Smart solution to Metro Manila mess: Develop Clark and Manila together



First Read
THE idea was first proposed some decades back by some development planners and frustrated residents as the availing and long-term solution to Metro Manila’s intractable problems of traffic gridlock, poor infrastructure, overpopulation, and urban decay.

But it is only now, under President Duterte, that it is finally being embraced as the smart solution to the challenge of saving our historic national capital.

The solution, in a nutshell, is the adoption of a strategic plan for the integrated and complementary development of Metro Manila and the former Clark Air Base, that will include among others 1) the construction of a modern international airport atClark; 2) the construction of a modern railway system to link Manila, Clark and Subic together; and 3) the relocation of some vital facilities and institutions from Manila to Clark.

The solution, it appears, will now happen. And it may be the most exciting and purposive development initiative that DU30 has committed to, besides the war on drugs.

Four converging developments

I trumpet this exciting news on the strength of several recent developments, some dispiriting and some uplifting.

1.First, the report that in a survey and evaluation of 181 cities of the world, Manila (or our national capital region) was ranked 145th’. With this lowly ranking, the nation has no choice but to fully modernize the capital.

2.Second, the announcement by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) that the Philippines plans to award at least $1 billion of contracts to build an international airport terminal and a railway system to transform Clark into a commercial hub.

3. Third, the announcement by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) that major infrastructure projects for the area will be awarded by the second half of 2017 and most will be completed as early as 2019.

4. Fourth, the new leadership of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has made no headway in providing a solution to the crippling traffic and transportation crisis in the metropolis.

Despite several Senate public hearings, no availing solutions have been brought out. The proposal to give President Duterte emergency powers to solve the traffic gridlock has not gotten off the ground.

Manila: the opposite of smart

There is a palpable urgency to this program, because the antithesis of smart is dumb.

In a survey and rating of 181 cities based on smartness or strategic planning, that was unveiled in July, Metro Manila, the country’s capital region, was ranked 145th.

In Southeast Asia, Manila was ranked behind Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur as measured by the 10 dimensions used in the study: economy, human capital, technology, the environment, international outreach, social cohesion, mobility and transportation, governance, urban planning and public management.

The Cities in Motion Index 2016, a project ofthe IESE Business School, University of Navarra, is aimed at reviewing the world’s cities as to what “they want to be, what their priorities are and where they stand now” to meet the challenges of urbanization.

Among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) cities, the island city-state of Singapore landed in 22nd place; Bangkok, Thailand, 84th; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 88th; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 158th; and Jakarta, Indonesia, 170th.

The top 10 cities are: New York, United States; London, United Kingdom; Paris, France; San Francisco; Boston; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Chicago; Seoul, South Korea; Geneva, Switzerland and Sydney, Australia.
Tokyo, Japan ranked 12th and Beijing, China was in 92nd spot.

Manila had only an average performance based on the dimensions used to evaluate cities.

According to the CIMI report, cities around the world face major global challenges although they generate 80 percent of global economic growth and wealth. These include economic crises, demographic trends, social divisions and environmental consequences.

“The scope and magnitude of all of this create new challenges for cities’ sustainability,” the report said.

“Smart cities generate numerous business opportunities and possibilities for collaboration between the public and private sectors. All stakeholders can contribute, so an ecosystem network must be developed that will involve all of them: members of the public, organizations, institutions, government, universities, experts, research centers, (et cetera),” the report noted.

As the fastest growing economy in the Asia Pacific today, it is plainly inexplicable and intolerable that Manila continues to lag badly among major cities of the world.

Clark Airport, Railway and Garden City

Bloomberg reported yesterday that the Philippines will award at least $1 billion worth of contracts to build an airport and a railway that will transform Clark into a commercial hub and alternatecapital, as part of President Duterte’s objective of spreading wealth beyond congested Manila.

The BCDA wants to award the major infrastructure projects for the area by the second half of 2017, and seeks to complete them as early as 2019.

BCDA Chief Executive Officer Vince Dizon said the authority will decide early next year whether to invite bids to build or operate the infrastructure projects.

“We want the investment community to know that this government isn’t just about addressing crime and drugs,” Dizon, 43, said on November 11. “We’re also here to build, build and build.”

President Duterte has raised infrastructure spending to record levels, and the government is allocating resources away from Manila, where traffic and transport logjams cost the economy at least P2.4 billion ($49 million) a day.

Part of the strategic plan is to fast-track the development of Clark Green City.With 9,450 hectares (23,000 acres), Clark Green City will dwarf the main financial district of Makati in Metro Manila, home to the nation’s stock exchange and major banks.

Also a key part of the strategic plan is solving Manila’s massive traffic problem and inadequate mass transport system. A combination of rail and rapid bus transit systems is part of the answer.

Building a second major international terminal and airport at Clark will relieve the congestion at Manila’s international airport.

The government will invite bids for a new P15 billion airport terminal at Clark, says the BCDA. The new international terminal is envisioned to double Clark airport’s current capacity to eight million passengers under the first phase of a 30-year plan developed by Aeroports de Paris.

Building infrastructure outside the capital is key to attracting investment.

NEDA believes the integrated development of Metro Manila and Clark will boost the country’s annual growth rate to as much as 9 percent, says Rosemarie Edillon, NEDA deputy director general. The third-quarter growth of 7.1 percent, the fastest in Asia, is a good jump-off point.


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  1. Joshua Schneider on

    Yes, yes and YES…. Two thumbs up for finally starting to build our way out of this mess smartly.

  2. It will not work.
    1.Natl govt is in NCR. Universities are in NCR. Medical Centers are in NCR. People NEED to come to NCR
    2.uncontrolled high rise condo construction. People WANT to stay in NCR.

    Your plan would have worked out 25 years ago, but #2 (brought about by ignoring the problem) has produced a no win situation. Congestion in NCR will continue to worsen because of 1+2=3. ( just like ignoring the population growth situation).
    The ONLY way to mitigate the problem is to MOVE the govt, Universities, and other insttitutions that people need to access out of NCR.
    Move natl govt, presidential residence, congress, SC central post office to Dagupan or Binaloan. Build road to Clark. Prohibit new construction/expansion of universities in NCR. Encourage universities to move out of NCR. Prohibit construction of gated or enclosed subdivisions around relocated govt.etc.
    Leave the NCR as commercial center of Luzon. Do similar in Cebu, Davao. Move the govt out of the heavily populated cities.
    Capital of USA was moved from NY to DC. Govt of NY is Albany. Govt of California is Sacramento.
    I know, this is a fantasy,

  3. I was just amazed. This problem has been there for many years but Pnoy Aquino did not touch this problem. In California’ the government moved most of their government offices to Sacramento which then became the capital of Caifornia” Sacramento is 500 Plus miles from Los Angeles.

  4. Railway system can provide transport to container vans instead of trucks that moved it from port to port.

  5. The plan to develop the former USAF Clark Air Base into a major Philippine international airport with new infrastructures is beginning to make sense to me. NAIA is crowded and it has no more space to expand, while Clark has plenty of open space.

    My only concern is how reliable the planned high-speed railway connection to the airport is going to be. Given the sorry history of how railways have been run in the Philippines, an unreliable railway connection to an international airport is totally unacceptable.

    Foreign and local air passengers who may miss their flights due to late or broken trains will understandably going to be furious, especially if the railway problems will become a pretty regularly re-occurring problem.

    Let’s ponder this for one moment, shall we?

    • I concord to your idea. There are so many things to consider including flooding in those many areas before Subic if someone is coming from Manila area unless the railway would be an elevated one.