Decongesting Metro Manila
In the last few years, we’ve seen how rains brought about by typhoons or simply by seasonal monsoons trigger flash floods that can cripple Metro Manila (MM) almost immediately.
But not only that.
Monstrous traffic jams of late have been so common place that exasperated many of MM residents. The economic losses because of such work stoppage and delays amount to billions of pesos every year.
These problems are signs of a city that has grown more than its carrying capacity. Thanks to Philippine economic development programs that gave much focus to developing MM and its surrounding areas. Such favorable treatment for MM continues to this day.
The Philippines as a whole can be likened to a malnourished child. It has a big head (MM) but with a famished body (the rest of the country).
The rural areas are so undeveloped where the great majority of the poor are found.
Almost one of three Filipinos is living in poverty (read, in destitute conditions) while close to 50 percent rate themselves as poor.
Let’s look at it from another perspective. What if a typhoon like Yolanda or a massive earthquake stronger than what Bohol experienced hit MM? Definitely, it would paralyze government apparatus since practically all national agencies are based in MM. But a good planner will always prepare for the worst. So how can the Philippines plan for such a scenario?
The obvious solution is to decongest MM.
Starting the process
The first thing that needs to be done is to move out of MM many of the national agencies. This could be done by assigning a Department in the various regional capitals. For example, the Department of Agriculture to Davao City or somewhere in Mindanao. For the Departments and other national agencies, we can narrow our options to regional capitals because basic infrastructure are in place like airports, seaports, and support services.
This movement out of MM can also be done for the various units of the military and police in rural areas because they can operate autonomously and for obvious security considerations. The headquarters of the Philippine Navy, for example, can be moved to Palawan, the Philippine Army to Nueva Ecija, and the Philippine Air Force to Iloilo.
This way too when a calamity strikes any part of the country, there is a major government unit that can respond to it immediately. Having national agencies spread out in the provinces also gives government flexibility to establish a “headquarters” to respond to a calamity since there is a facility nearby that is equipped with the necessary equipment and people. We have seen how ill-prepared government was in the case of Typhoon Yolanda or even of the Bohol earthquake with everything centralized in MM.
This “design” for government follows the whole idea behind the Internet. Information flow can be routed in endless possibilities when one node or area gets knocked out.
The second thing that needs to be done is to find a new place that we can designate as the political capital of the Philippines. MM can be left as the business capital. This is the case for a number of countries in the world. Australia has Canberra as its political capital, Brazil has Brasilia, China with Beijing, and the United States with Washington, D.C. Such countries have a tandem city as the business capital with Sydney, Rio de Janiero, Shanghai, and New York, respectively.
Finding a new political capital for the Philippines should include the following criteria: A place not frequented by typhoons, on an elevated ground safe from floods and storm surges, with large open space for expansion where a new city can be built without worrying about existing urban population, and with possible or close proximity to leisure activities like eco-tourism for building a “green and sustainable city.”
To facilitate the work of identifying such a place, I have one possibility that fits the criteria above. An area covered by the towns of Amlan and Pamplona and the cities of Bais and Tanjay in Negros Oriental may be carved out of the existing boundaries of these local government units. These areas are light sloping moving toward the foothills of Mt. Talinis and the panorama from there is fantastic overlooking the Tañon Straight.
Do we have the financial resources to do this?
Money with this plan is no problem. Real estate prices in MM are so expensive that with the privatization of these assets presently occupied as offices of the national government agencies and military camps, trillions of pesos can be raised to fund such a relocation project. Even the Ninoy Aquino International Airport can be relocated to Cavite or Clark. Likewise, the international container ports in the City of Manila can be moved to Batangas and Aurora.
With the massive construction that is required for such a project, it can catalyze a whole economic boom of the Philippines never seen before. The construction industry has been dubbed by economists as the one with the most multiplier effect. Thus, for every peso spent, a lot more pesos can be generated because of the industry’s linkages with other industries in the economy not counting the millions of employment opportunities that can be generated from such a mega project.
I think we need to have a paradigm shift in the way we think. It’s about time we think big instead of just having a small town outlook. If we are to lick the poverty problem of the country, then this is one project that can spur economic growth for the whole country and generate much business and employment opportunities especially for the poor. This project shall also trigger the development of many more metropolitan cities spread all over the country that shall serve as alternative investment areas for Filipinos and foreigners alike. With these in place, people need not go to MM and crowd the place.
This is also where political will is needed. To make such a decision once and for all on decongesting MM and to execute the plan within 10 years, not in decades to come.
(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is a member of the MAP Agribusiness and Countryside Development Committee, and the project manager of the Farm Business School project of MAP and the dean of the MFI Farm Business School. Feedback at <email@example.com> and <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For previous articles, please visit www.map.org.ph)
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