Summer break from chaos
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - April 15, 2019 - 12:00am

I love being in Metro Manila during Holy Week. I learned my lesson not to go out of the city at this time of the year. I never forgot the horrendous traffic jams I experienced at the expressways and in the towns all the way to Baguio and/or the Batangas beaches.

Forget going abroad or anywhere requiring a plane ride. NAIA is terribly congested on normal days. It is a hell hole on Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday.

And because it is election season, the usually bad NAIA delays get worse. NAIA officials don’t have the balls to enforce their strict rules banning flights of private planes on prime hours of the day out of fear of offending powerful politicians. So commercial flights are delayed even more.

So now, I stay in town and manage to have  leisurely drives in the normally traffic-clogged streets of the metropolis. But I must now take care I do not violate the 60 kph speed limit recently imposed by MMDA. There is no danger of doing that on ordinary work days.

The livable Metro Manila during Holy Week only proves the point that it is beyond its people carrying capacity during normal days. Metro Manila from the air looks like an amoeba that has grown too large.

Based on the 2015 census, the Philippine Statistical Authority revealed that the National Capital Region (NCR) has a population density of 20,785 persons per square kilometer.  This figure is more than 60 times higher than the population density of 337 persons per square kilometer at the national level.

This translates to an additional 1,648 persons per square kilometer (8.6 percent) from the 19,137 persons per square kilometer in 2010.  The population density of the NCR in 2000 was 16,032 persons per square kilometer.

According to a Harvard study, Mutations, Metro Manila has the highest population growth rate of 60 persons per hour in year 2000. That was 20 years ago and since Metro Manila is still a magnet for our impoverished countryside population, its rate of growth must be a lot higher now.

A JICA presentation that probably needs updating gives us more numbers: the population of Metro Manila is 12 million, while Mega Manila – which includes adjoining provinces – is 23 million. The population density of Metro Manila is 191 persons/hectare. This is higher than Tokyo and other major Asian cities.

For comparison, Tokyo’s population density is 131 persons/ha; Seoul 170 persons/ha; Jakarta 131 persons/ha; and Shanghai 124 persons/ha.

The puzzling thing is that we are only the 18th largest city in terms of population in the world at 12.9 million. If we take JICA’s Mega Manila population of 23 million, we will be number 4, after Shanghai at 23.7 million.

Tokyo is the largest with 38 million. But Tokyo and Shanghai have lower population densities. You don’t have to take the numbers by faith because if you have visited those cities, you can feel the numbers are true.

It is also true that Shanghai’s traffic gridlock and lack of road discipline approximates Metro Manila. But Shanghai has growth centers over a large area. They don’t all have to congregate in a business center like Makati or BGC.

I guess that is happening now here as well. Santa Rosa, Laguna is a good example of how we don’t all have to work and live in Makati. Quezon City has been trying to grow a business district for the longest time.

Cubao died somehow over the years. It is trying to get revived, but it may be too late. The North EDSA area seems to be the future business district for this part of Metro Manila.

Still and all, the Metro Manila growth areas are growing without the necessary regional planning that government should provide. We can be almost sure the chaos will worsen after the various vested interests in property development get done.

A new phenomenon is the growth of alternative business districts. People are getting tired of their four hour one way commutes to work, so it makes sense to stay within a certain radius of one’s home.

I, for instance, refuse to go to the Makati CBD unless it is absolutely necessary. I keep my meetings within the Ortigas area. As one grows older, one resents the hours wasted in traffic because such hours are taken from your decreasing number of hours left in this world.

President Duterte apparently feels the hopelessness of it all. He once declared that Metro Manila will be dead in 25 years. That is probably why he gave up doing anything about the traffic problem.  That he appointed incompetents to address our transport woes is another thing altogether.

President Duterte’s pessimistic view of Metro Manila should prompt him to do something. For instance, his transportation department may seem to look busy but has, so far, been unable to address our problems.

Other than traffic, housing is another pressing problem. This punishes the working class more than any other socio-economic group. They are forced to live further away from their workplaces and suffer punishingly long commutes.

The average commuting time for Metro Manila citizens is three hours going to work, and three hours going home, with a distance of 10 to 20 kilometers. That leaves little or no time for family and other pursuits.

Government should really address the congestion problem in Metro Manila to vastly improve our quality of life. It should manage road traffic a lot better and hurry up delivery of infra projects like that San Miguel connector road.

Government is also not doing a lot to help provide affordable housing. But this topic deserves another column or two.

Suffice it to say that at this time Metro Manila’s Holy Week population appears to be the optimum level. How to make Metro Manila less central to business and government is the challenge government must face.

In the meantime, enjoy this momentary relief from Metro Manila’s chaos. 

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

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