GOING home twice in a year has it pluses. For one, it gives you a closer look at what’s happening that you often miss out on your ﬁrst trip. Such was the case this year.
The Philippines has been identiﬁed as an emerging tiger economy – the 39th largest in the world. The macro economic data seem to support it. GDP is $290 billion and economic growth has been tracked at 6.5 percent one of the fastest in SE Asia. Inﬂation is at 3 percent and unemployment is at 7 percent. There are positive “behavioral indicators” quite evident – one of those is the concern and respect for senior citizens. The 20 percent discount on goods and services – medicines, travel, food, restaurants and movies, among others, go a long way. Other privileges seniors enjoy are special service counters – to fast track buying MRT tickets and availment of government services. Indeed noteworthy.
The physical landscape of Metro Manila has deﬁnitely metamorphosed– with more condominiums and high rise buildings – one about a kilometer away but directly behind Jose Rizal’s statue at Luneta Park. At any day its population ﬂuctuates between 12 to 15 million – deﬁnitely very fully packed in a land area of 246 sq miles. Clearly, it is where the jobs are. With land so scarce, it becomes obvious that the focus is on building tall mega structures. A visual check by driving at night would make you wonder if they are occupied or simply bought only to be ﬂipped when the “price is right.” Also at a glance, one may ask, if this kind of development patterned after archaic, obsolete and highly energy dependent cities of the west – ﬁts our long term needs.
Equally troubling is the thought that “where Metro Manila goes, so goes the rest of the nation.” One can deﬁnitely argue that all these changes point to development –or does it?
A closer look at Metro Manila and the countryside provides a different view of what we would like to believe. Let me expound.
Well, poverty is evident and so are its indicators. Kids go to sleep hungry and a family of four barely subsists on $2 a day.
Right in the midst of Quezon City is a huge informal settler (or squatter) community in front of the National Electriﬁcation Administration (NEA) main office on NEA Rd. As you carefully navigate through, you can notice kids playing in the middle of the road unmindful of the incoming vehicle traffc. There are makeshift tents made from used rice sacks anchored on cement walls of the NEA concrete fence.
This is not the only one but many more – all over the place.
In the midst of opulence and mega structures are slum areas -even in the newly developed Fort Bonifacio. The “landscape” is a startling contrast of rich and poor “settlements” – replicated all throughout the country.
Even though inﬂation is low, land prices are however skyrocketing –driving rents to unreachable levels. Thus a phenomenon known as “house poor” exists – where even the middle class cannot afford to buy decent houses.
The plight in the countryside seems to tell of a similar story. The rich and powerful getting richer while the poor gets poorer. I went to Camarines Sur where the biggest employer, it seems, is government. Even though it has a large land area, Naga City’s development is crammed at the “centro” where the business establishments – schools, banks, restaurants and hospitals are. One bright side is the Bicol Medical Center – a modern 8-ﬂoor medical/training center being constructed right in the heart of the city.
However, in Calabanga, a ﬁrst class municipality, one of the “dominant enterprises” is padyack or foot powered pedicab. One would wonder what would happen if residents decide to walk? Another ﬁrst class coastal municipality is Tinambac, where a once beautiful seaside mini park/port has been “transformed” into a bus & jeepney terminal with poorly constructed and dimly lit “mini bars” unsafe for kids to stroll in at night. It is a town where the most sought out commodities are rice and sardines, Emperador Brandy and cigarettes. Buying preferences have not changed through the years.
Attending a conference of leading architecture and engineering consultants discussing infrastructure programs yielded mixed feelings – hope, because there is desire to build, and despair, because of the lack of appropriate talent. Thus, you can deduce that infrastructure is lagging if not substandard. This probably explains why at the slightest rain, ﬂooding is a common occurrence.
Let’s see, Metro Manila traffic – well -is Metro Manila traffc – probably “one of its kind” where one travels 10 miles (Quezon City to Makati) in 180 minutes (or 2 ½ hours). EDSA, Metro Manila’s main artery, is clogged with half ﬁlled buses and private vehicles while the subsidized MRT is sardine-packed. It is unsafe and faced with maintenance issues. NAIA 1 remains one of the worse airports and the NAIA 3 airport, on a regular day, mirrors a crowded bus station.
There is a looming energy shortfall and air pollution is a serious concern and so is crime. With a booming population, we missed our rice production targets which means higher prices ahead or more imports. With corruption pervasive all throughout the bureaucracy down to the lowest levels, the well-meaning officials including law enforcement officers seem almost helpless.
It leaves so much to be desired.
In a sense, our quest for “urban development” as it is in Metro Manila has taken its toll–for the worse. Uncontrolled, it will magnify and creep to the countryside unless drastic measures are taken. What we see are cosmetic changes -at best.
It is artiﬁcial.
It is unsustainable and inefficient and it provides a poor development model for the long term direction of the nation. With Haiyan, nature has sounded the alarm – in its ﬁercest form.
The entire country is vulnerable to such occurrences. Factor in these natural calamities, I hope you can catch a glimpse of the state of affairs – it is fragile -a disaster waiting to happen.
Unless policy is reversed and the political will (to do the right things) is enforced the countryside will “burst at the seams” and Metro Manila in its present state will simply break down.
Our people deserve better.
Mr. Moraleda, who writes “UPAASF, Board Member” after his name, is an avid reader of Columnist Rigoberto Tiglao’s articles. He wrote Mr. Tiglao to say that seeing and contemplating on the state of our country moved him to write this article and contribute it to The Manila Times.