There is an on-going race to reclaim land from coastal Manila Bay. The endeavor possesses no socially redeeming justification. It is driven by unmitigated greed facilitated by political chicanery!
There are now more than two dozen predatory proposals, with 6 already approved and soon to be on stream, as reported by our government’s Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA).
Are these in the service of Metro Manila’s teeming, suffering humanity? Or will these be magnets for additional deleterious congestion that will inevitably bring about social and environmental disaster? Of course, it is not the mandate of PRA to counsel and to marshal superior uses of investible resources towards more social relevance. PRA and government have never been in the business of ‘conscience.’
Reclamation is vaunted to be the vanguard of launching Metro Manila into that foolish notion called Mega Manila! The sponsoring government’s brilliant solution to that unconquerable malaise which is the national capital region.
Metro Manila not precariously top heavy enough? Mega Manila becomes the epitome of unconscionable selfishness. The dreaded densities we now suffer under will not only will deepen the curse of congestion, the very concept itself will deprive sparsely populated venues of a more equitable distribution of economic development opportunities. And many administration allies in Congress are promoting "federalism” as panacea!
Why cannot national government redirect such economic impulses, energies and resources towards Panay Island, Mindanao or even Samar/Leyte, for instance? People push and pull impulses for wages and work are the real triggers of population movement, thus congestion. This has been the Philippine reality since after WW II and independence. Manila-centricity and political short-sightedness never bothered national government.
This brief is not a recommendation for a specific venue. Nonetheless, imagine if you please, for the sake of example and exercise. Instead of having reclaimed Manila Bay’s frontage, private enterprise was incentivizedly directed to develop the foothills fronting Laguna Lake’s eastern shores, say the Jalajala peninsula.
Imagine a viaducted freeway that cuts across the lake from Biñan through Talim island and eastward; and/or a privately owned and operated lakeshore-round mass transit system. Or, for that matter, a ferry service ala Kowloon-HK-New Territories. (The old Manila Railroad (MRR) had a spur whose service reached Santa Cruz, capital of the great province of Laguna.) Such developments would have been the logical impetus for a gateway to the Pacific Ocean.
It must be noted that the Philippines is the only Pacific nation on planet earth that has no significantly populated community facing Pacific Ocean, saying “Good Morning!” to the sun! A ‘puzzlement?’ Manila Bay provided easier satisfaction of greed just facing the sunset! Manila-centricity as a political mindset has been an impediment to a more equitable spread of national socio-economic ‘goodies’ towards deserving regional vicinities far and detached from the nation’s capital.
Here is my observation of the American paradigm of infrastructure as an existential tool of economic development. Population followed infrastructure. In the beginning, the American experience delineated and blazed river routes, roads and railways that seemingly led to ‘nowhere.’ That was pioneering. And calculatedly, population followed. That was progress!
Arguably the Filipino model has been to build infrastructure only when population already teems. Infrastructure is therefore alleviation, not progress trail-blazing, forward-thinking incentive. (There is only one significant exception. When Gen. Paulino Santos was directed by President Quezon to open up parts of Mindanao for resettlement. That was in the late 1930s, an unduplicated exemplar.)
For an urban area that hosts an estimated daily population nearing at least 12 million, with some 2.5 million motor vehicles, Metro Manila does not have a dedicated express freeway/thruway. There is absolutely no space for it. What we have is only one, repeat, one major thoroughfare that cuts through south to north, serving as the same ingress and egress from either direction of entry into the metropolis. That one is EDSA boulevard, some 15 miles long and can take three hours to traverse during daytime!
There has never been any real estate/land-creating reclamation project in Manila which was not borne out of temptation for untempered profit. In other words, they are greed-driven.
All right, there have been exceptions. Roxas Boulevard, Luneta and the Port Area, all of which continue to belong to the nation’s inalienable patrimony. These were the very first examples of reclamation. But they were genuine ‘public works’ for public benefit under the early American regime yet. Nothing like those have ever been undertaken again. Lest we forget, public infrastructure on reclaimed real estate has been just another source of corruption, lining politician’s pockets with untold pelf! The most atrociously expensive boulevard in Philippine public works history was laid out on reclaimed land.
When will it ever dawn upon our stubborn policymakers and political administrators that there is absolutely no space available in all of Metro Manila in which and with which to construct new roadways and other infrastructure that can alleviate the population’s daily calvary. How often must this reality be hammered out?
Out of the world’s top five most densely populated cities, two are in Metro Manila. Manila being number one and Caloocan being number four. (To reemphasize, Manila’s density is an incomparable 42,000 people per square kilometer, while Number 2, Mumbai of India, 29,000. Caloocan has 28,000). As a consequence, the ratio of street kilometrage to people density identifies Metro Manila the world’s cellar-keeper. Absence of space!
Once more, let me join expert and professional iteration. The only solution is decongestion and population reallocation. There are myriad identifiable occupancies, both in private enterprise as well as in government, that do not require a Metro Manila presence. (Once more with feeling: Why must all the General Headquarters of all military branches compete for space inside Manila? They are not only irrelevant but an anachronism. The National Mental Institution and the National Penitentiary, too. Right?)
Ultimately, only a well-planned decongestion/population reallocation will solve Metro Manila. Only then may new roadways be installed by the prudent, frugal and judicious use of the power of eminent domain hopefully isolated from politicians’ larcenous proclivities!
Manila must remain the nation’s capital. There is absolutely no reason to replace nor relocate her. But she must be rid of fatally excessive fat. Obesity kills! Metro Manila is a social and administrative ‘obesity,’ thus in chaos and unmanageable. Think water, think garbage and pollution, think health and sanitation, think peace and order! Aggravation, anyone ? That’s not only masochism. It is suicidal self-strangulation!
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.