Although he has spent many of his recent working hours peacocking in what is almost certain to be a completely irrelevant hearing about a municipal building in one city, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano remembered that he is, in fact, a Senator of the entire Republic over the weekend, and proposed a surprisingly good idea.
The Senator pointed out that the population density of Metro Manila is 19,137 people per square kilometer, which is roughly 25 times the density of the region with the next-highest population, the Calabarzon region, with 758, and almost 64 times more densely-populated than the country as a whole, which has an average of about 300.
What he actually said was that the population densities of Calabarzon and the entire Philippines were 758 and 300 people “per square meter,” but we’ll assume he just got his magnitudes mixed up in his excitement; I live in Calabarzon, it’s really not that crowded.
A big part of the reason for the population imbalance, Cayetano believes, is that national government agencies and services are concentrated in Metro Manila. As a result, both the metropolis and the countryside suffer; the city has become overcrowded, while other regions of the country miss out on opportunities for development.
To remedy this, Cayetano suggested some government agencies could be moved to more sensible areas: The Department of Agriculture to the farming region of Central Luzon, the Department of Tourism to the eminently more visitor-friendly Cebu area, the Department of Transportation and Communications to Cavite, and the National Anti-Poverty Commission to Mindanao.
Cayetano also pointed out that it is not strictly necessary for the country’s specialty hospitals—the Lung Center, the Kidney Center, and the Orthopedic Center, among others—to each have just a single facility in Metro Manila; instead, branches of these could be built in other locations. “Why can’t we build a Philippine Heart Center in Visayas or in Mindanao? This way, doctors will also have a choice where to practice, and economic activity will grow,” he explained.
Cayetano’s proposals are eminently practical, and should be studied seriously. As the government is still the Philippines’ largest employer, distributing some agencies to other areas of the country will, indeed, encourage economic development. Even if the agency does not directly provide jobs to the local area (for instance, if the agency simply transfers its entire staff), each government job supports an average of about four local jobs in retail, services, suppliers, and other institutions, such as schools and medical facilities.
Opening a hospital has a similar effect economically, but the social impact of Cayetano’s suggestion would be even bigger. Apart from the inaccessibility of specialized medical care for a vast part of the Philippine population due to distance and questionable transportation options, the government’s specialized hospitals are already barely adequate for the population of Metro Manila where they are located, and are pushed beyond their limits by patients from other regions who do manage to overcome financial and logistical obstacles to seek care.
Expanding the network would not only have the economic benefits Senator Cayetano alluded to by providing more job opportunities for medical professionals and spurring ancillary development in local areas, it would greatly improve public health in the country, and likely improve the efficiency and quality of care as well.
Good ideas originating in either house of the Philippine legislature are becoming more rare as time goes by; let’s hope this one is not drowned out by other political noise, and can be eventually developed into an actual plan.
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Last Tuesday’s column (“Gravity well of stupidity,” September 8) elicited quite a volume of comments from readers who are frustrated with the apparently unsolvable problem of congestion at the Port of Manila and the knock-on effects it has on the rest of the economy and the general well-being of people who live or work in Metro Manila.
At the same time that column was published, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) announced a plan to remove the Anda Circle, a traffic circle located at the intersection of A. Soriano Avenue and Bonifacio Drive in the Port Area in Intramuros, surrounding a small park and monument to Simón de Anda y Salazar, the Spanish governor who drove the short-lived British occupation out of Manila in 1764.
The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) has approved the plan, and work to relocate the monument and convert the roundabout into a standard four-way intersection will supposedly begin within the next couple of weeks.
Student of history that I am, I find the plan offensive and discouraging, an opinion that is evidently shared by many people, some of whom are trying to organize legal action to stop the DPWH from proceeding. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I hope the protestors are successful, and force the DPWH to apply some imagination to finding a less destructive solution.
But as I pointed out in the earlier column, there is no real solution to the problem of moving goods to and from the country’s major seaport without some radical changes being made—either moving the port to a more sensible location, or sacrificing the historical ambience and livability of a large part of the city in order to provide effective access to the existing port.
Unfortunately, the imminent destruction of the Anda Circle is an example of the latter option. And perhaps, it’s part of the price that has to be paid to encourage people and their government to start working toward the better solution, which is to move the port out of central Manila. If that’s the case, then, as much as I hate to say it, start the bulldozers.