Three decades ago, the Dirty Harry movies gave shape and license to the revenge fantasies that fed the law-and-order politics of the era. Is it possible that dramatic acts of resistance to enclosure could help launch a new politics of the commons today? That thought comes to mind with news reports from Manila, where Mayor Alfredo S. Lim has ordered the bulldozing of the bars and clubs that had encroached upon the famed Baywalk along Roxas Boulevard in that city.
Lim has a reputation as a straight shooter. When he was police chief in Manila he put down a Right wing coup attempt against Corazon Aquina, who took office in the peaceful revolution against Ferdinand Marcos, the former dictator. He actually was known as “Dirty Harry.” He did have reasons to eliminate the bars that were not solely environmental. They had been approved by the previous mayor, and were months behind in their concession fees. In the Philippines, such facts are suggestive in a way that is all too familiar there.
Still, Lim seemed sincere when he talked about the noise from the bars, the loud music, and the liquor on the sidewalk. More to the present point, he spoke also of eliminating ‘the obstructions that have been blocking the view of the sunset,” which is legendary on Manila Bay. This Dirty Harry was avenging not street thuggery but rather the view of the sunset. It didn’t hurt the drama that one of the bar owners was Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao, the boxing champ whose personal life has made him a subject of tabloid fascination.
For Filipinos it was a rare come-uppance for the politically connected. From a distance it touches something else as well. Is there anyone who has not had fantasies of siccing a Mayor Lim on the developers who had torn up a pristine landscape, or the jet skiers who had shattered the tranquility of a lake? Greenpeace tapped that region of the psyche in its early days, when it confronted polluters head on. Last summer Lim planted 150 fire tree seedlings along the walk – part of the 3,000 trees he’s going to plant around the city. A tough guy with a green heart.
One problem remains. The bars were loud, tawdry and obstructive. But they did bring life to the Baywalk; and life is something an urban commons needs, even by Manila Bay. It brings what Jane Jacobs called “watchful eyes,” and safety is not a small consideration there. Lim is talking about paying student musicians to play native instruments on weekends.
As for the bars, Lim has proposed that they move to private property opposite the Baywalk. Return to Mammon what is Mammon’s, and unblock the bay view.