TAMA NA, SOBRA NA, PALITAN NA! (nanaman? Hay…

Makati – As we suffer through another delubyo, we see the same scenes of heartbreaking loss, unthinkable suffering broken up at times by admirable bravery. This would all be boring like a well-worn movie script if not for the fact that this is real. We will see the same tiresome calls for better flood control, the same blame placed on improper garbage disposal, etc. etc. The sad fact is that there is no fighting nature. We can only try to mitigate its effects and hope to ride out the worst of its wrath. imageIt is in this that we are failing miserably.

A couple of months ago, the government revealed its flood management plan for the National Capital Region even as flash floods inundated the metro. The PLAN took only (!) 22 years to be completed, will take another 22 years to complete and cost P351 billion in today’s peso which means that it will eventually end up costing over a TRILLION pesos and will likely never be completed in its current form. One of the components of the plan calls for the relocation of squatters from flood-prone areas into resettlement sites outside the metro. These squatters always come back for the same reason as always – there are no livelihood opportunities where they are dumped. This current iteration, however, seems to at least show promise by providing decent housing.

My point is this – we are going about all of this in a wrong and boneheaded way, Let me repeat – there is no fighting nature. So what do we do. We adapt. We have to tear up the pro-forma prescription of flood management for Metro Manila. Metro Manila is already one of, if not, the most congested places in the planet. That means that people will live wherever they can live with no regard (or foresight) for the consequences. Areas designated by nature and past human intervention as daanan ng tubig will be filled up by people. No amount of flood management will alleviate the consequences of this because people who live in those areas are in effect – fighting nature. This is compounded by the detritus of human existence which will up clogging canals, drainage systems and well, the streets. To spend a TRILLION PESOS (okay P351 billion) to remedy this is folly. It simply won’t work.

There is a simpler and probably cheaper solution. You create opportunities across the country. Use the money instead to fund multi-billion peso projects and give tax breaks, even subsidies, to force rational private businesses to realize that it is better to be somewhere else other than Metro Manila. Stop investing in Metro Manila. Yes – doing so will make life miserable in the metro. That is the intent. Eventually people will come to the realization that the opportunities that will be created by doing what is prescribed in the previous paragraph will make life worth living somewhere else. When enough people leave, Metro Manila might become manageable and livable again for those who choose to stay. Less congestion, less traffic, less pollution – yes, less is more.

How do you start? For good or bad, government needs to send a very strong message of this intent. Move the administrative center of the country away from Metro Manila. You can leave Manila as the capital city but national government should relocate somewhere else. How will you fund this? The only comparative I can think of is the move of Malaysia’s administrative center to Putrajaya from Kuala Lumpur. When the Malaysian parliament was thinking of moving to Putrajaya in 2010, the cost of a new parliament building was estimated at 800 million Malaysian Ringgit or about P10.5 billion. We can do without that grand-scale and work out a plan that would relocate the executive branch of government and its departments over a 6-year period at a cost of about P20 billion a year. Where do you get the money? Take away the PDAF and use it for this purpose. With 285 members of Congress at P70 million a pop and 24 Senators at P200 million each, that’s a total of P24.75 billion. As for the P351 billion (or roughly P16 billion annually) for the 22-year Metro Flood Management Project, reduce that to P4 billion a year and use the balance and the PDAF savings to entice economic development outside Metro Manila. I bet that if you do this, Metro Manila wouldn’t need the entire P351 billion over 22 years as the money can instead be focused in areas and projects where it actually makes sense rather than spreading it in many areas even areas where it doesn’t make sense to do flood control.

This may be a pipe dream but it’s a pipe dream that equitizes development by benefiting more people instead of just Metro Manila, helps Metro Manila by de-congesting it and leaving it with the attendant benefits of having less people, gets rid of the PDAF (ha ha ha) and may actually save us money. It is time that we clear the slate and do this thing right by focusing on long-term solutions that actually benefits the country, elevates the Filipino’s quality of life and hopefully saves lives. In the end, aren’t these what really matter?

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