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MANILA – After four decades in politics, 77-year-old Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada feels he still has many more years of public service ahead of him.

Asked if he was going to run for reelection, Estrada told this reporter that if he retires from politics, “I want to retire when I can still make love.”

The “love” that keeps Estrada’s fire in his belly is his love to make Manila regain its old glory.

Believing that a “quitter never wins,” he said he is on track in his effort to keep Manilenos stand on their own feet.

Left with a literal empty bag by his predecessor, former Mayor Alfredo Lim, Estrada found out that when he took over City Hall a year ago, the city is saddled with debts.

It owes Meralco (Manila Electric Company) P613 million (US$14 million; the city was in arrears by P3.5 billion (US$79.5 million) although its cash holdings were placed at P1.006 billion (US$22.7 million); unpaid bills of P33,633,186.06 (US$764,390) and unpaid previous year’s obligation (PYO) of P24,137,756.82 (US$548,585) to Maynilad Water Services for a total of P57,770,942.88 (US$1.3 milion) and tax liabilities for 2007 of P684,418,057.76 (US$15.6 million) with accumulated interest computed up to April 15, 2014.

As a result of the deficit, Mayor Estrada has stopped hiring casual and regular employees. “We don’t have money to pay for the salaries of new employees,” he said.

Like Hercules, Estrada has no choice but to clean Manila’s Augean stable.

Slowly but surely, he is trying to make a dent in tax collection, City Treasurer Liberty Toledo said. 

For instance in RPT (real property tax) and IRA (internal revenue allotment), the city was able to collect P6,236,237,807.81 (US$141 million) from January 2 to April 25, 2014. The past city administration had collected for the whole of 2012 only P7 billion, said Fritz Yenko, head of Manila’s General Services.

Aside from his effort to increase revenue collection, Estrada is also working to attract tourists to Manila. He said his recent trip to Hong Kong to apologize to the Hong Kong government in connection with the botched rescue by the Manila police of Hong Kong tourists held hostage by a  policeman was also aimed at enticing back Hong Kong tourists back to Manila.

“We are not talking about compensating the victims here,” said Ike Gutierrez, Estrada’s consultant. “The lives of tourists are priceless. Manila could not probably compensate the victims. But you know Erap (nickname of Estrada) wants to give abuloy (token donation) to those who died to assuage the hard feelings of the relatives of the victims.”