OPINION: The failure of foresight

Buddy Gomez — Cyberbuddy

Posted at Apr 06 2018 09:43 PM

The last and only available open spaces within Metro Manila that can still provide a much-desired measure of solace from the hourly and daily hellish road congestion we suffer from are to be found in the banks of Pasig and Marikina Rivers. Both are contiguous and continuing areas that cut a wide-enough swath of unutilized space spanning across the very middle of the metropolis. Guided by out-of-the-box thinking and utilizing available expert technology, new urban roadways can indeed be constructed, to make life in the National Capital Region less unbearable.

Imagine if such engineering feat were accomplished 20 years ago?

A couple of years ago, through this blogsite, we proposed for consideration of our government power-wielders and smart planners, utilizing the banks of both rivers as the foundation for a winding viaduct supporting a highway and/or a platform for a new mass railway. Instead, the government has decided to dig for a subway!

For sure, that dreamed-of Pasig-Marikina River Freeway system was not even an original idea. 

Sometime in mid-1995, buried deep in the inside pages of one Manila daily newspaper was an announcement made by the Department of Public Works and Highways about its plans for a ”7.2-kilometer-long toll-freeway along the banks of the Pasig River.” Indeed, some bureaucrats were thinking correctly! But, alas, nothing else ever happened thereafter.

Evidently, such thinking would have been a natural response to a perceived need. In other words, there was foreknowledge of forthcoming road congestion as projected by demographers and urban planners. But that was the last time government was ever heard to have evinced a degree of foresight vis-a-vis sensible solutions to ease a foreseen growth in Metro Manila traffic and road utilization.

Unfortunately, hardly anyone ever took notice of that news item. No social interaction. There never was any commentary about it, whether pro or con. Was the absence of public reaction or apathy perhaps responsible for abandoning such a plan? Maybe, the project was deemed uninviting of political allure and advantage. Not a popularity enhancement activity? No votes there? It would be interesting to find out why such a project was forgotten? This happened during the Ramos presidency.

I do recall that what hugged the headlines then, coincidentally but dominating, was the Flor Contemplacion story and the raging Vizconde murder saga involving the scion of an then-incumbent politician. We remember Flor Contemplacion’s death sentence by hanging in Singapore having created an artificially generated hysteria against the Ramos administration. It also caused the resignation of his Foreign Affairs secretary. While from the Vizconde massacre emerged the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC). Who could have imagined that such a publicity-seeking impertinence would spawn many years later? But I digress!

Let’s face it. For all the brouhaha about the current administration’s “Build Build Build,” there does not seem to be anything that is calculated to ease Metro Manila’s pain. Of course, they will most probably point to the highly doubtful and questionable Metro “Subway” project. That subway, should it ever be completed, was conceived more as a monument to some political ego than address frontally the quintessential problem of people congestion and over population. 

“Strange as it may seem, the National Economic and Development Authority, (NEDA) the country’s highest economic-policy body, does not have any specific plan and program for Metro Manila,” is an observation from a columnist-critic written more than twenty years ago. I surmise that not much change has come to pass in that agency’s mandate. Therefore, in its operations and attitude.

Here is a bit of recollection of my years as a new government bureaucrat, a generation ago and after having done a 25-year stint with the Ayala Group of companies. I inquired from an associate, an officer of NEDA. “Does your agency possess data or are you intending to acquire information on how much it would cost, annually, to provide social services to Metro Manila say ten years from now? In 15 or 20 years hence? The answer was that they had none and they may not even be looking at it from that angle. I was disappointed as I assumed that NEDA was a repository of progressive data, as an essential tool kit.

There appears to be a lack of regard for outcomes of demographic growth. I suspect that the concerns of demographers and urban planners, periodically pronounced eloquently, do not carry much weight with the country’s top government planners. Because if they did decades ago, the top political leadership of the nation would have been so advised. And that would have been to invest in decongestion and population dispersal, in order to save Metro Manila from demise, which has now come to pass. 

Metro Manila’s chaotic and suffocating congestion in practically all aspect of urban life was not unforeseen. Yet there was a consistent and continuing failure to prepare for and meet the obviously exigent requirements. In this regard, it appears to be a common failing of all administrations. Why this is so, therefore, is an existential question that has been in search of a satisfactory answer.

Without political will, the beneficence of foresight will remain elusive. Metro Manila is the perennial Exhibit “A.”

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