OPINION: Metro Manila Woes: A Continuing Critique

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 24 2017 04:48 AM

Neither fault finding nor negative judgment, this is simply one man’s a continuing non-partisan critique.

There seems no end to my seemingly helpless inability to comprehend government administrations, past and present. Specifically, I am confounded by the approaches (and lack thereof, in instances) taken to confront the existential problems that beset Metro Manila. Let us encapsulate that succinctly under the catch-all umbrella of “congestion and infrastructure.”  It is now evident that none has worked effectively, much less efficiently. We are spiraling down to “doomsday.”  We should all be scared!

The absence of foresight, out-of-the-box thinking and political will have all conspired to bring about chaos and suffocation. 

Nothing about the deterioration of Metro Manila was not unforeseen more than a generation ago. Demographers and urban planners have not been remiss.  In fact,  they were all spot on! Should not the collective political decision makers, both local and national, be publicly castrated for criminal neglect? Unfortunately, there is no law penalizing imbecility!

Sometime ago, I had a brief conversation with a high-ranking career undersecretary in the Department of Transportation. (He may have retired by now.) I had the opportunity to ask him if within the ‘roomful’ of filed-away studies and research documents (his proud confident claim--that government has not been remiss in its endeavors towards problem-solving) they have ever considered “decongestion and population dispersal” as a solution to the Manila’s daily calvary. He had that perplexed look on his face. Would you believe, he did look surprised at the question. Anyway, he admitted that government had never ever given a morsel of a thought to “decongestion” and relocation of military camps as an omnibus solution!

Skyways over Rivers

All by myself I swallowed humble pie when I realized that advocating the use of the banks of the Pasig and Marikina Rivers was not an original idea, after all. As it turns out, during the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos (FVR),  the  concept of utilizing  the river banks of the Pasig and Marikina Rivers to host new trans-MetroManila elevated viaduct roadways was first broached by way of a trial-balloon press release. This was early 1995. Unfortunately the politically-hyped hysteria over Flor Contemplacion (remember the Singapore-based Filipina domestic helper who was hanged for the murder of a fellow Domestic worker?)  completely eclipsed the idea, never to have ever been brought up again under FVR nor  during the succeeding administrations. It is obvious that the FVR administration had other priorities than the fast deteriorating conditions in the National Capital Region!

Why do I bring it up again, untiring in my passionate advocacy of decongesting Metro Manila as the only solution available?  

Having passed over the Skyway towards Terminal 1 at the Ninoy Aquino International Aiport, there is a major portion of that very efficient stretch (excuse me, that is a President Noynoy Aquino accomplishment) that hovers over that marine channel, that river Estero de Tripa de Gallina in Paranaque. Goodness, it has been done! Should not replication then be contemplated?

And then, in another spot in the metropolis, crossing that bridge over the Marikina River entering Pasig City’s old ‘poblacion’ from the infernal C-5 highway, a new paved road hugging the bank will soon be finished, the last time I saw it. (It looks like a pedestrian walkway or access for tricycles!) I am unable to understand what utility that roadway can provide as succor to the suffocation of Pasig. I dare declare that is not what Pasig needs. Pasig existentially requires more efficient ingress and egress facilities, from and to north, south, east and west. The right-of-way free Marikina River awaits to be harnessed. That river’s non-use is a continuing neglect!

By the way, while I am at it. It is the 21st century and we still allow industrial barging along Pasig River. That is because warehousing and factories still continue to operate in those vicinities. These should have been relocated a long time ago. Should not those occupancies have been sited closer to the source of the barged-in raw materials, out there in the foreshores of Bulacan and Pampanga, by Manila Bay? These facilities can be taxed away! Taxation is not only for revenue-raising, you know. Make their existence in the present site so prohibitive, it becomes profitable to relocate. Besides, the space to be vacated can be reasonably compensated via the state’s power of eminent domain. And utilized for massive social housing, but I am digressing. Maybe a discourse at some future date.

Subterranean Railway vs River Skyways

My fellow San Beda College alumnus, Transportation Secretary Art Tugade, is the announced principal proponent of the subway. However, I do not believe this is his personal conception.  Somebody else desires a monument, using an economic stimulus uptick in infrastructure spending as an excuse. I wish no rain on whosoever’s parade that is. I am not against a subway system per se. But Mr. Tugade has to understand and accept that there are superior ways to spend PhPesos 227 billion that can address more effectively the problem we all wish for him to solve than a subway. And produce greater economic benefits! Art is an admired self-made man, bright and smart. I wish him all the success, untrammeled by bureaucracy, naysayers and critics. I happen not to be one of them. I am his personal cheer leader!

Please consider: There is reportedly a projected  daily subway ridership of some 300,000 passengers when the underground railway begins to operate. When will it start operations? All current announcements are wishful thinking. There is not a single subway project that was ever finished on time or on budget!  My guesstimate, assuming it is indeed an irreversible “go” by January 2018, is that work from first dig to ribbon cutting will be at least  8 years.

Over that time,  unless an intelligent decongestion and occupancy dispersal is successfully implemented, the population of Metro Manila shall have exponentially ballooned by a couple of millions more (by birth and by functional magnetizing attrition) that the subway’s projected ridership, by comparison, shall have been minimized and become threateningly ineffectual. 

Please find the time to browse through earlier thoughts on the same thread.

The Ultimate and Only Solution!

Here I go again. This time, a personal plea to Secretary Art Tugade and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Danny Lim.

At its barest basic, the malaise of Metro Manila stems exclusively from  ‘overload.’ The sane and logical solution, therefore, is to unload! What are you doing along this objective? Except for the dreamed-of River Skyways, new infrastructure is not the solution. You must first create space for the footprint of infrastructure, because there is no longer any available. That is very scary. 

Without decongestion and dispersal, there is absolutely no solution that will extricate Metro Manila from the “gates of hell.”  

Conscience and talent demand the irreversible and unremitting support and promotion of the physical decongestion of Metro Manila by an intelligent plan to redistribute population and disperse all  human occupancies that do not require a Metro Manila presence. (For starters: All, repeat all, military headquarters and camps must go. Their presence in the National Capital Region is now an irrelevance and a disservice to the quality of life for families of the enlisted men) And not to just to points in Luzon but to new population centers in the Visayas and Mindanao.

The quintessential objective of infrastructure is to solve problems, not to increase the per cent share of infrastructure investment vis-a-vis the Gross National Product (GNP), all by its silly self!

And before we all miss the point, political monuments do not solve urban blight and deathly suffocation!

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