Could a full-term Estrada presidency have saved Metro Manila?

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jan 06 2016 09:34 PM

What relevance does a rhetorical question have to the national malaise which finds embodiment in the seemingly inalterable condition of this Metro Manila of our times? First of all, there would have been no Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Presidency via a failed impeachment followed by another ‘people power’ ouster!

True, she would have been able to win her own Presidency, by way of a regularly scheduled electoral succession, without first ascending to that office on a route provided by an Estrada political truncation. Sequentially, there may have been no second Aquino presidency, upon whom all national and parochial ills, real and imagined, have been heaped. And of course, from which poor Pnoy would certainly have been spared. The elements surrounding the demise of his mother would have been altered had Mr. Estrada been allowed to continue an uninterrupted regular term of office. 

In this ‘what if’ scenario, Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada having been able to escape impeachment, his bacchanalian second nature may have been tamed. Matters of State would certainly have enjoyed obligatory attention. And who knows, his libidinous proclivities may have been effectively moderated as well, his administration rendering reasonable ear to his more serious advisers who were not thieves. And thus, proceed with pipe-lined projects envisaged to make Philippine life better with the country moving forward. After all, it is a fact that Mr. Estrada’s sober team also had good plans and good intentions, Presidential intemperance notwithstanding.

Specifically, I speak of the lost opportunity to have implemented a monumental Estrada “flagship” project specifically designed to alleviate and solve the evidently foreseen fast approaching enormity of Metro Manila’s daily calvary and her descent towards ‘the gates of hell.’ Now that disaster is at hand, there is no denying that there is nothing that we know now, and languishing from, that was not an existing factor of available information in past and present Presidencies. Non-partisan economic foresight and a concomitant sense of urgency have never been the best suit of our leading national political leadership. 

READ: Roaming Metro Manila

The solution that was not to be

Late in 1999, Mr. Estrada declared as ‘a flagship project’ what would have been known as the Pacific Coast City, some 80 kilometers to the east of the metropolis. Finally, a planned populated and economically self-contained community utilizing our long neglected Pacific Ocean frontage! (The Philippines is the only Pacific Ocean nation without a major population center/economic community fronting this magnificent seaboard!) 

Enter Presidential Proclamation No 233. This Estrada directive created and designated some 30,000 hectares of accumulated privately held land in Quezon province facing the Pacific Ocean as a new and special economic zone. He signed the Proclamation on January 27, 2000. A year later, Mr. Estrada was deposed. So went the ‘flagship’ dream. And so did Metro Manila’s opportunity to save herself from self-strangulation!

The proponent, Atty. Romeo G. Roxas, has succinctly described his “Pacific Coast City” project as a “grand design that is all-embracing because it solves the multi-level problems that beset Metro Manila residents and government officials.” By the way, Roxas’s concept was formalized by the feasibility and master planning expertise of the country’s renowned architect, Felino “Jun” Palafox, Jr.

We bring up ex-President Estrada’s having approved this flagship project not to make him smell like roses. It is accent to the fact that earlier instances of consequential presidential neglect have brought us to where we are today. Preceding neglect have contributed to incumbent government’s apparently increasing inability to come up with feasible solutions. After all the lip service, today, beyond belated blaring hysterical alarms from all quarters, there is still an absence of concrete, practical and credible solutions to Metro Manila’s agony. Neither from the presidential candidates nor from the incumbent authority. Of course, we are regaled with hot air and hallucinatory political placebos. (Whisper it to me. Gently, please. Will a new Constitution, a parliamentary form and/or federalism clean up Pasig River, solve squatting and collect Manila’s garbage properly? Sorry about that. I just can’t resist it being naughty!)

Once again, here is another iteration. Metro Manila is severely afflicted by uncontrolled and runaway population growth. That is beyond moot. It is an unforgiving ‘given.’ Metro Manila is finite physical space with nary an elbow room to spare. (Didn’t you hear, we are the most congested spot on planet earth!) My best metaphors continue to be riding crafts, whether sea born or land oriented. When overloaded, an elevator car stalls. A boat, sinks. Without intelligent direction, chaos ensues. Metro Manila has stalled and chaos is already upon us. I find it beyond human comprehension that this reality has continued to elude the basic common sense intelligence that our policy makers and executors are supposed to possess. 

READ: Manila’s demographic disaster follows 'The Big One'

Pragmatic solutions 

There are only two pragmatic existential solutions to this fatal famine of space in Metro Manila. That would be: 1) to utilize the one and only remaining open space available; and 2) to create out of the only populated space that can immediately be vacated, by Executive decision, for utilization as an indispensable component of space solution.

The Pasig and Marikina rivers riparian space must be utilized to become the foundation for viaducts supporting new intra-Manila highways and/or people-mover mass transportation. Both technology and models exist. 

READ: Imagineering Metro Manila

READ: More Metro Manila meanderings

The presence of military camps and their corresponding personnel and families have become an irrelevant occupancy within the National Capital Region. For the sake of Metro Manila and the enlisted men’s families who are otherwise consigned to being squatters/informal settlers where they are forced to reside by reason of their place of employment, the immediate relocation of these military facilities is an over-all beneficial mission. The military establishment faces a very practical patriotic duty it must not fail to perform.

READ: AFP faces 'Bayan o Sarili' moment: Saving Metro Manila

READ: Who caused the demise of Metro Manila?

READ: Manila is forever, Villamor Air Base is not

This twin action must precede the planned and managed exodus of occupancies that no longer require a Metro Manila presence. By force of irreversible circumstances, the over/ever pervading Manila-centricity of all political economy planning and general citizen preference has come to an end. Metro Manila has now become a dead-end destination. Opportunities for demagnetizing and de-imperializing Manila are therefore at hand. 

READ: A mass transit system that goes around in circles

Does Malacanang (or those salivating to occupy the territory) recognize the opportunities this political epiphany unfolds? Are the managers and elective officials of local government units, most especially major provinces and urbanized cities prepared to attract and welcome the coming exodus? Will these municipal entities be ready to compete with each other in extending invitations to the potential bearers of amelioration and progress to their vicinities? Do they, if at all, recognize that saving Metro Manila will cause the spread of more equitable socio-economic opportunities for new wealth to areas heretofore underserved? 

READ: More on the malaise and 'malas' of Metro Manila

It is not really too late for the incumbent national authority to take advantage of this opportunity and preside over, even if only to give a nudge or effectively preempt, the decongestion of Metro Manila.

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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.