Strict urban planning, a mandatory course for mayors
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - September 13, 2018 - 12:00am

Filipino politicians are always on the go, visiting well-planned cities like Rome, Paris, Tokyo, Bangkok, London, and Milano either for pleasure or for official meetings. What ordinances did these cities implement in order to provide a better standard of life to the citizens, and thousands of tourists who regularly visit them? Unfortunately, in spite of being inspired to upgrade the quality of their city environs the importance of parks, historical museums near city centers and residential areas have been overlooked. Daily garbage collection, proper zoning, even street signs are disregarded.

A skyline of condo towers dims sunset of Metro Manila

Traversing EDSA from Alabang to Cubao, one sees the development of at least 35 high-rise 45-story condo projects resembles a giant pincushion. Not one of those would be legal in Spain, Italy or France, where public ordinances mandate that no big project can be developed in an area that is already congested with traffic.

According to Rappler the problem of the livability of Metro Manila is a big one and the causes of the dysfunctionality are relatively easy to point out. Corruption is a major cause led by the common practice of Filipino mayors who will permit, not deny the construction of high-rise condo towers or a big mall in an already congested area when offered by a wealthy developer like what happened with Torre de Manila shooting high to the sky like a giant Goliath and obscuring David, our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal standing proudly on our major monument where heads of nations and dignitaries lay wreath at his feet to honor the nation.

Nobody could also imagine Tokyo, Seoul, Paris, or New York being managed by 17 mayors, but this is the case in Metro Manila, resulting in a total lack of coordination in public ordinances and having different rules (like car bans and “walang pasok” statements) that leave citizens disoriented. Big cities in the world assimilated naturally surrounding cities while growing. It did not happen in the Philippines. The efforts of MMDA and LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising & Regulatory Board) are severely made difficult by the administrative mess.

 Those who are actually in power have all the incentives to not change the status quo and to not contribute to the improvement of the city. The fact that the Philippines has been a nation betrayed by its economic and political elite can be illustrated in the poor urban planning issue. Lack of public spaces, like plazas and parks, is just a reflection of their greed and has forced Filipinos to spend their free time in malls.

The esteros of Manila and the downtrodden Filipinos

The Metro Manila Development Authority identified that out of 16 municipalities in Metro Manila governed by mayors and their councilors, six have allowed their canals to be permanent garbage dumping grounds. Most of them have shanties where squatters reside who pay rents to the barangay captain.

Esteros or side canals are fed by the Pasig River that connects Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay stretching 25 kilometers. It bisects Manila into northern and southern halves. It includes more than 30 tributaries with the two major Marikina and San Juan Rivers. The rest flow to Alabang River, Amorsolo Creek, Batasan River, Estero de Binondo, Estero de Maypad, Estero de Paco/Estero de Pandacan, Estero de Tripa de Gallina. During the annual monsoon season they overflow and submerge the surrounding communities.

As the population doubled and tripled in Manila and suburbs, more unemployed migrants squatted illegally around the esteros. In 1946 Manila has around 46,000 squatters. It rose to 98,000 in 1956 and to 283,000 in 1963. According to the 1984 USAID study, from 1970 to 1980, the population of Quezon City increased by 48.6 percent, much faster than the increase in Manila at the same period. Out of four million informal settlers about three million are in Metro Manila in 2018. Despite massive and forcible eviction from private lots and public lands, new groups of informal communities continue to mushroom. It is a paradox that while the upper class condo dweller live in comfort in high rise apartments three million squatters of Metro Manila surround them below.

Unfortunately, we lack a sense of history and culture

Citizens only react when a well-known landmark is threatened, like the Rizal Memorial Stadium which has been saved from destruction by the National Historical Commission.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater used to be an elegant amphitheater was abandoned for many years. Finally, in May 2015 NCCA was authorized by the government to purchase the Metropolitan Theater for P270 million to jump start the rehabilitation procedure.

The Tutuban Railway Station near Divisoria served trains going up to San Fernando, La Union and down to Legaspi, Albay, has been converted to a shopping mall.

Meantime, the PNR Paco Station said to bear semblance to the Penn Station is now gutted and abandoned.

The Insular Ice and Cold Storage at the foot of Quezon Bridge was designed by American architect Edgar K. Bourne. It was constructed in 1902 to “provide supplies comfort” for US troops during the American administration of the Philippines. After it was severely damaged during World War II, it was never restored and was demolished in 1980 to give way to LRT Line 1.

What Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015) said about the Philippines

From his book “From Third World to First” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (often referred to as LKY), having governed three decades shared lessons on development, including building ties with the Philippines. Following the assassination of Senator Ninoy Aquino in 1983, he recounted an international outrage that resulted in foreign banks blocking all loans to the Philippines.”

On coup attempts against Cory Aquino that discouraged inflow of investments: “This was a pity because they had so many able people, educated in the Philippines and the United States. There was no reason why the Philippines should not have been one of the more successful of the ASEAN countries. In the 1950s and ‘60s, it was the most developed, because America had been generous in rehabilitating the country after the war. Something was missing, a gel to hold society together. They were two different societies: Those at the top lived a life of extreme luxury and comfort while the peasants scraped a living, and in the Philippines it was a hard living. They had no land but worked on sugar and coconut plantations.”

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