The alternate title for this piece is “Manila Is Dead”, and I mean that in the way given below.
Many capitals and major cities around the world began as settlements along riverbanks or outlets to the sea. In ancient times this meant access to water for drinking, for fishing, as a means of evacuation and as a means of transportation. It was by far the most convenient and easiest way for people to grow and prosper, to trade and prosper.
Fast forward a thousand years, and we see the phenomenon of overcrowded urban centers with heavily polluted and silted waterways that pose health risks and no longer serve their primary purposes.
Manila, or rather Metro Manila, is a historical anomaly born as recently as the creation of cities around and beyond the greater Manila plan. We now have 16 cities and one municipality covering a relatively small area of 620 square kilometers for about 15 million people.
These 17 unique Local Government Units (LGUs) have become the root of many systemic ills in the country for several reasons. By extension, this also infects the rest of the country’s LGUs.
On the one hand, there is an extreme fragmentation of political organizations trapped in the same time and in the same space, but which are forced to operate along artificial borders which are not rational. Moreover, there is a lack of scale for a cosmopolitan area of such political, economic, social and cultural importance.
A case in point is the differentiated 17-color/number/imaginary traffic pattern that drivers in Metro Manila must know by heart lest they be trapped by 17 different-uniformed traffic officers. Woe to the delivery van driver who overlooks a particular digital coding scheme in a specific area! Secondly, it brings us to a very ugly capital that can never be among the 100 most livable cities in the world. (Manila was recently ranked the 34th best city in the world for 2022, according to the results of the 2022 Time Out Index. The index surveyed 20,000 city dwellers around the world.—Editor’s note.)Look around you and see the arc -rainbow of colors which is usually the choice of the winning Mayor and the winning Congressman. With each election season, new efforts are made to impose a different color scheme on public facilities – a waste of scarce paint and labor that could have been spent on more meaningful, rather than merely cosmetic, projects.
Enter traffic signs and symbols that lead to confusion and “kotong” (extortion, usually by cops) in the asphalt jungle. There is an internationally designed and adopted system that is completely ignored, making daily travel difficult and more stressful for locals and tourists.
Third, there is the three-year time limit for any well-meaning local CEO to do anything substantial. It doesn’t matter which ones are not performing.
In 2022 and in a post-pandemic world, the biggest announcement from the Metro Manila Development Authority is that a U-turn along Edsa must be closed or kept open. And how should the bus rapid transit system work on Edsa, which does not have a constant number of lanes along its entire stretch? The metro is simply too expensive, given the porous subsoil that Metro Manila sits on or sinks into.
It’s time to move the capital. Our neighbors have done it: Myanmar has politically moved its capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw, a more central place to govern and away from the constraints of the old city. Then there is the transfer of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, to its new location an island and a strait away – in Nusantara, away from the mouth of the Jakarta River with its flooding and congestion which is worsening in parallel with Bangkok and, of course, Manila.
In terms of the archipelago, Indonesia is much more difficult. The number of indigenous peoples and varied dialects and languages on many islands with more than one time zone makes locating a new capital interesting, to say the least. But the Indonesians have managed to pull it off, and their new capital is now becoming a smart eco-city surrounded by forest, even as we in Metro Manila watch a tangle of electric, telephone and and wired, and watch high potholes and constant digging. Can we Filipinos do less than our ASEAN peers?
Let the search for a new capital begin with the country’s leaders – beginning with Metro Manila’s 17 mayors – raising the banner of the dreams, visions and aspirations of 111 million Filipinos to save a dying metropolis.
Geronimo L. Sy, [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to access The Philippine Daily Inquirer and over 70 titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am and share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.