(On March 1, 2022, Muntinlupa City observed its 27th anniversary as a highly urbanized city. In this 3-part article, the author, who served as Muntinlupa mayor from 1986 to 1998, relives Muntinlupa's journey to cityhood.)

I GREW up in the '50s when Muntinlupa was only known to the outside world as the site of the New Bilibid Prison. As a result, residents of Muntinlupa were often the butt of jokes. I remember riding in a bus coming home to Muntinlupa. When the bus conductor asked where I was headed, and I replied "Muntinlupa," I would often hear snide remarks from other passengers: Sa loob o sa labas. As a young boy, I was very annoyed. But I just said to myself: Mabuti nang taga Muntinlupa, huwag lang taga Mandaluyong.

After my graduation from high school in 1960, our family transferred from the New Bilibid Prison Reservation to my grandmother's house in Alabang. My father had just retired as Director of Prisons.

In the early '70s, Alabang was just another sleepy barangay of Muntinlupa. Most folks along the shores of Laguna de Bay were fishermen at night and farmers by day who tilled the fertile foreshore lands and planted them to cash crops. But soon, some started to find employment in factories that sprouted on both sides of the South Super Highway. Other residents sought employment in public institutions like the Bureau of Prisons, The Serum and Vaccine Laboratory, and in the public schools.

Alabang boasted of a few institutions that have become historical landmarks. One is the Alabang Serum and Vaccine Laboratory, which is a complex of laboratories that produce anti-smallpox, BCG, anti-diphteria, and anti-rabies vaccines. The SVL is famous for its serpentarium, which houses Philippine king cobras. The "milking" of the cobras, at times reaching lengths of nine feet, by a caretaker who has already developed immunity to snakebites, is something to watch. The venoms extracted from the cobras are then processed into anti-venom serum.

Almost adjacent to the laboratory is the Alabang Stock Farm where charolais and indu-brazil cattle and murrah water buffalos were bred. If one gets up early enough, he can visit the farm and buy gallons of fresh cow and buffalo milk from the farm. Up to the time of his death in 1945, my grandfather (and namesake) Ignacio O. Bunye, was head animal caretaker in the farm.

The first wave of urban development came to Muntinlupa in the '80s, with the opening of private housing subdivisions and similar developments. No doubt this was facilitated by the opening the South Expressway more than a decade earlier. Alabang Hills was a pioneer high-end subdivision. Benedictine Abbey School -- now called San Beda Alabang -- was the earliest Manila-based school to have a branch in Muntinlupa. The entry of Ayala -- which developed the housing enclave called Ayala Alabang and the adjoining Alabang Town Center -- provided the added impetus to Muntinlupa's development.

In the '90s, the second wave of development started with the entry of another business group -- Filinvest. Filinvest developed the Filinvest Corporate City, which featured one of Asia's biggest shopping malls.

Sadly, however, the local government failed to keep pace with the initial development in the '80s. 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 even for the salaries of municipal employees. It was probably second or third to the last among the 17 LGUs in Metro Manila. This cannot continue, I told myself. Thus, during my first two years (as OIC), 1986-1988, I focused on growing Muntinlupa's income through improved tax collection, using proven business practices.

Collecting taxes was not easy -- and very unpopular too -- but we did. We taxed previously unregistered and non-tax paying businesses. We tax-mapped previously undeclared and non-paying real properties.

We reformed our collection system. We made it easier for the ordinary folks to pay their taxes. We cut down on red tape to make it easier for businessmen to register their businesses and to renew their business permits yearly thereafter. We even introduced amenities, like the taxpayer's lounge. What used to take two to three weeks of processing time was now being done in 45 minutes or less. Muntinlupa gradually developed a reputation as a business-friendly community.

We were among the first LGUs to computerize, to adopt the One-Stop-Shop system of paying taxes, and the Real Property Tax Administration system (RPTA). Thus, our income steadily grew. For years in a row, the Department of Finance rated Muntinlupa as one of the best among the LGUs in terms of tax collection efficiency.

Muntinlupa's income grew rapidly so that by the time we applied for cityhood, our yearly income exceeded P400 million (15 times more than we earned in 1986) -- way above the minimum requirement for cityhood. At that time, the minimum yearly income qualification was only P50 million for two consecutive years. This threshold was raised later to P100 million for two consecutive years.

(To be continued next week)