when P352 billion does not even come close to cutting it (part 2)


A rescue on Taft Avenue near the Philippine Ge...

A rescue on Taft Avenue near the Philippine General hospital, c1910-1915 (Photo credit: John T Pilot)



CHINO HILLS, CA – It’s a week after the Habagat began to unleash its load of torrential rain. It wasn’t quite like Ondoy. Government agencies don’t seem as caught by surprise as they were by Ondoy. The appropriate warnings have been made by government agencies. Classes are suspended and eventually work is called off too. In less than 24 hours, however, everything goes to the dogs. Nature overwhelms man again.


I’m as far away as can be imagined from the surreal reality that is the possibility of Metro Manila being sunk again by the oncoming Tropical Storm Helen. As the Eastern seaboard of Luzon prepares to take the brunt of this storm, science would say that the low pressure created by Helen will draw the southwest monsoon into Metro Manila and other areas on the Western side of Luzon, just like Gener did. Or maybe not.


Here in Southern California, it’s all about the heat wave late in the summer. Weather.com says we’re about to be hit with over 100 degree F (38 degrees celsius) heat again. It’s dry type of heat which is more oppressive than the inconvenience of the more tropical, humid heat that is more common in the Philippines. This heat wears you down and if you’re not careful, it can quickly knock you out from dehydration. It’s the type of heat that forces you to run your air-conditioning 24/7 and forces you indoors. Again, nature overwhelms man.


Back to the P352 billion…


When was the last time you heard a 5-year government program, let alone a 23-year program, run to a successful completion?  Yes, I would agree that a real solution to address (or adapt to) the effects of nature in our country will be one which will take time to complete. Our record for these types of things leaves a lot to be desired. Filipinos are good at putting together plans (good or bad) but are notorious for their inability to execute. Noble intentions notwithstanding, plans miscarry because of the lack of will to see it through, the seeming lack of ability to anticipate (and thus, plan for) potential problems and the propensity to surrender to “puwede na” solutions or otherwise, just give up. Mabilis humina ang tuhod at mawalan ng loob. With this kind of attitude, we confine ourselves to mediocrity.


More than that, however, we confine ourselves to mediocrity, because we tend to think small. We think small and couch it under the rationalization of building “realistic” or “doable” plans. Yes, but, who says that “big thinking” is not not realistic nor doable? We support “small thinking” by the further rationalizing that we have to “work within the system”. But what if the system itself is broken?


Atty. Tolentino’s solution of a New Metro Manila is a step in the right direction. The reality that confronts us is that the current Metro Manila is dead and the spending that is being contemplated are mere palliatives that will end up bringing us back to square one.


Metro Manila’s population density of over 18,000 people per square kilometer makes one of the most, if not the most, heavily congested metropolitan areas in the world. And none of these other metropolitan areas can be called livable by any rational or decent standard. Physics dictates that you can only squeeze so much matter in some confined space before things start breaking down.


Metro Manila’s physical infrastructure is poorly designed, woefully inadequate and haphazardly delivered. It is not just breaking apart at the seams, its core is hopelessly broken. To fix it without more fundamental changes in thinking is really just throwing good money after bad.


The only way to save Metro Manila is to make it smaller.


Metro Manila has to be made smaller because it is not manageable given its current size. It will be hard work because even now, property developers are thinking vertical (i.e. build taller condos, office towers) to make money on their developments given the high cost of the land component of their projects. It will be hard because you will run into vociferous and virulent opposition from these same private developers and politicians eyeing the money-making potential of these developments in their respective jurisdictions. It will be hard work because you will have to change how people think.


In the meantime, all these vertical developments will serve to increase the “crowdedness” of Metro Manila, exacerbate the traffic problem and put even more pressure on the already woeful ability to provide basic services. Thus, things will get worse before they get better because you have to change how people think.


Yes – I cannot say that there is no other choice because the status quo and fixing the status quo with band-aid is always a choice. There is an alternative, however, and it will take a lot to get people to take this seriously, much less actually start to do something about it.


So how can it be done?


(To be continued)



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