YESTERDAY (March 1, 2020), Muntinlupa marked its 25th anniversary as a highly urbanized city. When I assumed office as OIC mayor in June 1986, Muntinlupa was still classified as a fifth-class municipality. It was earning approximately P28 million per year which was hardly sufficient to pay for the salaries of municipal employees. Thus, during my first two years (as OIC), I focused on growing Muntinlupa's income, employing best practices to improve tax collection. We were among the very first LGUs to computerize, to adopt the One Stop Shop system for paying taxes, and the Real Property Tax Administration system (RPTA) recommended by the Department of Finance (DOF). Thereafter, for years in a row, the DOF rated Muntinlupa as Best in Realty Tax Collection Efficiency.
Muntinlupa’s income grew rapidly so that by the time we applied for cityhood in 1994 our yearly income based on 1991 constant prices was P88 million plus -- way above the minimum requirement. At that time, the minimum income qualification to convert to a city was only P50 million for two consecutive years. The threshold was raised later to P100 million.
With our qualification, we were able to aim for the status of a first-class highly urbanized city (HUC). As HUC, Muntinlupa would be entitled to more autonomy (compared to a component city (CC)). A component city remains part of a larger government unit, like a province. On the other hand, Muntinlupa would have its own city charter, (thus independent of any province) and would also be entitled to its own legislative district.
Becoming a city has its advantages, in terms of added prestige, greater autonomy, better representation in Congress and, regardless of classification whether HUC or CC, a bigger share of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). If memory serves, just by converting into a city, Muntinlupa's share of the IRA immediately increased by P100 million yearly.
The process of applying for cityhood started with the passage of a resolution passed by the municipal council, accompanied by the municipal treasurer's certification to Congress that Muntinlupa possessed the minimum qualification, as to income. A certification from the Statistics Office, regarding population (at least 150,000), was also needed. The resolution was immediately provided by the municipal council which was then headed by Vice Mayor Jimmy Fresnedi. The local political opposition, however, strongly opposed cityhood in the mistaken belief that cityhood would allow me to run as city mayor after 1998, when my third term as municipal mayor would have ended.
The proposed cityhood of Muntinlupa was actively supported in the House of Representatives by Congressman Ciriaco Alfelor (Camarines Sur), chair of the Local Government Committee, and Elias Lopez (Davao City) and Ceferino Padua (Agusan del Sur), members. Senator Raul Roco sponsored the counterpart bill in the Senate.
To give credit where credit is due, Majority Floor Leader Raul Corro, then the municipal attorney, quarterbacked the whole process from start to finish -- from the solicitation of legislative sponsors to preparing the groundwork for the public hearings that were held in Muntinlupa. He also participated actively in the public information campaign leading to the plebiscite which approved cityhood. If I am the father of the Cityhood of Muntinlupa, Atty. Raul Corrois its architect.
The approval of the House version of the cityhood bill went without any hitch. But the final proceeding at the Senate was intense with drama and suspense. The cityhood bill was calendared for third and final reading on the very last day of the session of the Senate before Congress adjourned. It was now or never. I, then Vice Mayor Jimmy Fresnedi, majority of the council, and the department head attended in full regalia, expecting easy sailing for our cityhood. We could not have been more wrong.
What we all thought would be a walk in the park turned into a tortuous wait. Earlier in the day, around 9 a.m., a senator told me: "Your cityhood is as good as dead!" I dismissed the remark. I thought he was just kidding. After all, he was my Aquila Legis fraternity brod at the Ateneo law school. The remark, however, started to assume the proportion of an actual threat when we were made to wait for hours and hours.
At 15 minutes to midnight (!), my brod approached me. He said: "Brod, you can still save your cityhood. That is, if you will agree that Muntinlupa's representation in Congress will be effective in 1998 and not in 1995, as originally provided in the bill."
I had to make a quick decision. After consulting with Vice Mayor Fresnedi and the councilors present, I agreed to the proposal. At 2 minutes before midnight, a motion to approve Muntinlupa's cityhood was made and, thereafter, unanimously approved.
President Fidel V. Ramos, Muntinlupa's favorite resident, signed the Muntinlupa Cityhood Law on March 1, 1995. He was not aware, however, of the drama that happened on the Senate floor.
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