Big push!
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2020 - 12:00am

At this point of a presidential term, the President should be thinking of a legacy project… one to be remembered by. It is almost certain that EJKs will be synonymous with this administration, whether he likes it or not. That’s why he must push hard to make sure that he will also be remembered for something else more positive.

Perhaps they can take lessons from the pandemic. One big lesson is to recognize that Metro Manila is too overcrowded for our own good. That’s nothing really new but no administration has given that problem the attention it deserves. Every administration focused on traffic jams.

My friend Manny Gonzales wrote something in this newspaper last year that made a good observation. He said we can’t solve our problems unless we ask the right questions.

“When asking the usual questions makes a problem seem incapable of resolution, sometimes it helps to change the question. In all our country’s major contemporary issues, we need to change the question.

“For example, the problem is not how to fix Metro Manila traffic. The problem, rather, is how to fix Metro Manila overpopulation.

“Metro Manila is a flood plain; it is sinking four inches a year; it is in a tsunami-prone, volcano-active zone which is both right on a major fault and 100 kilometers from another major fault just west of Luzon. The city of Manila is the most congested city in the world, and it is just five meters above sea level.

“Metro Manila traffic is inherently unsolvable; LA has spent 100 times more money on its traffic problem than we could ever hope to spend, and has gotten nowhere. By re-defining the problem, we can make our problem more amenable to solution.”

Manny is right. Indeed, Indonesian President Joko Widodo thought along the same lines. He has the same problem with Jakarta. They have tried a lot of the things we are only now trying to do… from putting up BRTs and having a subway.

Al-Jazeera reported that “congestion has relentlessly worsened in the past decade as car ownership rose, squeezing more and more vehicles onto Jakarta’s unchanging road network. The average peak hour speed has “significantly decreased” to 10km an hour, according to the transport ministry. It often can take two or more hours to move five km in some pockets of the city.”

Sounds like EDSA traffic… sounds like Metro Manila. Jakarta inaugurated its first subway line last year and is proceeding with another line that will be ready in 2024. But it won’t solve their problems.

President Widodo knew they had to do something really drastic, citing worsening traffic, land subsidence, flooding and a host of other problems in Jakarta. Exactly the same problems we have in Manila.

So, the Indonesian President announced last year a $33 billion project to build a new capital city in East Kalimantan province.

They expect the new capital to be fully functioning by 2045, spread across 200,000 hectares, or nearly 500,000 acres. Then COVID struck and the project is on hold for the meantime.

Actually, we were ahead of the Indonesians in planning a new national capital. BCDA under Arnel Casanova had been working on the New Clark City back in the PNoy years. This continued with new BCDA chief Vince Dizon under the Duterte administration.

But New Clark City as the new seat of government needs a big push from President Duterte himself in the same way that President Widodo is pushing the plans to move the capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan.

The COVID pandemic showed that Metro Manila is increasingly unlivable. The large number of people made it harder to control the pandemic. In the crowded slum areas, social distancing was impossible.

There are hints that the Duterte folks have seen the problem and have ideas about solutions. They are thinking decongestion. That’s what Balik Probinsya is about.

But it has not been well thought out. It was a knee jerk response. It was spurred by so many people who want to go back to their provincial hometowns because the lockdowns deprived them of livelihoods and made them go hungry.

But they will be back in Metro Manila after the virus clears out unless the government helps migrate work to the countryside. Maybe the efforts to improve agricultural productivity will help keep some people in the provinces.

But the need for a Duterte Big Push to move the capital to New Clark City is just as urgent. Decongest the metro area for good. Make the move to Clark a national project so that the Supreme Court and the Senate won’t put up new buildings at BGC and build in Clark instead.

To the credit of DOTr Sec Art Tugade, he was the only one to recognize the solution and did something by moving his head office to Clark. Unfortunately, no other government office followed.

This is the Big Push project President Duterte should want to leave behind as his legacy. He saw NCR’s situation and he did the only logical thing to do. But there is no timeline to fully build New Clark City. A Duterte push will produce one.

The President has a good opportunity to make this Big Push when he inaugurates the new Clark International Airport. Its construction was completed ahead of schedule this year by Megawide, the same guys running Mactan Cebu International Airport.

The Clark Airport will be managed by a consortium that includes a Changi Airport subsidiary. They are expected to run this airport in the same world class standards for which Singapore’s Changi Airport is known.

The North train line from Tutuban to Malolos and from Malolos to Clark may also be completed within Duterte’s term or shortly thereafter. That will provide fast connection to NCR of just an hour, to facilitate transition from the old capital to the new.

I have seen the plans for New Clark City and all I can say is, I can’t wait to see the new metropolis rise. It is definitely the Big Push project Duterte must strive to leave behind as his legacy.

 

 

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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