OPINION: Subway along earthquake fault? Or a railway to Cagayan Valley, instead!

Buddy Gomez

Posted at May 26 2017 02:51 AM

The Philippine government’s intention, through its pump priming battle cry--“Dutertenomics” --to spend Ph Pesos 227 billion for a Metro Manila subway train system that  purports to  solve our population congestion in the National Capital Region prompts this review and yet another pained reiteration of a personal advocacy I have been waging for  more than two decades now: the decongestion of Metro Manila!

Last week, we posited: Will the subway solve Manila’s strangulating congestion? Is the subway the best and optimum use of borrowed PhP227 Billion? I answered: it will not! And it is not!

Any attempt to solve the festering malaise of Metro Manila’s overpopulation without the inclusion of an intelligent social-engineering plan to decongest and redistribute population will definitely fail. 

When the problem is ‘overload,’ the solution is to ‘unload.’  

Such is the nature of physical space. Physical space is finite and Metro Manila has been bursting at the seams!  Therefore, any public investment in Metro Manila that tends to attract more people, an increase in population, will only further suffocate and strangulate the already flawed nature of our limited geography. In fact, the daily calvary of chaotic immobility has been upon us for quite a time now, without a scintilla of succor in sight. Infrastructure improvements, without people decongestion, will not work to solve the problem we call Metro Manila! (That is why I am vehemently against new and additional  reclamations in the foreshores of Manila Bay.)

Cost and Benefit: Ratio and Rationality

In launching the Duterte administration’s ‘golden age of infrastructure’ locally, as well as during the Beijing road show of China’s “Belt and Road” project, our  Socio-Economic Planning Secretary, Mr. Ernesto M. Pernia (National Economic and Development Authority—NEDA) was quoted  to have declared that the focus of ‘Dutertenomics’ is to “spur development outside Metro Manila.”  He accented his presentation with declared intentions ”… to encourage moving our Manila-centric development,” along with “the thrust of rural and regional development,” and “to spur new growth centers nationwide.”

Viewed from such commendable statements of intent, it is quite obvious that the veritable political monument in Metro Manila, the proposed Duterte Subway, is ‘none of the above!’ Why expend borrowed fortune to sink into a questionable subterranean infrastructure project?

Is there a more beneficial way to spend PhP 227 billion? I am unable to count the many other ways as I am sure there are, beyond my imagination. But I can contribute one example, also an example of thinking out of the box, based mainly on cost and benefit ratio. And rationality! Folks, you can figure this out easily.

Why not a railway to Cagayan Valley, instead!   

Let us imagine a railway system, for cargo and passenger with a terminus in Aparri that starts in Cabanatuan  in Nueva Ecija,  for the foreseeable future, and perhaps eventually connecting to Tutuban.  

This certainly qualifies as moving away from Manila centricity. And to further  substantiate NEDA and Mr. Pernia, decidedly, a railroad to Cagayan Valley qualifies for  spurring rural and regional development. Meaningfully, it will finally unleash the untapped economic power house that Cagayan Valley has always been, but albeit stunted by relative inaccessibility. Over the long pull, it can even open up the highlands of Apayao to new population that is gainfully employed!  

Alternatively, if a railway system to Cagayan Valley is found undesireable, how about a Central Luzon North East Express Way, the NLEX system now  falling into heavy traffic,   paralleling from inner Rizal/Bulacan areas direct to Cabanatuan and San Jose through a tunnel underneath the Dalton Pass all the way to the Valley? If you are up to it, please check your map.

It has become a nagging fixation for me that Manila’s density of persons per square kilometer stands at 71,263 ( the world’s most populated city) while Cagayan Valley is 120, and Apayao’s is 26! It boggles mind and spirit, and for me it is demoralizing, realizing  that Metro Manila has suffered  from neglect and the deleterious absence of foresight. Especially so because what we suffer  today was not unforeseen decades ago! Oh, but for politics and the corruption it spawns!

And why Nueva Ecija? (Density – 370 persons per sq. km.)  Because that is where the entire Philippine Army GHQ ought to have been relocated a long time ago. Principal reason for the creation of Fort Masaysay in Laur and vicinity. And I might add, so with the offices of the Department of National Defense. DND’s and the Philippine Army GHQ’s continued occupancy and presence  in Metro Manila is already an irrelevance. They can fulfill their mission without being in Metro Manila!

Such a relocation will make for a self-contained, ready-made economic unit, ‘lock, stock and barrel,’ transported to a new location. It is a package of  instant people, payroll, socio-economic services both direct and ancillary. New, vibrant, pulsating and socio-economically viably performing non- Metro Manila communities. They will offer the same, if not better amenities, a better quality of life than being in the midst of slums and squatter settlements! 

In that new location will arise new taxable property values and venues, where presently there are none, consequently bringing about businesses and employment opportunities.
Within the ambit of such framework, Dutertenomics ought to include the transfer of all military installations, camps and offices as far away from Metro Manila as possible. Truly, there is more benefit to the country for them to relocate elsewhere than the compulsory discomfort they concentrate upon a limited space when they do not have to. 

Imagine, if you please, folks. Pursuit of such a vision can possibly be the single most potent new wealth and job creation initiative the country will ever witness. The long journey towards rescuing Metro Manila from her present self! An inspired exodus of government entities and instrumentalities that do not require a Metro Manila presence. (A good many of them, do not.) Finally, a de-imperialized, de-magnetized Metro Manila in the service of the nation! Dutertenomics should have thought of Metro Manila decongestion as Job No. 1!   Mind you, socio-economic engineering exemplified by decongestion and population redistribution can only be achieved by government taking the lead or at least showing the  way. The private sector is never shy to partake of and participate in opportunities opened to them by government.   

Community  leaders, local politicians and government officeholders in the relevant provinces ought to be lobbying for the opportunity to host relocating Metro Manila entities. This exodus will have to happen sooner or later if Metro Manila is to survive self-strangulation.

What do we do with ensuing new Metro Manila space?

Yes, about the vacated spaces. Definitely, no more malls! Without the military camps, we shall have created out of once unavailable space, venues for parks and recreation, for social housing, and footprints of infrastructure improvements devoted to a saner vehicular traffic flow and even inner city public transportation (medium-rise) bus terminals and vehicular parking. Even, sewage treatment plants of which 95 % of Metro Manila has none!

N.B. A request for friends who follow this blog. Please know that your continued interest in the general topic of ‘decongesting Metro Manila’ will enhance the usefulness of our discourse.  Let us talk about it and arouse participation from as wide a circle of concerned friends, in an endeavor that is intended to be of widespread  benefit. Thank you. 

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