Breaktime

Political wail

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Let us face it: The frenzied shopping during the Christmas season, particularly in this metropolis with a population of more than 12 million at night, which balloons to about 15 million in the daytime, must always generate horrendous traffic, plus, of course, mountains of garbage from all those packaging materials in all forms, whether paper or plastic.

Question: How effective then are the separate ordinances banning the use of plastic bags in a couple of cities in Metro Manila?

The last time I checked, the cities of Las Piñas and Pasig imposed a unilateral total ban on the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam in all stores. In Quezon City, the council preferred a regulated use of plastic bags—and not a unilateral total ban. In the City of Manila, the council was rushing a similar unilateral total ban before the onset of the holidays.

Surely some groups, including those masquerading as environmentalists, hailed the ban perhaps as the best thing that ever happened in the metropolis since the removal of former First Lady Imelda Marcos as governor of the defunct Metro Manila Commission.

That MMC of course was the predecessor of the present-day hybrid called MMDA, half-government regulatory outfit, half-corporation functioning with a board made up of the mayors of the 17 different LGUs in the metropolis.

And those LGUs hold the power over those cities of different shapes and sizes, from more than 16,000 hectares known as Quezon City and the barangay-size 200 hectares known as Pateros.

Anyway, if we take a good look at the composition of garbage in the metropolis, at least based on recent official estimates, we may realize that only some 17 percent comes from plastic materials, while some 16 percent comes from paper.

Thus, paper and plastic garbage makes up only about 35 percent of the total garbage in the metropolis.

Does it mean that, assuming a total ban on the use of plastic bags in the entire metropolis, we just add the 17 percent plastic garbage to the paper garbage, and still come up with 35 percent of the total garbage because of the brilliant move to ban plastic bags?

And whatever happens to the rest of the garbage—some 65 percent of the total? Do they instantly disintegrate into thin air because of the brilliant ban?

Anyway, the point is that, in a fully integrated area such as Metro Manila, in which the flooding in isolated parts for example can paralyze the entire metropolis during the rainy season, localized measures such as the plastic bag ban do not really solve the problem.

Sure, the people of Pasig City do not get plastic bags when they buy at grocery stores in the city. Those same people nevertheless also shop in other places in the metropolis. They can buy things using plastic bags in the next-door neighbors called Taguig, Mandaluyong, San Juan and Makati.

And so they bring home the goodies in the plastic bags to none other than Pasig City, and they throw away the same plastic bags in the same garbage disposal system in none other than Pasig.

How effective is the ban?

Really, at the onset of this faddish knee-jerk measure—the unilateral ban on the use of plastic bags—some business groups already thought it to be so foolish that it would only punish the business establishments in the city, yet hardly would make a dent in solving the problem over plastic garbage.

Thus the idea of amalgamation among the various LGUs in the metropolis is gaining some adherents among think-tank groups in business. You know—merger of the various LGUs, perhaps into four or five cities.

Well, okay, it is the exact opposite of the trend in this country of breaking up LGUs, particularly the provincial governments, all for the sake of creating political turfs for our beloved politicos. Take a bow, AF!

The idea of an amalgamated Metro Manila already came up during the 1970s under the Marcos dictatorship, as the government at the time talked about the creation of a single political entity for the 17 cities and municipalities that eventually became Metro Manila

In 1976, the Marcos dictatorship issued a presidential decree to create the MMC, with the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos appointing his wife, then First Lady Imelda, as MMC “governor,” before she could even inspired the term “Imeldific” to become part of the English language.

The reasons for the amalgamation were clear enough at that time, and I guess that they still apply up to today. We needed then and still need now one single government entity to run and manage the metropolis.

Well, most especially today! Metro Manila now has one of the highest population densities in the world, probably among the top five. Another word for density is of course “crowded.” Go and experience the wonders of any business area in the metropolis. See if you can take a walk without getting bumped left and right by some rude teen-ager wearing rings on their noses.

We all know that overly crowded cities cannot escape the problems of horrible traffic, garbage disposal, and slum areas. To solve the problem of slum development, we just started using a politically correct term—you know, informal settlements. It was just a nice way of saying that people live in places worse than a pigsty.

Even at that time, the political powers in the various cities and municipalities in Metro Manila did not want to give up their power to an amalgamated metropolitan government.

It became an issue over political turf, and of course the dictator did not want to ruffle some political hairs of the various fiefdoms in the metropolis, when even today the wives of politicos eventually become mayors and “congresspersons,” including their children, nephews and nieces.

By the way, we just had to invent another nice term known as “political dynasty,” perhaps to sugarcoat what the guys down here in my barangay simply call buwaya.

Anyway, owing to the political explosiveness of the issue over amalgamation of what was then known as the “greater Manila area,” or “Manila and suburbs,” the Marcos dictatorship gave in to political expediency and settled for the creation of a freaking commission.

Look at that—a freaking “commission” to solve the daunting problems of a highly populated yet backward metropolis. Yes, one powerless commission! And this, mind you, was never corrected during the time of the Cory administration, which immediately created the Metro Manila Authority to replace the MMC. It was like, well, what exactly was its authority over the mayors in the metropolis again? None whatsoever. Thus it forced Congress to enact a law to create the present MMDA, which basically the same as MMC and MMA, except that MMDA now has complete control to mess with our traffic system.

Anyway, it was not as if we are reinventing the wheel on amalgamation of LGUs. It has been done all over the world, the most famous being the amalgamation of the five boroughs called Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island that became New York City. Look what the city is now!

In the 1960s and the 1970s, Germany also went through hectic amalgamation, and in one region for instance, the country pared down the number of its municipalities from some 7,000 to about 2,000 municipalities. Yes—some 5,000 mayors lost their jobs. And Germany is now the richest country in Europe.

Here, we must still be at the denial stage. In truth, amalgamation of cities and municipalities in the country—not only Metro Manila—should have been part of the decentralization of the national government, the devolution of functions under the Local Government Code.

But that was too explosive—in terms of politics! The power hungry political dynasty—i.e. buwaya—would not have any of it. And we could never muster the political will to do what must be done. Not even under this Aquino (Part II) administration.

Perhaps we have to wait for 2016 to end all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in Metro Manila, and if the winner then is another sponsor of the perpetuation of political dynasties, we must wait for 2022. And so on and on!

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