METRO Manila, as with the rest of Philippine cities, is generally designed for the car. This situation does not provide for a pedestrian-friendly environment. Metro Manila is one of the most polluted metropolitan areas in the world and is unfriendly to pedestrians and commuters. Its workforce spends about 1,000 hours a year in traffic, with three to four hours a day average. Most live in the outskirts of the city so walking is not an option. Regrettably, our cities developed to a pattern wherein there is segregation of places of work from places of residence.
The land, air, and sea congestion that Metro Manila is experiencing is an effect of centricity and unbalanced development. The rest of the Philippines is left behind in terms of job opportunities and basic services, among others, further reinforcing the status of ‘Imperial Manila’.
One of the ways to achieve a more balanced development is to improve connectivity between the 7,641 islands of the Philippines. Our country can be interconnected through railways, tunnels, and bridges, among others. In 2006, at the 60th anniversary of the United Nations held in New York, I suggested that all the continents of the world should be connected by bridges, tunnels, roads and railways. People might have thought it was a crazy idea at the time. Not long after, scientists and experts affirmed my idea and one even said it would cost cheaper than the Gulf War.
What happens after C-6?
In 1945, the American Corps of Engineers proposed six circumferential roads and 10 radial roads for the Greater Manila Area. The first two circumferential roads connect different districts within the city of Manila, while the Circumferential Road 3 (C-3) traverses several cities in the National Capital Region. Highway 54, or Edsa, is C-4, and President Carlos P. Garcia Avenue is C-5. C-6 is supposed to connect Metro Manila with Bulacan, Rizal, and Cavite. To date, however, C-6 has yet to be completed.
As Metro Manila grows in density, areas outside of it should be developed as counter magnets to lessen the congestion and pour in more opportunities to other regions. That is why, in addition to the six circumferential roads, I proposed to build four more circumferential roads, completing up to C-10. These roads will enable the transport of people and goods across regions like Central Luzon and Calabarzon, without having to pass through the heavy traffic of Metro Manila.
A component of the C-10 plan is a Bataan-Cavite link that could be in the form of a bay bridge and/or tunnel at the mouth of Manila Bay. The Bataan-Cavite link should be able to accommodate pedestrians, bicycles, buses, trains, and cars. It can also act as a “wave breaker” against tsunamis and storm surges. As a tunnel, it could be designed similar to the SMART Tunnel in Malaysia. Aside from being a transportation structure, it could also be used for utilities.
Railways, tunnels and bridges
With 2017-2022 poised to be the Golden Age of Infrastructure for the Philippines, the Duterte administration is determined to build and upgrade infrastructure and has allotted P8 trillion to P9 trillion towards its realization. I truly believe that the next six years could be our only opportunity for genuine reform and change to bring the Philippines well into the 21st century. It is also an opportunity to bring down walls and build more bridges. Our country and islands can be connected, integrated, and inclusive. This I envisioned since I first traveled around the world in 1978.
As early as 2001, I had proposed to interconnect the whole Philippines with railways, tunnel, and bridges. The concept has continued to evolve since then and even caught the attention of the creators of maglev (derived from magnetic levitation) trains in Germany. With a maglev train, it will only take three hours to travel from Laoag to Davao. That’s probably shorter than going to and from the airport as well as the waiting time for boarding.
In Luzon alone, the system of railways, tunnels, and bridges I am putting forward will connect the island from north to south and east to west. This urban development corridor will entail better economic activities from North to South Luzon and link the China Sea and the Pacific Ocean sides. Similarly, the islands of the Visayas and Mindanao can be interlinked to provide better connectivity, create more jobs, alleviate poverty, and generate income.
I believe that every region and every large island should become an international gateway in itself. There is no need for Metro Manila to be the only gateway of the country. Every region should be an international hub with a well-designed transportation network. Every region presents a unique geography and a unique culture and identity as well; that is why the regional government should make use of this opportunity. By making every region accessible, we empower them to become self-reliant so that our country can move towards regional interdependence and balanced development. As I have wrote in my term paper for my Masters in Environmental Planning at the University of the Philippines in 1973, “Development is not worthy of the name unless spread evenly like butter on a piece of bread.”