Economists say Manila should become more dense

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 12 2009 06:16 PM | Updated as of Jan 13 2009 02:23 AM

Economic growth in the Philippines remains unbalanced with Metropolitan Manila accounting for a third of the country's economy, economists said Monday.

Despite having a population of around 12 million and a high density of poverty, the Philippine government should encourage more economic activity in the capital rather than try to disperse it around the country, they said.

Speakers at a World Bank forum on economic geography said studies showed the concentration of population and economic resources in one city was not a disadvantage and could actually spur growth.

University of the Philippines economist Arsenio Balisacan said experience in other countries showed governments should have policies that "encourage economic density."

Balisacan said Metropolitan Manila actually had relatively low urban density compared to other Asian countries and could use more people and economic activities.

Government figures show Metro Manila, with a land area of 619.5 square kilometres (238 square miles) has a population density of 18,650 people per square kilometre.

Figures also show Metro Manila had the lowest poverty incidence and highest living standards in the country.

"There is nothing bad about economic concentration," said World Bank country director Bert Hoffman.

The World Bank report showed economic activity throughout East Asia was concentrated in key regions, which attracted huge populations of migrants.

The key elements were the mobility of workers to migrate to areas of economic growth and the integration of these areas to the global and regional economy, the experts said.

"The Philippines has to be more ambitious. It has to encourage more density," said World Bank economist Indermit Gill.

He said "governments should facilitate the geographic concentration of production but they must also institute policies that make the provision of basic needs such as schools, roads and sanitation, more universal."