Bunye: The road to cityhood (Conclusion)

(On March 1, 2022, Muntinlupa City marked its 27th anniversary as a city. In this 3-part article, the author, who served as Muntinlupa mayor from 1986 to 1998, retraces Muntinlupa's journey from being a fifth class municipality to becoming a highly urbanized and progressive city.)

THE process of applying for cityhood started with the passage of a resolution by the municipal council, accompanied by the treasurer's certification to Congress that Muntinlupa possessed the minimum qualification as to yearly income. A second certification from the Statistics Office, that the Muntinlupa had a population of 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.

I mistakenly thought that with all the advantages of cityhood, the idea would be universally accepted in Muntinlupa. True to form, however, the local political opposition vehemently opposed cityhood. They claimed that cityhood was just a ploy to allow me to run as city mayor after 1998, when my third term as municipal mayor would have ended.

Also, they falsely claimed that cityhood would result in the immediate increase in realty and business taxes. They deliberately omitted the fact that in the proposed charter itself, there would a moratorium in the increase of any local taxes for a period of five years. This same group campaigned actively against cityhood during the plebiscite which was held simultaneously with the 1995 elections. Fortunately, Muntinlupa voted overwhelmingly to ratify cityhood.

The proposed cityhood of Muntinlupa was actively supported in the House of Representatives by Congressman Ciriaco Alfelor (Catanduanes), chair of the local government committee, and Elias Lopez (Davao City) and Ceferino Padua (Agusan del Sur), members. Senator Raul Roco filed the counterpart bill in the Senate. Senator Tito Sotto, who chaired the Senate committee on local government, delivered the sponsorship speech.

To give credit where credit is due, Majority Floor Leader Raul Corro, who was then my municipal attorney, quarterbacked the whole process from start to finish, from the solicitation of legislative sponsors to preparing the groundwork for the holding of congressional public hearings in Muntinlupa. He also participated actively in the public information campaign leading to the plebiscite which approved cityhood. If I am regarded as the father of the cityhood of Muntinlupa, I can affirm that Majority Floor Leader Raul Corro was its chief 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 reading on the very last day of the session before Congress adjourned. It was now or never.

I, then Vice Mayor Jimmy Fresnedi, majority of the council and department heads attended. We came wearing our best barong and Filipiniana attire, and stayed in the Senate gallery for as long as it took in order to demonstrate to the senators the town's full and unqualified support for cityhood.

Earlier in the day, a senator told me: "Your cityhood is as good as dead!" I thought he was just kidding. After all, he was my senior Aquila Legis fraternity brod at the Ateneo Law School. What we initially regarded as a joke became an actual threat. Our group was made to wait for hours and hours. We were there in the gallery as early as 10 a.m. For almost 14 hours, we never left the gallery, except when we took turns to eat our lunch and later our dinner.

At 15 minutes to midnight, my fraternity brod approached me again. He said: "Brod, you can still save your cityhood. That is, if you will agree that Muntinlupa's representation in Congress will take effect in 1998 and not in 1995, as 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 two minutes before midnight, a motion to approve Muntinlupa's cityhood was made and unanimously approved. When Senator Tito Sotto banged the gavel to announce the approval of our charter, I felt like Michael Jordan beating the final buzzer en route to winning his 6th NBA championship.

President Fidel Ramos, Muntinlupa's Favorite Adopted Son, signed the bill into law on March 1, 1995. He was not aware, however, of the drama that happened on the Senate floor.


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