Fix EDSA, fix our national image
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - September 4, 2019 - 12:00am

Last week, I hosted a group of American investors who plan to build a bio-refinery that converts municipal solid waste into aviation fuel. They came for meetings with various government officials and to do an ocular visit of the San Mateo landfill, the site in which the bio-refinery will be built.

Prior to their arrival, my visitors had been warned by their colleagues to brace themselves for the traffic, filth, clutter and grime of the city. As a Filipino, I wanted to prove them wrong and show that Metro Manila was indeed progressive. It is our nation’s capital and center for economic activity, after all.

They were billeted at the Shangri-La BGC and as first impressions go, they were impressed at how modern and pedestrian friendly their neighborhood was. They even mentioned that the triangle of Makati, Rockwell and BGC reminded them of Singapore. High praise, but I knew this upscale triangle is all but a dot in Metro Manila’s landscape. The rest of the city had yet to reveal itself.

Our weeklong agenda took us to Malacañang, Quezon City, Pasig and of course, to San Mateo. There was no hiding – they saw the good, the bad and the ugly that our city has to offer. By the end of it, they likened Metro Manila to Mumbai. While pockets of modernity exists, it is overcome by clutter, dense crowds and an overarching atmosphere of mania, they said. I was disappointed by their assessment, but was not surprised.

When you really come down to it, the best parts of our city are those centrally planned by the private sector. Makati, BGC, Rockwell and Filinvest Corporate City would not be the world-class townships they are if not for the capital, managerial expertise and professionalism that their developers provide.

Local government units (LGUs) have proven incapable of maintaining a town that comes close to the standards of BGC. This is due to the corruption, political interest and dearth of professional talent that plague most LGUs. Exacerbating the situation is that all 17 LGUs of Metro Manila have their own development plans which have little correlation to the other. This explains the disjointed, unorganized and uneven development of Metro Manila across cities.

The situation would have been different if the city were still managed by a super-body like the former Metro Manila Authority (MMA). It will be recalled that under the MMA, the city was centrally planned, fully integrated and managed with relative efficiency. With the enactment of the local government code, however, the MMA was abolished and replaced by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) back in 1995. Today, the MMDA merely performs planning, monitoring and coordinating functions over LGUs. In other words, the MMDA cannot insist that an LGU conform to a masterplan nor can it demand that certain reforms be enacted. It can only suggest.

The MMDA has regulatory authority over the delivery of metro-wide services as well as jurisdiction over national roads.

Metro Manila’s management is subject to the whims of the Mayors. This is why it will remain the ugly neighbor to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur unless something changes.

That said, what can we do to make Metro Manila more presentable given the present circumstances? How can we make better impression to our visitors? How can we make it more bearable for the residents? There is no quick-fix antidote, but there is one simple solution we can do that will have an enormous impact. That solution is to fix EDSA.

Within EDSA’s span are the seven key cities of the metropolis. One cannot help but traverse EDSA when navigating Metro Manila. It is the byway most utilized and one that provides the most lasting impression of the city. Make EDSA beautiful and it will go a long way toward improving the city’s image. Like it or not, EDSA is the face of the city.

Lets not talk about solving traffic on EDSA. That will take years. Lets talk about what we can do now. The MMDA can make EDSA a befitting principal highway of the city by simply doing three things.

The first is to get rid of the thousands of illegal billboards that degrade the city’s aesthetics and contribute to blight and clutter. Without ugly billboards, EDSA will be open to unobstructed vistas of the city’s greeneries, the river, the sky and our impressive skyscrapers.

Freeing EDSA of billboards will also make it safer. The public will no longer be put at risk when typhoons topple billboards down. Neither will the public be exposed to electrical hazards as most billboards are installed within striking distance of high voltage cables and transformers. There will also be less accidents as driver’s attention will no longer be grabbed by advertisements but will remain on the road.

The uncontrolled proliferation of billboards is a telltale sign of poor governance. The use of tarpaulin billboards is a third-world signature given its toxic emissions when disposed and burnt.

Like I said, the majority of billboard that operate on EDSA are illegal. I have a copy of the building code and its governing rules are very clear. Among them are as follows:

No billboard shall be located within a one hundred meter radius from another; No billboard shall be erected in a manner that it confuses or obstructs the view of traffic signs and/or the natural view of the landscape; No billboard shall obstruct fire escapes or emergency exits; Roof signs are prohibited; Billboards shall maintain adequate distance from high voltage power lines in accordance with the Philippine Electrical Code; No billboard or LED signs can be installed over or across public roads; Billboards are not allowed in sidewalks, flyovers, interchanges, traffic signs, communications posts, waiting sheds and LRT/MRT carriageways, columns and beams; Billboards cannot be installed on trees, electric or light posts, side strips or fences; Billboards shall not be allowed to cross or straddle along carriageways (center islands of highways).

Billboards are contentious given its enormous money trail. I once asked a Metro Manila Mayor why she allows illegal billboards to operate in her city. She responded by saying, “ang laki ng pera eh’” (because its big money). Her answer said it all.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is the agency tasked to enforce the national building code, yet, it has turned a blind eye on the flagrant defiance of the code. Why, one may ask. I cannot help but think that the money trail ends in the DPWH and the offices of Mayors.

Since we cannot count on the DPWH to enforce the building code and protect public interest, the MMDA might as well use its powers to outlaw illegal billboards on EDSA and dismantle them. The MMDA has jurisdiction of EDSA, after all.

The second and third ways is to beautify EDSA is to intensify the greening of the highway with more trees and foliage. The third is to install more public art and public monuments. These are things the MMDA is already doing.

I know MMDA Chairman, Danilo Lim to be an honest, no-nonsense man who is intent to making positive change. I trust that he would heed the call to make EDSA a befitting face of the city, one every Filipino can be proud of.

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