Who is responsible for Metro Manila?

- Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

We are virtually left to fend for ourselves. Or maybe we are just ungovernable. But I suspect we just don’t have a responsible official in charge. The reasons for having a social compact that puts a government in charge to make life livable have long been ignored.

A short downpour last Wednesday morning and all hell broke loose, as usual, in our streets. There were flooded areas that almost required pedestrians to swim. A car in Mother Ignacia street actually sunk in flood water. Traffic jams spoke of a city at the gates of hell… sorry MMDA chair Tolentino, but Dan Brown is really correct.

Speaking of chairman Tolentino… he is probably one of the more hated officials of the Aquino watch, next only to DOTC Sec. Jun Abaya. Both are blamed for our daily sufferings. If the two officials worked more closely, there should be a better chance the situation wouldn’t be as bad.

The truth is… there is no one responsible for making life in this metropolis of 12-to 15-million souls less of the hell hole it is today. Mr. Tolentino was reported to have confessed helplessness in dealing with the traffic situation because he doesn’t control the LTFRB. He said something has to be done with the buses and only the LTFRB has that power.

An excuse, perhaps, but it is also true. LTFRB is under DOTC and it seems the Aquino Cabinet does not operate like a team. How difficult is it for Mr. Tolentino to pick up the phone and tell Mr Abaya they have to talk about reducing the number of EDSA buses, or imposing discipline on the drivers or both? The LTFRB and the LTO, two agencies under the DOTC, are needed by Mr. Tolentino to help put order on EDSA, C5 and other major arteries.

Assuming Mr. Abaya ignored Mr. Tolentino or is unable to make the heads of LTFRB and LTO cooperate, couldn’t the matter be brought up to the attention of P-Noy? Probably not. 

I am told P-Noy does not like being presented problems. So Cabinet members pretend everything is working well even if there is chaos in the streets. P-Noy is safely cocooned in the Filipino people’s palace and will never know or care. Bahala kayo sa buhay nyo, right Mar?

So there it is… we have no one to make life bearable. The MMDA chairman gets no respect from the mayors of the 16 cities and one town in the National Capital Region or NCR. I suppose the mayors feel they are elected and have more right to lord it over in their fiefdom than an appointed MMDA chairman from Tagaytay.

The worst part is most of these mayors act like medieval datus presiding over their cities as if by Divine right. And the leadership is also passed on to wife or son or daughter as almost all the Metro Manila cities have ruling political dynasties for years. Only the city of Manila, Marikina, Quezon City and Caloocan seem free of a political dynasty, at least right now.

What we need is to drastically change the political system by creating an elected Metro Manila government. There could be a Metro Manila Council composed of the mayors, but they all report to an elected governor who can think and operate with Metro Manila in mind.

Most big metro areas in the world are governed in this manner. This is because the problems in any metro area are closely related. There is no way the flooding problem in Mandaluyong can be addressed without the cooperation of the San Juan government. 

Dealing with traffic is pretty much the same way. The Metro Manila traffic jams cannot be fixed in Makati if Mandaluyong continues to be a mess. 

 Fixing the problem involves fixing the streets that lead to each other, ridding streets of illegally parked vehicles and basketball courts. The four lanes of Estrella street northbound near Rockwell in Makati feeds into a narrow bridge that is for the longest time connected into a congested two lane road in Mandaluyong.

Our traffic problems also cannot be fixed without a reliable mass transit system so we can leave cars at home. It also involves relentless enforcement of traffic rules. We need to instill discipline on drivers, notably the abusive bus drivers.

 Indeed, it makes sense to devolve some of the functions of DOTC in planning mass transit systems to a Metro government. This can clearly be seen in Cebu. They have been struggling for years to have a Bus Rapid Transit or BRT, but had to wait for the longest time for Imperial Manila to get its act together.

I have no doubt that if the Cebuanos were left to take care of themselves they could have had that BRT years ago. I am told some prominent Cebuanos have even travelled around the world to visit cities that have successfully implemented the BRT. But when the idea was presented to the rather insular P-Noy, he called it untested and demanded a proof of concept.   

DOTC was supposed to test the BRT along Commonwealth Avenue and that delayed implementation in Cebu. Luckily, they somehow managed to convince P-Noy it is a tested system in many world capitals. That was when the project got rolling in Cebu. But so much time was lost.

Planning and building road infrastructure can only be done most efficiently from a metrowide perspective. We lack radial roads that connect east to west or from Antipolo to Port Area. We need to complete the construction of the C6 circumferential road so the big trucks that must go north from the south don’t have to go all the way to C5.

Flood control is impossible unless the metro area governments work with each other. Flood control projects must consider the need for engineering solutions that go beyond the boundaries of cities. There is flood in Espana because water flowed from the higher grounds of Quezon City. 

Dealing with garbage also ought to be done on a metro level, specially in the matter of disposal. Sanitary landfills or garbage dumps are better planned together to account for different capabilities in addressing the need on an individual city basis.

Health and sanitation is also best addressed on a metrowide basis. A mosquito infected with dengue in Taguig can bite a person from Pasig. A flu epidemic in Caloocan can quickly spread to Quezon City. It is the same thing with peace and order. Housing problems at the root of squatter colonies must be viewed from a metrowide basis.

Absence of metrowide planning has resulted in the current haphazard development sprawl that looks like an uncontrolled amoeba. We need better coordination between cities.

There is also the water supply. Distribution is in the hands of private concessionaires, but providing the water source is still government’s responsibility. Right now we are dependent on Angat Dam for over 95 per cent of our water needs. If that dam breaks in an earthquake (it is nearly on top of the West Valley fault), Metro Manila will run dry.

The MWSS has dilly dallied on developing alternative water sources. The MWSS should be under a strong metro government. That will make sure this need is attended to.

We cannot say it is impossible to do all these things because we have seen other world cities do it. Singapore is a good example of a city where someone is in charge. In our case, what we have is a failure of government.

A very harassed citizenry whose quality of life leaves much to be desired is visible proof of an inutile government. The MMDA as presently constituted cannot be an effective metrowide government.

We can also be sure the current system of independent mayors only serves the interest of political dynasties in power at the expense of delivering efficient public service. The Binays, Eusebios, Abaloses, Estradas, Olivareses, Cayetanos etc will never respect a metro government led by an appointed official. We need an elected Metro Manila governor.

Otherwise, life in our cities will just become progressively unlivable. The next president should certify a new law to be passed by the next Congress to make this elected metro government a reality.

Of course the political dynasties in control of our cities will do all they can to prevent such a law from being passed. No one wants to lose powers and prerogatives. That’s why it would take a president with enough political will to take the first steps in addressing the chaos in the National Capital Region.

Our problem today is no one’s in charge… no one is held accountable. There is no one who would take full responsibility for Metro Manila. That’s why it is such a mess. And it can only get worse.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco












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