On the weekend of September 13, a Friday when the moon was at its fullest, I took a daytime road trip the joy and facility of which no one in the Philippines alive today will ever partake of nor savor, while in our country, during their lifetime!
This was in Texas. From San Antonio to Dallas and back. It was 300 miles, each way, driveway to driveway. That translates to 482 kilometers. More or less, that approximates the distance between Manila and Laoag in Ilocos Norte or Manila to Legazpi City in Albay. I comfortably negotiated the distance, each way, in four-and-a-half hours unimpededly, unobstructed and without delay. I was driving almost at a uniform rate of speed practically all throughout the way, just as soon as I hit the freeway from my house!
It was like driving from Laoag to Legazpi in under 10 hours, and without cutting through the "gates of hell!” which is, of course, EDSA being the major North-South throughway in Metro Manila. In today’s Philippines, such is an absurd idea, an impossible proposition.
Such facility, such land transportation infrastructure is possible because in Texas, as in the US, they have the space and they know how best to develop it, to position it and to utilize it. Metro Manila long ago lost the space with she could have alleviated self-strangulation. This is urban tragedy that came to pass because of sheer neglect. The failure of foresight, as naggingly repeated. The need and availability of streets and throughways have simply failed to catch up with population and vehicular growth. In other words, congestion happened because it was unmindfully tolerated!
While driving through the Texas Interstate freeways and its toll sections, enjoying the scenery, marveling at the prowess of U. S. public works pursued with singularity of purpose and with integrity, I was inevitably moved with envy realizing how brazenly crooked we conduct the business of infrastructure development in our country. I was witnessing genuine progress in infrastructure delivery that is uninhibited, unimpaired by the political chicanery so embedded in our pork barrel pilferage, overpricing and surreptitious awards of contracts and such other skullduggeries that our politicians have become adept at.
My thoughts were all about Metro Manila and this hullabaloo about Emergency Powers that the congressional sycophants of Malacanang are currently espousing, bandying it as the panacea that will prevent doomsday from descending upon the national capital metropolis. There I was driving leisurely for hours and never once an episode of stop and go traffic, even while highway maintenance and expansion works were in progress. New loops, turnpikes, overpasses and interchanges were in various stages of development, blazing in apparently strategic locations of unpopulated (or underpopulated) vicinities, all away and apart from the normally heavily travelled highways that traverse highly urbanized communities.
In this regard, let me share an observation. Invariably, economic progress in the United States has also been anchored upon new transportation infrastructure development being intendedly undertaken ahead of population movements and growth. Historically, railroads and wagon roadways opened up territories ahead of the influx of people. Even presently, the network of county roads lace through out much of rural and underpopulated areas in Texas. Improvements, maintenance and development are on-going publicly funded activities. Evidently, public works is not a source of graft and corruption. Although, there may have been a time when it might have been!
The only instance I know of something similar (public infrastructure prior to population growth) ever happening in the Philippines was during the time of General Paulino Santos when he was tasked by President Quezon to develop the road network in parts of Mindanao in preparation for the organized transfer of populations from Luzon during the 1930s Commonwealth era.
That was an era of an enviable combination of foresight, planning and implementation! I suspect that to the nation’s current crop of so-called leaders, such frame of mind may have become alien! The deficiency in the Philippine condition seems to be mired in lassitude that has characterized the national mindset. In other words, we all suffer from the promised paradigm change that never came. Worse yet, with no one available to take the moral lead!
Before I miss the opportunity, let me also tell you about the toll system in place and in use in that part of Texas. And why such effective efficiency will never work in the Philippines! I am certain you will not miss the point.
They do not use manned toll booths to collect road user fees. The vehicular traffic simply flows in and out of the toll zone, unimpeded. As a vehicle operator, one can breeze through, in and out of the toll roads. You will be billed by mail and you pay by mail. Honor system. Vehicular data is captured and administered electronically by way of powerful cameras, backed by computers, beamed at and photographing the registered vehicle license plates. License plates correspond faithfully to the specific vehicle, and the name/current address of the vehicle’s owner, data which are regularly and periodically collected and collated as registrations are renewed. Fidelity is strictly observed as the soul of the system.
Going back to Metro Manila, I find it truly incomprehensible that to this day, the concerned and relevant political and administrative authorities refuse to see and accept that the existential need of the metropolis is space; that this harshly diminished space was directly and principally caused by uncontrolled overpopulation, and therefore only decongestion and population dispersal will recreate lost space. To top this patent aggravation, a sense of urgency is abdicated while arguments over emergency powers are foolishly wasted.
Now, let us get this straight. Granting emergency powers to the Executive branch will never create the existentially needed space for Metro Manila to survive. The exercise of the State’s power of Eminent Domain will. That power already exists albeit its exercise will require political will and integrity. Thus, Emergency powers or Eminent Domain!
The power of eminent domain can lawfully expropriate private property and convert these for public beneficial use, as an indispensable complementary companion to a policy of decongestion and population dispersal. Such public beneficial use will be in the form of new streets, thoroughfares, turn around interchanges, as well as footprints/foundations for other infrastructure linkages and interconnections to existing roadways. Eminent domain will enhance citywide mobility.
It is then a good time to remember that when government initiated the use of mass transit people movers (the MRTs and the LRTs), it possessed emergency powers. It was Martial Law and nobody could argue with Imelda! Instead of creating new space elsewhere for the mass transit trains’ exclusive use, government merely expropriated existing streets, (Rizal and Taft Avenues, Aurora Blvd and EDSA) tight and tightening as they already were, unduly overloading the City’s finite space!. That decision drastically diminished our principal roadways’ useful capacity.
In so doing, the very concept and objective of mass transit was violated. Mass transportation’s reason for being is to ferry masses from farther off origins to an inner city destination and back. Mass transit was for long distances! Mass transit was intended also to be aid and inspiration for decongesting the inner city! Instead, our mass transit system, like a carousel, went around in circles within the very same limited area!
The judicious utilization of eminent domain could have created for the new mass transit system, an altogether new space for its exclusive path towards farther off distances of origins and destinations.
Neglecting the beneficence of the State’s power of eminent domain might as well be the original sin for which Metro Manila is now being punished!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began 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.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.