Last chance for Bonifacio
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - November 19, 2017 - 4:00pm

It was not too long ago when what was then known as Fort Bonifacio was one large expanse of green. The Ministry of Energy was probably the only cabinet level civilian office that was allowed to build its headquarters there.

The justification for having the newly created energy ministry inside the camp was national security. Energy was such an important concern in those days of crisis arising from geopolitical developments in the Middle East. We were feverishly doing scientific research looking for local oil deposits and data gathered were considered highly confidential.

The growing congestion in Metro Manila eventually placed enough pressure on the administration of Fidel Ramos to let go of the large military camp.

Privatizing Fort Bonifacio was supposed to raise funds for the modernization the ofmilitary. It was also supposed to unleash economic value to benefit the entire economy.

The theoretical reasons for privatizing the military camp are valid. But, and it is a big but, there was not enough thought placed on how to make the privatization effort environment and people friendly.

Fort Bonifacio’s privatization was our one last chance to show the world we know how to execute such a large development. Apparently, we don’t. It would have been a good counterpoint to the reckless growth of Metro Manila, characterized by an almost absolute lack of proper land use planning.

Two decades after and the ill-effects of Fort Bonifacio’s privatization is upon us. Traffic jams are as horrible within Bonifacio’s CBD as it is in nearby Makati CBD. The connections between the different areas in Bonifacio are so inadequately planned that traffic flow builds up at bottlenecks during business hours.

The different private developers made big money in Bonifacio, and still are, but at the expense of the public interest. BCDA, the agency that presided over Fort Bonifacio’s privatization, apparently didn’t have competent city planners on staff. Otherwise, BCDA should have made provisions that would, among others, set proper floor area ratios for buildings and enough open green spaces so that we don’t get that crowded feeling one gets in Makati.

Sadly, BCDA didn’t have the competence to prescribe measures to assure good city planning. The private developers were just focused on the cash register. The public, as always, ends up suffering serious congestion, a consequence of living in a third world country with its inadequate governance standards.

My column last week on urban blight elicited an e-mail from retired vice admiral Victorino Hingco that brought up our truly one last chance to do something right at Fort Bonifacio. Admiral Hingco is very much concerned with how BCDA is privatizing the last big piece of land at Bonifacio.

The retired admiral said government’s lack of planning would result in another messy situation, particularly in traffic flow. If the same privatization approach done in McKinley West and Villamor Air Base is repeated in the soon to be bid out Bonifacio South Pointe, the retired admiral thinks things can only get worse.

The retired officer thinks BCDA must reserve enough areas for public use, otherwise we will suffer economic and emotional losses due to the traffic chaos that will be created. BCDA has advertised a “last chance” for developers to bid for joint venture development on Bonifacio South Pointe.

“For me, this is also the last chance to avoid a mistake that is very evident in the Sales St, VAB and Lawton Ave, McKinley West road system. BCDA privatized all the areas using the existing right of way for these roads without making provisions for setback for road expansion.

“For example, in Lawton Ave, the new Robinson Corporate Center building is close to Lawton Avenue and is a hindrance to road expansion. I noted previous announcements for a 10-lane Lawton Avenue. Presently, it has six lanes in the BGC side and narrows to four lanes from the American cemetery side up to Gate 3.

“The band aid solution is rerouting a one-way traffic inside McKinley West. Even before the development of McKinley West the four-lane road in that area was already a traffic nightmare. There is a need for better planning to accommodate vehicles coming from McKinley Hill, Bayani Road, Pasong Tamo, Sales St and SLEX…

“The area for bidding should be reduced to reserve portions of public land for public use. We need a lot of space for road expansion, terminals for PUVs and even a railway terminal connection in PNR South linking NAIA to Clark. There is also the Bus Rapid Transit that should be accommodated. The subway project to NAIA is a sign that NAIA is there to stay.

“We all dream the BCDA Fort Bonifacio projects will set an example of a new and well-planned city of the future. The locators and the winning bidder for Bonifacio South Pointe should appreciate the fact that they must not aggravate the traffic problem in Fort Bonifacio.”

The admiral raised good points. After its obvious failure to properly plan proper land use in Bonifacio, BCDA shouldn’t miss one last chance to do something right in Bonifacio. The already suffering public shouldn’t have to deal with more BCDA mistakes.

Indeed, BCDA should do what it can to solve the traffic congestion problem we all suffer driving from the airport. San Miguel wants to extend its airport expressway down Lawton Avenue. BCDA should provide enough land so there will be no problem in right of way acquisition in the future.

BCDA officials should think long term. Their mission is to ensure proper and people-oriented development. Short term cash is not BCDA’s primary mission. 

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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