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PH ‘natural focus’ of San Francisco mayor’s Asian economic agenda

/ 09:44 AM February 20, 2014

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada at the wreath-laying ceremony at Rizal Monument in Luneta. PHOTO BY RUDY ADLAWAN

MANILA, Philippines—”I’m afraid people may have mistaken me for Mayor Estrada, but unfortunately, I can’t sing or act,” quipped the mustached San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee.

Lee was speaking Wednesday at the business briefing-luncheon that followed the wreath-laying with his Sister Cities counterpart at the Rizal monument at the Luneta ceremony.

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He spent a full second day of his four-day sojourn to drum up business and cultural exchanges opportunities and, it seems, matching Mayor Joseph Estrada quip for quip.

Lee, who always proudly cites the construction cranes currently up in his city as a sign of a vigorous economy, noted the number of cranes he saw in Manila and told officers of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry: “I’m afraid San Francisco just lost the crane count.”

On a more serious note, Miguel B. Varela, chairman of PCCI’s international committee, touted the   Philippines’ “good economic indicators” and efforts to speed up infrastructure growth and eliminate bureaucratic hindrances to doing business.

“We expect that these will be sustained and keep the country a good place for foreign investors to do business,” Varela said.

Lee reported on his city’s current “economic vitality, which is broad-based and includes information technology, biotech, manufacturing, financial services and tourism.” San Francisco, he said, is looking for mutual economic partners in the ASEAN, “and the Philippines is a natural focus of our Asia initiative.”

He saw Estrada again, this time at the formal renewal of Sister City relations, which began in 196, in the presence of the San Francisco delegation led by SF Sister City committee chair Carmen Colet.

Estrada explained that one of his biggest challenges is making services better for the nearly two million residents “of one of the densest cities in the world.” But he reserved most of his serious comments for the dinner he hosted at the Manila Hotel at the end of the day.

Meanwhile, he welcomed Lee by singing the first line of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The visitor declared, “I don’t have the confidence” to match his host.

“I’m the first ex-convict mayor,” Estrada said, “but there are other leaders who were also ex-convicts, like Nelson Mandela and Ninoy Aquino. We are all men of conviction.”

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Later in the afternoon, the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, led by university president Justice Artemio G. Tuquero, granted Lee the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Administration at an elaborate conferment ceremony.

At the formal dinner that capped the day, Estrada noted the potential of Manila’s young and educated residents, about a quarter of its population.

Estrada explained that among his goals were to solve the serious housing problem in his city, provide improved public transportation and traffic, make the Manila Police “Manila’s finest again” to improve peace and order and “maintain Manila as a top tourist destination.”

He hoped, he said, “to learn from the experiences of San Francisco” in making life and the future better for its youth and residents.

Lee remarked that he was deeply touched by his honorary degree from the Pamantasan, “which showed that both cities shared a commitment to providing quality education to promising youth as an investment for the future.”

A thin pamphlet entitled “Read what the world press wrote about EDSA II and weep for Philippine Democracy” was distributed at the dinner tables. It is a collection of quotes from the New York Times, Washington Post, Straits Times, Economist and other major publications critical of Estrada’s ouster as “unconstitutional” and a victory for “mob rule,”

On Thursday, the Lee and the Sister City delegation will attend sessions on recovery and reconstruction plans for the Visayas as well as disaster management calamity-prone areas.

They will also pay a courtesy call on President Aquino at Malacañan Palace.

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