A Metro Manila governance ‘czar’

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

A Metro Manila government is a need right now. The alternative is a situation where there are 27 cities and municipality ruled by semi-independent political lords who are focused on local needs alone. But the decisions made in one city affects residents of other cities.

The typical Metro Manilan lives in one city, works in another city and their children study in another city. Pollution in one city affects the environment in other cities because smog, stench and flash floods do not recognize political boundaries.

In almost every major metropolitan area in the world, there is a metropolitan government like Tokyo where there is an elected governor, an Assembly with 127 elected members. It administers 23 wards, each one with a local government. But the Tokyo metropolitan government directly administers certain services like traffic, electricity, water, public education, parks, and transportation. Economic and urban development planning are centralized at the regional government level.

There are metropolitan governments in Seoul, Bangkok, Jakarta, London, Paris, New York and most other similar highly urbanized regions. A metro-wide traffic” czar” will not be enough. What is needed is a Metro Manila governance “czar.”

 In the absence of a Metro Manila government, the public and media will turn to the national government to accept the responsibility for the metropolitan governance of Metro Manila. The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is only a coordinating body and does not have any coercive powers over the local government units.

There are long term solutions to commuting and workplace problems, like a mass transportation system and decongestion of the metropolis. But there is an urgent need for immediate short-term solutions to these issues which only a metropolitan-wide effort can address properly. These draconian problems cannot be solved by simply categorizing them into one issue like traffic control.

Take the case of the traffic on EDSA. Stricter enforcement of traffic laws can improve the flow of traffic as has already been done. But any major improvements require addressing other problems than simply traffic enforcement.

DPWH Secretary Singson has said that Taft Avenue is a national road that has not been fully used even though it is a direct link to Quirino Avenue in Manila. If properly used, this could help ease the traffic gridlock near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

There are 2,000 illegal vendors and their families who have closed down a kilometer-long stretch of Taft Avenue for the past 20 years. The Pasay City government is reported to have awarded spaces to these vendors. What is more revealing is the statement of the Barangay 79 chair who has jurisdiction over this area. He explained: “They ( vendors) practically live in the area, they are now my constituents.”

The southbound lane is open only to tricycles and light vehicles while the northbound lane is totally closed. Taft Avenue is a national road now closed to any traffic by city and barangay officials who have no concern for commuters going to NAIA who are not their voters.

This is the same case of cars parked along P. Tuazon street which resulted in increased congestion in EDSA. But car owners claim they have barangay permits to park their cars.

There is no Metro Manila government that can override these local decisions which obviously has a negative effect on the region as a whole.

In the absence of a regional government, the national government must now become the de facto Metro Manila government. But there is no time to create a metropolitan governance structure. The national government must and have used existing national government institutions as substitutes.

The need now is to have a specific person to take on the role of a regional governor. The term used may not be “governor” but it is clear that any organization needs a managerial head. There are two important requirements.

First, the Metropolitan governance head or “czar” must have coercive powers – legal, financial, or political – over local government units and national government units operating in the metropolis. Second, the person must have the political acumen and administrative competencies to manage a metropolitan bureaucracy that will be composed of several national and local government  bureaucracies.

The most obvious person that can take this role would come from either the Office of the President or the Department of Interior and Local Government. These are the only two agencies that would have sufficient, inherent powers. But while they take over Metro Manila governance, they must retain their positions in order to retain their powers over the different bureaucracies.

If Mar Roxas was still DILG Secretary, he could have been a potential candidate for this task. But the newly appointed DILG head is too new and will need time to adjust to his present responsibilities.

The only possible alternatives, whose position and capabilities fit the criteria, come from the Office of the President – Executive Secretary Jojo  Ochoa and Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras.

Secretary Ochoa, as Executive Secretary can mobilize any government agency – national or local – since he can act “by authority of the President.” He also has had wide experience in urban affairs since he was a city administrator of Quezon City for several years. As the functioning head of disaster relief during major natural disasters, he has shown his capabilities in marshalling government efforts quickly during times of natural disasters. He has proven his political acumen in fulfilling backroom missions for the President. The latest example was his role as liaison in successfully  settling the INC demonstrations.

Secretary Almendras, as Cabinet Secretary, is already familiar with the task of coordinating the efforts of different national government departments. He is basically a technocrat having been a top level executive for the Ayala Group, one most professionally managed business conglomerate in Asia. However, he has proven that he can combine managerial competence with political power play when he was able to successfully resolve the port congestion issue that was causing so much economic damage. He is already acting as the traffic “czar” of EDSA. But I am sure that, by now, he is aware that the solution to the EDSA bottleneck is not limited to enforcing traffic laws on EDSA. It requires addressing other metropolitan issues.

These two persons are highly qualified and their present positions give them the coercive powers to address metropolitan wide governance issues. Either Ochoa or Almendras can head an inter agency task force composed of the DILG, DOTC, DPWH, DTI, DND, and NEDA. Together this be the substitute regional government. The MMDA should be absorbed by the DILG or report directly to the head of the task force.

The problems of traffic, floods, illegal vendors, delays in public works construction, jurisdictional disputes, squatting, crime, land use planning, and urban mass transportation system are all intertwined. They cannot be solved separately. The activities needed to ensure the realization of the urban environment we all desire are all linked into one Metro Manila value chain.

Call him the Metro Manila “Czar” or Chair of a Metro Manila Inter Agency Task Force. The title is immaterial. The need is for a working Metro Manila governance structure now and a capable person, with the coercive powers, to be the head. I hope the public will endorse and support this proposal.

Where the Write Things Are’s  Classes for Kids and Teens

Write Away! Weekend: Getting started on your comic book on September 26 (1-4pm) with popular cartoonist and writer Manix Abrera at the Canadian American School Alphaland Makati Place.

Young Writers’ Hangout every first Saturday of the month (1:30-3pm)at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street.

For registration and fee details contact 0917-6240196 / [email protected].

 Email: [email protected]

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