The good, the bad and the ugly
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - November 16, 2019 - 12:00am

The worst in the world. If we were to believe waze as we do when we trek to and from work daily, we are in the worst city in the world to drive in. In September, it took 4.9 minutes on the average to drive a full kilometer in Metro Manila streets, be they avenues or boulevards.

ADB released a report finding Metro Manila to be the most congested major city in developing Asia. The cause is the lack of efficient/affordable public transportation. What is an indicator of a country’s first world status? Its if government and leadership use public transportation. You know you’re third world when your leaders of government and the private sector are still in cars and are not riding public transit.

As Senator Frank Drilon carps about the failure of the “Build Build Build” program, NEDA Assistant Secretary Roderick Planta assures that, though it will get worse before getting better, government’s infrastructure priorities are “coming along”. He outlines road transport, mass transit networks (including the first subway in Metro Manila), traffic management and intelligent transport, among others.

But will it do the job? Ubiquitous urban planner architect Felino Palafox and Co. articulate that it won’t be enough. It may alleviate the situation but it will not solve the problem. For them, the answer is urban planning and land use balance. Land use is traffic’s demand side.

Short of uprooting communities wholesale, proposals on balancing housing and jobs will have to wait for new urban developments. Population density and limited infrastructure will severely hamper government’s capacity to decongest the metropolis as it is.

Too many cars. Experts have pointed to the influx of cars as another source of blame. Hence, the calls for higher taxes or quotas on ownership. They point to the untapped potential to strongly regulate traffic’s supply side.

Consideration of any of the solutions, from whatever perspective, is welcome if only to keep the conversation lively on a matter which has deteriorated from problem to crisis to calamity, regardless of what Sal thinks. Measured in years, Manong Jun Palafox computes that we are doomed to spend up to 15 years of our economic life in traffic, whether in our private vehicles or in horrendous public transport.

Hong Kong meltdown. Those frightening snippets of violence and “anarchy” forwarded to you on the viber thread? Of course its Hong Kong and, yes, its all true. Across the city, countless international and domestic high profile events are being called off with organizers prioritizing safety and security over logistical peace of mind.

The cancellation of concerts, sporting events, parades and conferences further erodes confidence and quickens the plunge of tourism numbers. Arrivals are down, the lowest since 2003’s SARS outbreak.

Already, Hong Kong police decry the impending collapse of the rule of law. We are hearing allegations of anarchy; of random and indiscriminate acts of violence. But the accusations fly from both sides.

Split personalities. On the part of the protesters, we still recall the peaceful demonstrations from four to five months back characterized by remarkable restraint and discipline. Hence, we tend to give credence to reports that the “anarchy” is not random or indiscriminate but rather targeted only at businesses connected with anti-protest Chinese.

Offices of the Bank of China and Xiaomi have been vandalised, wholesale. Starbucks outlets, operated by local franchisee Maxim’s caterers, are singled out for defending Hong Kong police and criticizing the activists.

Hong Kong, the world’s most expensive sector of real estate, specifically its Hong Kong side (Kowloon side is third most expensive), has now resorted to discounting their rates, as urged by the government. Mainland Chinese lessees that just last year forced a glut are avoiding the properties, even at a hefty discount.

Reality check. The continued turmoil has inflicted irreparable damage to its image as the stable, impregnable financial bastion of the East. GDP has contracted 2.9% from the previous year, the worst reading for Hong Kong since the 2009 financial crisis. Though economic managers expect the contraction to bottom out with a de-escalation of hostilities, its difficult to imagine any renewed vigor in investment in the short term. Carrie Lam has already conceded the impossibility of meeting the pre-protest 0 to 1% projected annual growth. Instead, Hong Kong will have negative growth for 2019.

The Hong Kong government has poured in more than HK$22 billion in relief measures but that may not be enough. Are we seeing the end of Hong Kong as we know it? All eyes are now on Beijing.

The best in the world. Sagada (Arabica bean – typica variant) and Bukidnon (Arabica and Robusta) coffees have continued the Philippine streak of excellence on the international stage. Our entries, from small, single origin coffee farms represented us well at the AVPA 2019 awards in Milan, Italy.

SGD, coffee from Sagada, was recognized in the rond equilibre (round balanced) category. “Coffee with all flavors and aromas in a good balance”. They were awarded a bronze medal. Mirabueno of Bukidnon in the puissant doux (powerful soft) classification: “Strong coffee, softness in the mouth at the end” was given the gourmet prize.

With the proliferation of artisanal, single origin coffee shops in the city and with the variety of imported beans on offer, we’ve gotten spoiled. At grocery shelves, we find popular ground and whole bean coffees from all corners of the world. Coffee drinkers are truly some of the biggest winners in the globalization sweepstakes. Technology has guaranteed the freshness of the bean or grind from time picked/ground to its ultimate destination. You get lulled by the reputations and tastes of iconic brands as against the brands we know: Nescafé, Great Taste (thank you for this, Mr. John) and Barako.

These foreigners, experts in the business and enjoyment of coffee, are telling us that Philippine coffee is good enough to compete with the best in the world.

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