OPINION: The doom of Manila: Absence of foresight, abandoned priorities

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Aug 18 2018 12:34 AM | Updated as of Aug 18 2018 05:47 AM

Hardly anyone living in Metro Manila today would even know that the Manila Railroad Company (MRR), now known as PNR (Philippine National Railways), had a branchline that went as far as Santa Cruz, Laguna. A spur from a junction in Los Baños, there was a line that led southeast, some 90 kilometers from the center of Manila. In fact, MRR even had a “Right of Way” beyond Santa Cruz all the way to Nagcarlan, another 35 kilometers southwards.

The case of railway infrastructure in the Philippines is exhibit “A” for the absence of foresight causing the abandonment of priorities in Metro Manila.

Can you imagine if some 50 years ago, nay, perhaps even 30 years ago, our national railroad system were expanded and laid around the Laguna Lake foreshores, with the necessary spans of viaducts over water? It would have been possible to develop real suburban communities, loosening up Metro Manila and spreading economic opportunities elsewhere and away from foreseen frenzied urban crowding. It would have meant opening up Pililla and Jala-jala, among other venues, eastwards. And lakeside communities beyond Los Baños such as Pila and Victoria.Go check your maps. And dream!

Can you imagine if instead of what was passed up as ‘mass transit’ simply circling merry-go-round inside Manila (like a ‘chubibo’), these were instead built to connect with the towns in Rizal and Bulacan?

There, too,could have beena regular 24-hour passenger and vehicular ferry service connecting Taguig to Binangonan and points beyond, pretty much like Hong Kong to Kowloon and its outlying villages. Imagine what wealth, new businesses and employment would havenaturally evolved! Such amenities would have shared economic development opportunities more widely!

While I am at it, let me ask:Should not the entire Talim island, jutting from north to south within the lake, have been better utilized as an additional international airport terminaland air cargo depot? To my mind, it makes more sense, instead of reclaiming the foreshores of Manila Bay.

When government, earlier in the 20th Century, reclaimed Manila’s foreshores, it was to create a boulevard that led to Cavite (then named Cavite Boulevard, then Dewey. It became Heiwa during the Japanese occupation before it became Roxas Boulevard) as well as to provide a government-owned and -operated port area to proactively address the foreseen growth in world coast-wise commerce. There was, primarily, a pronounced public need that needed to be served, with little regard to ensuing real estate values, if at all.

On the other hand, all other reclamation projects thereafter were private initiatives with private and personal gain for wheeling-dealing proponents and approving authorities as the main and principal motivation. Unadulterated public service was secondary and incidental. There are today greedy developers and local politicians with their own reclamation proposals queuing up.These must be stopped cold!

Of course, hindsight is ever 20-20! All of Manila’s reclaimed areascould have been developed along the eastern foreshores of “Laguna de Ba-i,” instead. By the way, what is the status of the earlier ballyhooed “Laguna Lakeshore Expressway?” And what about Circumferential Road 6or C-6 ? Relatively very few Metro Manilans ever pass through this stretch, if even they are aware that it already exists. C-6 hugs the shoreline from Taytay to Bicutan. I have driven through it (and even tested the Pasig river boat services). The stretch is already littered with squatter colonies as well as pieces of evidence of good old traditional public works graft. Larceny never takes a vacation!

Back to the railroad. Please imagine, if you will. Had the railway service been maintained, improved and expanded all the way to the southeast and an expressway constructed alongside some 30 years ago, (say C-6 and/orthe Lakeshore Expressway) presupposing, of course, that the path of the railway were cleared of informal settlers, Metro Manila would not have been so unhealthfully and chaotically congested and constricted today.

In last week’s blog, I advanced the observation that “American transportation infrastructure, roads and railways were launched and extended where there is no population, initially. Incentivized commerce, people and payroll followed.” Such mindset of socio-economic development and growth is decidedly the foundation of America’s westward expansion and national progress.

Travel notes: My love affair with America 

Evidently, such forward thinking was not really alien to Philippines governance. But that was once upon a time, generations ago. Prime examples would be that of Santa Cruz branch line, towards the lightly populated areas of Laguna; or as well, of the jettisoned plans to extend the railroad system though Nueva Ecija, opening up the economic potential of Cagayan Valley.

Truthfully, our demographers and urban planners have not been remiss in their professional prognostications and advice. The malaise of Metro Manila was certainly not unforeseen. Without doubt there was abject neglect! An absence of foresight that led to real priorities being abandoned! Politics, politicians and a lackadaisical, unengaged voting population created this now inconsolable mess. Therefore, there, too, was failure of timely and coherent citizen concern and militancy.

For a major international city, Metro Manila does not have an expressway (freeway or throughway) that cuts across or even skirts off the metropolitanscape. Congestion of people and constricted occupancies are insurmountable impediments to purported solutions. Mark you well, folks, that boasted subway, parallel to the Marikina tectonic fault line beneath the surface, claims to ferry a daily load of 300,000 passengers when done. Even if that “crown’ of the present government’s “Build, Build, Build” fantasy ever enters full utilization in ten years, the uncontrolled population growth in Metro Manila will have been more than double the subway’s capacity! That potential usefulness is thus obliterated!

It is the absence of throughways/expresswaysinMetro Manila that there are really no suburban areas to speak of. The entire length and breadth of Metro Manila has become one urban mass thatappears beyond solution by whichever dispensation holds the reins of political administration. And the sad fact is that there is no longer any land space to accommodate new alleviating infrastructure amenities.

Concerned citizens, aficionados and critics of developmental infrastructure facilities and amenities in Metro Manila will recognize and appreciate that the masterplan designed by American architect and urban planner, Daniel Burnham, drawn up in the early 1900s, could not have divined Manila mercilessly destroyed by war, its exigencies giving license to deleterious informal settlements among the ruins and the slums. But these obstacles were never insurmountable but for the disappearance of political will!

Furthermore, predatory and rent-seeking politics, environmental unconcern, unmindful local politicians and the utter absence of an intelligent omnibus development plan for a Greater Manila, all may have unknowingly connived and contributed to today’s daily insufferabilities.

Let me quote from a 1905 letter Mr. Burnham wrote to the then Governor General W. H. Taft (who was to become War Secretary, the then 27th US President and the only President to ever become the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.):

“…improvements of great scope are attainable in Manila by reasonable means. On the point of rapid growth, yet still small in area, possessing the Bay of Naples, the winding river of Paris, and the canals of Venice, Manila has before it an opportunity unique in history of modern times, the opportunity to create a unified city equal to the greatest in the Western world…..”

Weep! Weep! Dear folks, Weep!

P.S. I have been at this impassioned apostolate fornear 50 years now. I wish to collect crowdsourced sentiments, opinions and ideas from friends like you. I am most grateful.Thank you. ([email protected])


Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez IIIbegan his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a Hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

His e-mail is:[email protected]

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