1977 plan still remains to be carried out

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WAY back in 1977, Metro Manila was presented with an urban plan, and prior to that in the early 1900’s Daniel Burnham had a beautiful plan as well. Thirty eight years after, we still ask ourselves where this beautiful city is now. Where are the river transport systems that resemble Venice and Paris? Where are the frescos along the sidewalks that inspired Paris’ civic interaction? Where are the subways and transits which can move more than 20 million citizens like that of Tokyo today?

I want to share with you an excerpt taken from the MMetroplan published in 1977 by Freeman Fox and Associates:

“The Metro Manila region is by far the largest single urban area in the Philippines with a population of six million. It produces nearly one-third of the nation’s Gross National Product, and by value, accounts for close to a half, both of all secondary activity (manufacturing and construction) and of all tertiary activity (government, commerce, and services). The center of Government has the main international port, the only regularly operating international airport, and it is the center of both higher education and cultural activity.

The problems of Manila are to some extent unique in the Philippines and daily apparent since Government, the church and a large proportion of the nation’s population live with them. However they are by no means the Philippine’s greatest problems. The fact that there is such a strong need for people to migrate to Manila in the first place is probably the country’s s single largest development problem. Opportunities for social and economic advancement outside Manila are relatively limited, and until such time as that relative difference is reduced, continued migration towards Manila can be expected. However, priority is now being given by Government to rural development policies in different parts of the country.”


After 38 years we are still confronting the same issues that were identified– traffic development management, decentralization of Manila by way of new growth centers, and flooding, among others. Back then Light Rail Transit were proposed to intersect Taft Avenue all the way to Shaw Boulevard and the proposal for integrated bus system which was already an infancy of a PPP (Public-Private-Partnership) like setup.

It’s easy to belittle the impact of proper urban planning but in a macro level it becomes a systemic problem. A road without proper sidewalks becomes a less preferable route for people to walk through. A single street without a proper bus or jeepney stop becomes a chaotic loading and unloading zone, unperturbed by the beeps and anger of other vehicles, and consequentially bottleneck congestion. Multiply this to the whole city of Manila and what we have is a circus.

The proper thing to do, even though it is difficult to implement, is to create new zoning measures that promotes compact mixed-used and pedestrianization. We need to shift our car-oriented streets to a more holistic use where walking and biking is preferred. We need to make sure education and economic opportunity will be at par in different regions and cities. We also need ensure that economic gain does not trample on human development and environmental sustainability.

The MMETROPLAN on addressing hazards
After the tragedy of Ondoy, there were questions raised if ever there were a lax in the side of urban planning from preventing extreme flooding. The answer is no because the 1977 MMetroplan was very specific on the areas that are potentially prone to flooding. The areas identified were Tondo, Manila, Pasay, Mandaluyong, Pateros, Rosario and Cainta. If we take a look at the flooded areas during Typhoon Ondoy, it is the exact same areas that were identified 38 years ago. Meaning, decades ago, there was already a forecast regarding the reality of this problem and there were actually recommendations made. In the plan it recommended: “further development in these areas should be restricted.” The study has also warned on the lack of adequate facilities for the treatment and disposal of sewage. It even predicted that severe water pollution will continue in areas such as Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay.

One of the most important parts of the recommendations that we sent Malacañang in 2010 after the devastation of Ondoy and the earthquake in Haiti is the need to update Daniel Burnham’s 1905 plan for Metro Manila, the 2004 MMEIRS Report, and the 1976-1977 Mmetroplan. he government must promote flood-proof, fireproof and earthquake resistant measures by designating open spaces as evacuation places in urban areas, develop and strengthen urban facilities which can be used as comfortable disaster-proof living zones by creating individual citizen awareness for disaster prevention and response.

Among the adaptation and mitigation measures proposed by Palafox Associates is the regular deepening of silted lakes, rivers, creeks, and other waterways, coupled with pollution abatement measures and proper solid waste management. This way, our water bodies can hold more floodwater and reduce flood levels. In line with this, the hills and mountains near the catch basins should be reforested to help absorb more floodwater.

Problems no matter how basic cannot be buried in the depths of our concerns. We are too focused on economic growth without stopping for moment to reflect if it is sustainable or not. Yes we are experiencing an economic boom but currently at what expense? There should always be a balance between sociological, environmental, and economic needs.

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10 Comments

  1. Wolfgang Struck on

    Dear Jun Palafox,

    Thank you. In many words you describe the never-ending problem that is Metro Manila. More people should know that you are close to the mastermind of urban planning. You do not say it but the truth is: It was all done, all ready for implementation (think Bataan Nuclear Power Plant), when they ransacked the presidency and put a vengeful housewife to destroy everything Marcos (CIA, George Bush Sr., Vatican, NY-London bankers). Back to the future or this country will go down the drain.

    We are getting ready for the next presidential election. Maybe more candidates will run this time than ever before. The winner takes all. Imagine, your wonderful ideas will slumber on in one of the drawers of the next government. They have to take care of their business first. Filipino people will pray and pay. They are so patient. Some will read your article today. I did. I promised you we will do something. Malapit na.

    Wolfgang Struck

    • Herr Wolfgang, you are very wrong. The next president will implement that plan and the business of the next president is just to use all the assets that have been kept for the country. In fact, the next president will begin to sell this year a portion of the gold to start funding various projects all over the country.

  2. ahh. poor philippines who don’t know how to start, with people who are clueless how to build a nation.

    • Indeed. Myopically dysfunctional people distorted by their own whims, wants, clamors and Narcissistic tendencies. And the mainstream churches are not doing anything to resolve it all.

  3. Go on google maps & look at how the roads are in metro manila. You will see how few there are to actually use to get across or through metro manila in any & every direction, that forces every vehicle to use very few roads thus you have congestion. Somehow you need to make roads that get traffic through the city & you need a lot of them. Then you need a proper integrated transport system. A proper bus system with timetables, designated bus stops, jeepney stops. Get rid of these stupid tricycles & pedicabs. They are just a dam nuisance & have some of the most ignorant drivers in the country. Rules & regulations mean nothing to a tricycle driver. Mind the same could be said about 99% of filipino drivers in general.

    • All those tricycles have to be removed as well as all the jeepneys and dilapidated buses. All car owners who can not show proof of ownership of a parking area will never have their cars registered.

  4. The underground metro that they are considering right now is not for the masses. I cant remember the exact route but its from makiti to another business district. Its for the rich so they can get about easier & quicker. Its the masses you need to move easily & swiftly not the few. This country will get it wrong yet again.
    When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn,.

    The simple answer to that is never.
    The london underground covers 250 miles ( 402 killometres ) & has 270 stations. I think it first started in 1863 & grew & grew to what it is today. This country talks, & talks & talks. It loves talking, it should take on a bt slogan they used many years ago, its good to talk. But action is whats needed not talk. Think of the future, think of the people. Not the few the masses. People need to say something now not after as after is always to late, stand up & be counted.
    Every countryin asia that was behind the philippines years ago has overtaken it, you need to ask why, its your politicians & remember its you who elect them, so the fault lies with you.

    • Sir, we will try to start the subway project this year. We have the US company already which has the latest technology that can dig so fast.

  5. If i remember correctly burnham designed baguio to cater for 30,000 people.
    It now has 300,000 and has transformed from an architectural jewel into a dirty hideous mess.
    Filipinos do not appreciate beauty and end up destroying it. Boracay is going the same way

  6. One thing is for sure – with the population projected to increase from 100 million to 150 million by 2050 things will only get worse.
    The reason is simple – culture, – in terms of low standards, lack of forward thinking and integrated planning, 3rd world values, corruption in government.
    Even vietnam have overtaken the philippines and all other asean countries have multiple big ticket long term infrastructure projects, and take genuine, not hubristic, pride in their country/buildings.
    The philippines has the makati city hall car par park building!