OPINION: Skeptical over ‘Mega Manila Subway’

Buddy Gomez - Cyberbuddy

Posted at Aug 25 2017 08:19 PM | Updated as of Aug 25 2017 08:25 PM

Ballyhooed as the “project of the century,” President Duterte is now set upon approving the “Mega Manila Subway” that will cost at an estimated US$5 billion. That will be anywhere between PhPesos 250 billion to 260 billion, hoping that the value of our currency does not deteriorate any more than presently feared.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that much thought and professional/technical considerations have been devoted to conceptualizing such infrastructure investment that is billed as the “first ever subway” in the country. There is no desire here to question and doubt the credentials of our national economic planners. Of course, they mean well. Nonetheless, I am just being mindful that notions of being “the first,” “new,” “Mega” are indeed alluring and attractive, perhaps even intoxicating, as to waylay the soberest of intent. 

The fact is that such notions, with the availability of borrowed financial resources, can induce and tempt politicians in power, as project proponents, to decide on a development path that veers away from the desired need for and reality of what is truly beneficially practical. Politicians tend to be mesmerized by the irresistibility of monument building. A desire for political posterity and perpetuation, ego-tripping and image considerations of the reigning political leaderships have always tended to overwhelm the better judgment of technical professionals.

There are a variety of reasons I remain doubtful and skeptical as to the practicality of a subway, at this juncture of the country’s socio-economic realities. Faced by many other superior needs and scarce resources with which to meet them, extreme prudence is a virtue that requires cultivation in expending the country’s finances, most especially because these are borrowed funds. 

Is the subway the best avenue to spend, and the optimum use of, US$5 billion? No, it is not! 

That is because there are other more needful projects that can definitely provide the county with superior economic benefits, with undeniable multiplier effects and economic resonance such as the creation of new wealth, new venues for taxation, encouragement of new businesses and heightened job creation, while solving the existential problems of Metro Manila, which the “project of the century,” the “first ever subway” will definitely not. And, more imperatively, other projects that will ultimately spread out towards a more even geographical distribution of people, economic progress and opportunities. These, the subway will not accomplish and deliver.

That $5 billion expense for a subway system will not solve the problem it purports to address! 

Assuming that the “project of the century” opens its subterranean rails for its very first proud joy riders say by 2027, by then the 370,000 riders estimated to be serviced and transported daily shall have been overcome and overwhelmed by the inevitable increase in Metro Manila’s population. The expected population growth by 2025 is 1,258,000! 
Besides, I continue to fear the onset of unpredictable earthquakes, the perennial monsoons and flooding, which no amount of high risk insurance premiums additionally loaded to the total project cost, can prevent or recompense for a potential disaster. The proposed 13-station route of the subway runs parallel to the Marikina Valley Fault System. Prudence meansnot teasing Fate!

I will again dare to make a bold statement: Without population decongestion and dispersal/redistribution, there is absolutely no long term and permanent deliverance from our national malaise which is Metro Manila. Whatever tweaking with the sincerest of intentions currently being employed, for that is what all that the Metro Manila Development Authority can really do, is simply ‘band aid.’ It will not heaI. It is fast fleeting and no sooner, effete. Without population decongestion and dispersal/redistribution, the downward spiral of Metro Manila’s quality of life is irreversible, as it is indeed already fact.

It has been the declared creed of “Dutertenomics”: prime the pump, jumpstart the economy via a “build, build, build” vision. That is of course commendable and undeniably essential. But what to build is an indispensable crux. An error in choice can indeed yield a much less than useful facility, not necessarily akin to a “white elephant.” I will hazard the conclusion that a subway system as currently conceived and in these present circumstances will not arrest, much less correct, Metro Manila’s deterioration. 

I must confess that I am unable to comprehend the prevailing mindset to build, build, build infrastructure to solve Metro Manila, without first creating space for it. Space has been obliterated by extreme overpopulation, overbuilding and congestion. If the problem is ‘overload,’ the solution is “to unload!” Is that too difficult to understand?

Is there, therefore, a superior plan for the use of US$5 billion instead of a subway system? The answer is a resounding Yes. 
That is to devote these resources, instead, towards creating space by way of a sensibly planned relocation of all human activity that do not require a Metro Manila presence! You may start counting with your fingers and toes what these entities are.
My prime candidates are all the military camps and headquarters of all branches of service. The Army, Navy, Air Force, throw in the Coast Guard, as well. This means all occupancies that relate to Aguinaldo, Bonifacio and Villamor. (And Crame, too.) 
These military encampments’ presence inside Metro Manila is already an anachronism, an irrelevance, an obsolescence. 
Yet, by themselves, they are all each a self-contained economic unit: people, payroll, social services and commerce. These enclaves are decidedly more useful and beneficial elsewhere than they are in current locations.

Wherever they are dispersed (non-Metro Manila local governments ought to be vying to host them), inevitably there will ensue creation of new wealth and additional venues for new taxation. New businesses will crop up as a natural consequence with job creation in tow. A construction boom in many non-Manila locations will necessarily evolve, while solving the space problems of Metro Manila. Thus you spread out and redistribute more equitably people, progress, services and opportunities.

The quality of life of our military, principally the enlisted men and the non-commissioned officers, most especially their families will never enjoy an acceptably improved quality of life for as long as their living arrangements are mostly in squatter settlements that surround such military camps, ensconced in the tightest of spots within the unsanitary congested inner cities.

This is indeed a very sad reflection on the part of our government on how the leadership regard and treat the defenders of the Republic!

In sum, the multiplier effect and economic resonance of relocating all our Metro Manila military camps as far away as feasible from the metropolis could be the most potent and effective pump priming and jumpstart economic stimulus that the country could ever see and embark upon. Good Economics inevitably becomes Good Politics. Dutertenomics ought not to miss this bus!

Metro Manila’s decongestion and population dispersal and redistribution evidently far outstrip a subterranean subway of questionable utility!

The Armed Forces of the Philippines possesses the singular opportunity to rescue Metro Manila from perdition! 

[I am taking pause from my McMicking/McKati/Ayala series to get back into the national current events stream, lest I rust and get stuck with a past that is full of romantic memories. I will continue with these soon, of course, interchanging sharing memories every so often with relevant critically constructive commentary. So here I am.]

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