitious.] I don’t want to just fill in my father’s shoes. I want to be better. I want to outdo him,” she says. It’s a self-imposed pressure, she clarifies, because she’s a perfectionist.
One of Mayor Abby’s pride is the Makatizen Card. “It’s building a cashless ecosystem. [The Makatizen Card is a unified ID and financial instrument in one. You can transact online using the card—pay your utilities or child’s tuition, get your subsidies from the city,” she states. She points out that this will greatly help the city government in gathering data for their projects—for instance, find out how many senior citizens or students they have—and allocate accurate and sufficient funding for these.
The other projects she personally institutionalized are the free Wi-Fi in the entire city, the provision of newborn starter kits for mothers, free vaccinations, and diagnostic tests. “I’m institutionalizing the health programs so that we move towards preventive rather than curative medicine. We want now to raise a culture of residents that do frequent check-ups,” she explains.
RESPONDING TO THE TIMES
One of the major issues that Mayor Abby seeks to address is the shortage of public housing, due to the lack of available land, making it difficult for the city government to address the issue on informal settlers. “We have to convince private owners to sell their land to the government so we can build an on-site housing,” she explains.
Mayor Abby adds that one of the challenges they are facing is managing the migration of people from neighboring cities to Makati. “People want to live in Makati, so they can also enjoy the benefits of Makati citizens. This can only be resolved if the economies
of our neighboring cities are well. So it’s important for us to have good relations with our neighbors,” she says.
Disaster preparedness should be a main issue of concern. Since a portion of the West Valley Fault line traverses through District II, the city government is encouraging the residents there to evacuate. “We’ll give them compensation should they decide to evacuate, because what we’d like to happen is make that area, where the West Valley Fault Line crosses, an open space, a linear park,” says Mayor Abby.
We have to convince private owners to sell their land to the government so we can build an on-site housing.
The city government has likewise provided hard hats and go-bags to all elementary public school students. “We’re one is to one with the hard hats. We’re moving towards making the go-bags one is to one as well.”
Mayor Abby’s administration has also recently procured two ladder 54 fire trucks, capable of reaching up to 18 floors. They have also purchased a mobile command center, a first in the Philippines, the mayor claims. It will emit signal in case their cell sites malfunction during disasters. It has a GPS tracking. They have also purchased rescue boats in case there are floods.
The City of Makati is likewise working towards building a school institutionalizing
a certificate course in Emergency Medical Services (EMS). It is in partnership with Yokohama, Japan. “It’s going to be like Universal Studios, which is very animated. So, you can experience how it really feels when there’s an earthquake or a fire. The ‘dream academy’ will simulate the experience so that responding to such disasters will become like second nature to the people of Makati,” she says.
Part of the city government’s efforts is empowering the city and promoting volunteerism, so that in times of disaster, they are capable of helping themselves, their community, and other neighboring cities. “We’re trying also to inculcate in our people that it can’t be just us who are prepared. They, themselves, also have to be prepared,” she stresses.
One thing about the audacious Mayor is she has the grit to make unpopular decisions. “Sa akin kasi, kung mali, mali. (If something is wrong, then it’s wrong.)”
HER OWN BRAND OF BINAY
Mayor Abby is quick to point out that her father doesn’t like to meddle in her way of governance. “In fairness to my dad, he has that level of trust when it comes to me running the city. If he thinks that I’m not capable of the job or I am not surrounded by people who give good advice, siya na siguro `yung unang magsasabi na, ‘Anak, `wag ka na tumakbo. Bumaba ka na. `Wag na ikaw, kasi medyo hindi maganda pagpapatakbo mo.’ (If he thinks that I’m not capable of doing the job, or I am not surrounded by people who give good advice, I think he will be the first one to say, ‘Abby, don’t run. Step down from your post. Give it up, because you are not running the city well.’) My dad has the opportunity to give advice, but he feels that everything is being run properly that he doesn’t really have to give any,” she says.
She is a different brand of Binay, in the same manner that no two public servants are alike, Mayor Abby points out. “I’m rather strict, I’m a bit square in a way. I want to get rid of too much politicking,” she quips. One thing about the audacious Mayor is she has the grit to make unpopular decisions. “Sa akin kasi, kung mali, mali. (If something is wrong, then it’s wrong.)”
She knew being ‘different’ could work for or against her candidacy, and the Mayor is willing to accept the people’s decisions wholeheartedly. “At least, I was able to run the city the way I want to,” she says. “I find it flattering that people openly tell me, ‘Alam mo, anti-Binay ako. Super anti-Binay ako. I hate your family. Pero alam mo, dahil sa iyo, iboboto na kita. (You know what, I’m anti-Binay. I’m super anti-Binay. I hate your family. But because of you, I will vote for you.’)”
One of the decisions she had to make was opening a roadblock that the residents had been using as a basketball court. “I knew it would enrage people if I do that, but I did it anyway because according to the map, it is supposed to be a road, so I had no choice but to open it,” she says.
She also instructed the clearing of sidewalk obstructions—a very unpopular decision that incensed some of the residents. “But how do you instill order in your community if you can’t make the residents follow simple rules? Instilling discipline has to come from you. We don’t look at political colors when we enforce the law. Hindi pwede `yung may pinipili ka lang or meron kang pinapanigan na (You can’t have biases, you have to be fair).”
You can’t have biases, you have to be fair.
But she’s quick to add that although she’s strict, she’s also democratic. “At a certain point, you have to be diplomatic when implementing the rules—have some leniency and consideration. For instance, you don’t just tear down the house of informal settlers. You give them six-months to look for a place to relocate to. If the person is not from Makati, he’s not a voter, let’s give access to free medicines, but only for a year—things like that,” she elaborates.
She’s also the type of leader who listens to the people. This can be gleaned in one of the ordinances in Makati, where they give P100,000 to centenarians. “Whenever we go to the barangays, we meet the elderly and they would tell me, ‘Mayora, 90 years old na po ako. Hindi na ho `ata ako aabot ng 100. Pwede na ho bang i-advance `yung P100,000?” (Mayor, I’m 90 years old already. I don’t think I would reach 100. May I get the P100,000 in advance?) Now, they have a option to receive the P100,000 via installment, so they can enjoy it through the years. That’s one of the suggestions I got by listening to the people.”
Her years of experience serving the city has opened her eyes to the realities of politics. “Your enemy today is your kakampi (ally) tomorrow. Your friends today are your enemies tomorrow,” she quips matter-of-factly.
The ongoing political battle between Abby and her younger brother, Junjun, is one of the toughest decisions she had to make as a Binay. “There are some political opponents that can keep it on a professional level. But the fact that you’re running against a family member, you cannot help but take things personally. We’re not just cousins or relatives, we’re siblings! I know that the conflict will not end after the elections, the saga will continue. It’s not like we’ll easily be friends after the elections. If it’s ever going to heal and when—I don’t know,” she admits.
“In my reflections, I always tell myself, “Explain to me why you want to run against me, when after six years I cannot run anymore, since there is a legal impediment for me to run. So I cannot understand why he can’t wait. If I’m not doing a good job in running the city, I would understand why you want to run against your sister. But until I understand where he’s coming from, it’s hard to accept why he’s doing this. He says there’s a public clamor. Really? What I’m saying is, if my administration has any shortcomings, then by all means tell me what are those, and give me a chance to change those.
“If [my brother] was on the impression that I was just going to be a titular, meaning I would just be like a puppet or a benchwarmer—that’s not my personality. Besides, I don’t recall that we had an arrangement that I will only run for a term. If I had intended to run only for a term, I would not have worked hard; I just allowed other people to run the show at the city hall. I would not have started on the long-term projects,” she says bluntly.
Amidst the negativities, Mayor Abby believes that there is so much to look forward to, should she win in the forthcoming elections. One is the subway, which broke ground recently. “I think this is very, very ambitious in the sense that this is the first mass transport that is being initiated locally; it’s not a national project. It’s a 10-kilometer subway that hopefully will be done in 2025,” she informs LEAGUE.
What the COA is saying through this report is we did a good job. We did what they told us to do. Our procurements and documentations are in order. Malinis ang libro namin (Our accounting book is clean)!
The free Wi-Fi will be done by the end of the year. They have started the roll-out for the Makatizen card. “We’re hoping to provide over 200,000 cards—we started out with our college students at the UMAK (University of Makati). We’re also moving towards digitizing our school records, as well as our pets. We are the first in Southeast Asia that has a microchipping program for all our pets. Hindi na pwedeng, ‘Ay, hindi ko aso `yan.’ (You can’t say, ‘That’s not my dog.’) The purpose of the microchipping is for us to consistently have zero-rabies incidence in the city. Microchipping is a way to make the pet owners responsible.”
As for the mayor’s plans for her political career, she insists that she doesn’t think that far ahead. “My dad often told us when he ran for president, running for public office is destiny. You are beholden to the electorate, if they really want you in that position. Kahit na gustong-gusto mo siya, kung hindi ka iboboto, hindi ka mananalo. (Even if you want the position so bad, you won’t win if people don’t vote for you.) So that’s how I think.”
Mayor Abby doesn’t know what the future holds. But one thing’s for sure, public service will always be part of their lives as Binays. — LAKAMBINI BAUTISTA