Metro Manila in extremis: Decongestion, the only solution

By Buddy Gomez

Posted at Oct 30 2014 04:46 PM | Updated as of Oct 31 2014 12:53 AM

That Metro Manila finds herself self-strangulating, by way of unimpeded suffocating overpopulation, now in seeming irreversible chaotic demise, was not unforeseen.

The pleas and objectives of advocacies both from professional urban planners and demographers, in and out of government, as well as from deeply concerned private citizens, this correspondent included, have long been made available to a series of national leaderships, undoubtedly, as a sincere solution to a festering urgency.

Unfortunately, a government response of unconcern, misdirection and distraction.

Regardless of who occupies Malacanang, when well-intentioned and expertly laid-out plans, of unassailable beneficence, that require a gestation period and fruition running beyond a President’s term, the level of determination and interest invariably wanes towards the disappearance of attention. And thus, neglect!

So has been the character of presidencies vis-a-vis long-term planning, such has been the fate of Metro Manila which, by sheer neglect, has now deteriorated into an overloaded system, a mortally abused space, infested by crime and grime.

Breakdown, chaos and immobility are upon us and yet the national government cannot seem to find the fortitude to pronounce (mean it and implement it) that humane decongestion and intelligent population dispersal remain to be the only and ultimate solution. Only “Bandaids” are strewn to vainly stanch the pangs of our daily calvary.
 
In an earlier presentation,  I had the audacity to recommend the removal of the Office/Residence of the President (Malacanang, itself) away from the slums and ghettoes of Sampaloc/San Miguel/Quiapo towards an exclusive Manila Bay reclamation--to end all reclamations--to replace the Philippine Navy Headquarters (HQ) which irrelevantly luxuriates in a Roxas Boulevard frontage.

And, as suggested, a new navy town for a Philippine Navy HQ somewhere in northeastern Iloilo, opening towards the Visayas and West Philippine Seas (or northern Mindanao or even Ragay Gulf) can be developed as centerpiece of a new self-contained economic unit, a la San Diego or Norfolk, Virginia where all maritime-related socio-economic endeavors--shipwrights, shipyards, chandlery, schools, people, payroll and support/ancillary services, etc.--can blossom.

While gestation and fruition will, by necessity, go beyond President Benigno Aquino III’s term--with only 20 more months to go under his watch--a mandate today and a launch by the nearest tomorrow is the greatest gift that PNoy can grant to Metro Manila (and ultimately to the country): DECONGEST!

As a first imperative, empty Metro Manila of the presence of all military headquarters, encampments and personnel. I speak of the continued presence of all military camps and headquarters where they are still presently located, existing cheek by jowl in the midst of slums, ghettoes and enclaves of ‘informal settlers,’ the bulk of whom are enlisted men, their families and a camp--following population, rendering socio-economic services or simply hangers-on.

One wonders if the Department of National Defense possesses data concerning the housing situation of its low-echelon personnel’s living conditions in the present military camp’s vicinities. Do they know what percent of the enlisted men’s population are, in fact, “squatters?” It would be an ideally unassailable condition of soldierly service to the Republic not to be a “squatter.”

But the fact is that too many of them are. That is a sad reflection of how the national government regards the well-being of our soldiers! Come to think of it, is there an office in our military establishment that is devoted exclusively to the housing needs of enlisted men? And, if there is one , has it been free from graft and larceny. But that is another reckoning.

Why must military camps and their respective populations compete for space in congested locations already rendered irrelevant by time and circumstance?

By its very nature, the military is comprised of a command population: they follow lawful orders and obey. Mobilization can be seamless and, as a matter of course, discipline being at the very core of their service to the country, implementation of an order to relocate will be more efficient. Besides, the assurance of a superior quality of life--indeed a new and better life--for all souls affected and encompassed awaits them in the verdant hills and pollution-free skies of Nueva Ecija, in Palayan, Laur, Fort Magsaysay and environs, which a few generations ago have already been so designated for use of the military establishment.

Why insist on our Department of National Defense being situated in a very tight Cubao? Jointly occupying space with the Army HQ? Even the Pentagon, home of US military prowess, is not within Washington D.C. It is in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac.

Imagine, then, if you will, Quezon City without Camps Aguinaldo and Crame; Makati and Taguig without Bonifacio; and the removal of that continuing incredulity, Villamor Airbase, no longer sharing with the Ninoy Aquino International Airport runways, taxiways and space otherwise better utilized for the benefit of the larger public and hence the nation. There are at least half a dozen better venues for the country’s principal Airbase, but why insist on Pasay/Paranaque!

Decongesting the immediate vicinity of the country’s principal gateway for ease of entry and egress of international travelers will be rendered possible only if the Air Base and Villamor’s 18-hole/Par 72 golf course were transferred to a better location, elsewhere. That luxurious amenity that is not enjoyed by the general public is situated smack in the middle of the only space that can be reengineered to decongest the airport area.

Should PNoy decide that it is in the nation’s interest to launch the mandate spoken of--DECONGESTION--the next President, whoever that might be, will have space for slum clearance, for re-housing and urban renewal.

There shall be vacated spaces that will provide the critically essential footprint and foundations for transportation infrastructure. Space which Metro Manila does not now possess shall have been created while the social costs of overpopulation are alleviated.

The socio-economic engineering exemplified by decongestion and population redistribution can only be achieved by the national government---by the lead of the Presidency, no less. The private sector will partake of and participate in opportunities opened for them by government.

The transfer of government functions and institutions, therefore, that do not require a national-capital-region presence to venues away and presently unoccupied must be adopted by government leadership as a responsibility towards saving Metro Manila from sure demise.

What our leadership must bear in heart and mind is that the pursuit of a decongested Metro Manila, with an intelligent dispersal and redistribution of population, payroll, activities and services, marshalling these to vicinities which today do not exist, can be the single most job- and wealth-creating endeavor our country will ever witness.

There is labor and employment mobilization and its ensuing consumer spending. Ripple effect? New taxable properties--values and venues--will be created where they are non-existent today inevitably spawning new businesses and employment.

I cannot imagine a higher and more productive use of pump-priming and reengineered cash transfers as initial impetus that only the national government can render. It is indeed smart economics and therefore, smart politics. Decongestion of Metro Manila is an investment the national government can no longer afford to ignore.

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