De-imperializing, de-magnetizing Manila with AFP as vanguard

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Oct 28 2015 11:56 PM

The possibility of relocating all the General Headquarters (GHQs) of all military branches of service away from vicinities in Mega Manila is a concept that is not really alien to our commanding generals.

In response to an earlier blog in this series which we are devoting to Metro Manila’s decongestion and population redistribution in the hope that we can trigger a truly serious actionable discourse about this existential necessity, I was favored with the information that during the incumbency of Gen. Rodolfo Canieso (Philippine Army Commanding General, immediately after EDSA I) he not only advocated the creation of new communities anchored upon the location of a new army camp away from pre-existing populated communities. He developed one such army camp up in the mountains somewhere in Panay island which is now, reportedly, a thriving community whose economic life is largely military payroll-based, backed by ancillary social and commercial activities. A new army town! Could there be more General Caniesos in the national service? There had better be.

Another example.

This brings to mind the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division present home community. Camp Vicente Lukban. It is located in Catbalogan City, Samar in what is perhaps the most congested strip of the Maharlika Highway which runs through our archipelagic length, as you enter Catbalogan from Calbayog in the north. One has to traverse that stretch of national road to believe how narrow, how congested and how unsafe a public thoroughfare can ever be. And there is no other alternate road! (Excuse me for being parochial and provincial, but my love affair with Samar is incorrigibly profound, animating and challenging. I sincerely believe that there is a tremendous good that Samar can render to the country and not enough thought has ever been devoted to that distinct possibility.)

There is a superior location that awaits development in a Samar that has long been starved for economic progress. We need a bandwagon! Local community leaders and the political authorities must consider relocating Camp Lukban to become the foundation of a well-planned new town. And I bet the Army Corps of Engineers can do it more effectively, efficiently and economically than any rent-seeking, bribe-giving construction company that operates in the region today.

There is an existing, very under-utilized military site at the highest point of the island, truly a beautiful site, gently undulating terrain with cooling climate, along the provincial road between Wright (Paranas) and Taft municipalities, from West to East cutting across central Samar. Surely, the Provincial Government as well as the City of Catbalogan can find a more beneficent use for the currently ill-used use space. I am unable to comprehend why the military hierarchy must punish the enlisted man and their families with substandard living conditions when productive, progressive and pleasant venues are available. Inaction simply worsens that accident-prone tightly congested strip of highway!

Anchors, aweigh!

In the early 1990s, while serving in the Cabinet, I had the opportunity to banter with Adm. Mariano Dumangcas, then the Philippine Navy Commanding Flag Officer, while waiting for his appointment to see President Cory Aquino. I asked him: “Nano, if you had the authority, where will you transfer the headquarters of the Philippine Navy?” His answer was “somewhere in the Visayas.”

This occasion was just about the time that I had likewise inquired from Ping de Jesus who was then already serving as Secretary of the Department of Public Highways. Another hypothetical question: “Where would you relocate the DPWH,” meaning its principal offices. Ping smiled and said “Mindanao….where the bulk of infrastructure projects are much needed,” or words to such effect.

You see, relocating operating centers of government functions to more relevant and more conducive sites has really been thought of, albeit only in passing, and I guess only when someone naughty and nosy, such as I, would bring the subject up. But there was indeed a genuine concern from some quarters over the forthcoming population explosion in the metropolis. Yesterday’s tomorrow is now.

Again, the irrelevance of a Metro Manila address for certain national government offices was beginning to emerge. But evidently, Malacanang was not to be bothered. In hindsight, I suspect Malacanang really never cared for Manila! Worse yet, the overwhelmed succeeding Presidential incumbencies did not realize it. (I have a horror story to share. Next time.)

Is it not always a political convenience to blame the President for whatever is wrong in the community? Is it ever fair to heap upon the Presidency, whoever is the incumbent, all the ills of society and all its failings? Unfortunately, the explosion of neglect over Metro Manila has occurred under the noses of the present dispensation. But since the campaign stance of the President’s political party is a segue to his chosen successor, the amount of time remaining ought to be seized, still, as an opportunity to lay the foundations for remedies. Why not declare demagnetizing, de-imperializing Manila a national mandate? It could be a vote-attracting political promise that would delight the provinces. And even much of Manila.

How about a Norfolk or a San Diego in Iloilo!

Please imagine, if instead of uselessly luxuriating in Manila Bay along Roxas Boulevard, the GHQ of the Philippine Navy were transferred lock, stock and barrel (but of course their bottoms, too) were relocated to an expertly planned new town somewhere in the northeastern coast of Panay island at the entrance to the Visayan Sea, right there in the archipelago’s strategic center. The Philippine Naval Base in Iloilo! Why not?

International ship-building and chandlery, maritime service industries and sea-bound leisure enterprises and all ancillaries are logical natural entrepreneurial progenies. Imagine what this wealth creating stimulus can achieve. Imagine, the impact, its economic resonance, the ripple effect that such an enterprise will evolve upon and for the communities of Negros and Panay.

The business and political leaders of the region, Senate President Franklin Drilon, presidential candidate Mar Roxas notably, cannot remain incredulous to the power of imagineering, the positivity of thinking out of the box! Regional local governments in Visayas and Mindanao ought to campaign and lobby, to entice and prepare to host government and private activities that no longer require a physical presence in the National Capital Region. It can be done.

History reminds us that it was in Manila Bay where Commodore George Dewey (May 1, 1898) sank and demolished Admiral Patricio Montojo’s Spanish flotilla. Is the Philippine Navy protecting Manila Bay or Manila Bay protecting the Philippine Navy? Isn't it time to ship out?

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Here's the rest of the series on decongesting Metro Manila:

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

Who caused the demise of Metro Manila?

Manila is forever, Villamor Air Base is not

A mass transit system that goes around in circles

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Comments and reactions are welcome: tgomeziii@outlook.com

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