Decentralization of Metro Manila and the Benefits for Regional Expansion

Yesterday, we discussed some tips in preparation for drought, like conserving water and power, using solar energy and the risk management for safety reasons. Today, we shall begin a new series on the importance of spreading the centralization of the different national government agencies within the Metro Manila or the National Capital Region to the different parts of the country.

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Heavy traffic is one of the evidence that Metro Manila is congested. Last February 17, 2014 Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3- a P26-billion project, which will connect the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and South Luzon Expressway (NLEX) by 2017-construction have started.

“Kumbinsido tayong makakamtan natin ang patong-patong na positibong bunga ng yugtong ito ng Skyway – mula sa masusulit na oras, pera, at gasolina, hanggang sa dagdag-trabaho at pag-arangkada ng komersyo’t pambansang ekonomiya”, Aquino said during his speech at the launching of the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3, last January 22, 2014.

But as opposed to what the President Aquino said, Skyway 3 will ease but won’t solve Metro traffic, said the urban planners.

“The more roads you put, the more cars you attract kaya it will never be enough if you (build more roads)” Felino Palafox Jr. said in a phone interview with GMA News TV’s “Balita Pilipinas”.

In an article written by Dr. Jose Rene Gayo of the Philippine Daily Inquirer last January 20, 2014- ‘Decongesting Metro Manila’- he wrote, “What if a typhoon like Yolanda or a massive earthquake stronger than what Bohol experienced hit Metro Manila? Definitely, it would paralyze government apparatus since practically all national agencies are based in Metro Manila. 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 Metro Manila.

 Dr. Gayo, suggested some ways to be done to alleviate the congestion of Metro of Manila.

He said, the first thing that needs to be done is to move out of Metro Manila 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 relocation out of Metro Manila 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. For example, the headquarters of the Philippine Navy, Philippine Air Force, Armed Forces of the Philippines and Old Bilibid Prison which is owned by the Home Guaranty Corp., Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo through business conversion, joint venture with the Ortigas and Co., should be relocated outside Metro Manila. And this could be a very good action of the City government. It is also a better alternative than reclaiming manila that will add to Urban Renewal.

From Upper Left, The Old Bilibid Prison, Philippine, Philippine Army Head Quarters (right), Philippine Navy Headquarters( lower left),Camp Crame (middle), and Camp Aguinaldo

From Upper Left, The Old Bilibid Prison, Philippine Army Headquarters (right), Philippine Navy Headquarters (lower left),Camp Crame (middle), and Camp Aguinaldo

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 Metro Manila.

This design and suggested plan 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.

This is also what Vice President Jejomar Binay, the former mayor and MMDA chairman suggested in an article written by Boo Changco of Philstar last February 19, 2014. He was asked “What is the solution to the metrowide chaos that drastically cuts into the quality of our lives and even endangers our health?”

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Poropoint Freeport Zone (top),  Lingayen Gulf (lower left),  Clark International Airport (lower right)

The Vice President said that “We probably have to move most of the national government offices out of the metro area. There are just too many people already”. But he didn’t say where the national capital should be relocated to.

Furthermore, Vice President Jejomar Binay, was also asked what ought to be done? And if having an elected Metro Manila governor will help? He said “It probably would”, but quickly added that the politics of the region will not allow it. Indeed, the mayors of the 16 cities and one town in Metro Manila will not favor any diminution of their powers in their fiefdoms”.

 Unfortunately, he pointed out that MMDA is toothless. He probably got more respect from the other mayors when he was MMDA chairman because they were his colleagues. But giving up powers, even to manage traffic and impose fines, is hard to do for the metro kingpins.

Then again too, we see Metro Manila turning into Mega Manila and one wonders how far away could we move the capital before that area is also engulfed by the fast expanding urban sprawl? For practical purposes, more than half of Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan are de facto part of the national capital region even if the laws do not recognize that.

“Our poor cannot be faulted for wanting to live in the city, particularly one like Makati where social benefits are available from cradle to grave. VP Binay pointed out to our group that he knows of many instances where children of poor residents endured bad living conditions while taking advantage of Makati’s free education up to college. Staying in their impoverished home provinces won’t give them that opportunity”. The Vice President observed.

 During the 2010 elections, we can recall that the running Jojo Binay promised in his campaign advertisement “Ganito kami sa Makati, Sana sa Buong Pilipinas”.

The VP said that, his advertising consultant, Greg Garcia, may have been over enthusiastic with that promise. It is not easy to do that in the national level. But he quickly added that the promise is doable if there is a political will to do it. There should be enough money for that if government spends wisely.

He seems convinced that the metro area, and eventually, the Mega Manila area, ought to be managed as one political entity. Hopefully, he will have the political guts to convince his former fellow metro mayors to see the light. A metrowide government unit with an elected governor or chairman will be able to do planning on the basis of the entire metro area instead of a smaller fiefdom”.

Things like traffic management, garbage collection, sanitation and health services can be approached on a metro basis. The metro government can take over from the inept DOTC the responsibility of providing essential transport infrastructure.

We can hope that things will get better as we face the ongoing reality of the exaggerated problem in our streets. The problems can only get worse until we get better leaders ready to do what ought to be done.

 In continuation of the suggestions of Dr. Jose Rene Gayo, here are the next steps in decongesting Metro Manila.

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Clark Freeport Zone (top) , Mactan, Cebu International Airport (lower left), Zamboanga Port (lower right)

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. Metro Manila 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 Metro Manila 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 Metro Manila and crowd the place.

This is also where political will is needed. To make such a decision, once and for all on decongesting Metro Manila and to execute the plan within 10 years, not in decades to come.

As I see it, this spreading of centralization is a good idea, for when a disaster comes in Metro Manila the government will still have the support from other regions. What we need the most is a political will to implement these.

We also need an adequate public transport system that will allow people to have an affordable, easy and comfortable way of getting into the city centers to earn a living. The Government should also consider disposing of vehicles which are too old. The DOTC should add more trains especially for MRT or LRT. The inadequacy of public transport likely caused residents to buy cars and this is why our streets and highways are clogged most hours of the working day.

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