Zombie ideas make their grand reemergence


Zombie ideas are those discredited ideas that refuse to die, despite their irrelevance. Their proper place is in the archives, where, ideally, researchers and scholars can mine them for whatever lessons to guide the present and the future.

In the Philippine public policy sphere, zombie ideas do not die and get relegated to the archives. Instead, they often stay in some sort of a holding bay , always ready for a grand comeback .When they do come back, they are hailed as new and fresh insights into the field of making public policy.

Whether the reemergence of zombie ideas in the very critical field of crafting policy is a result of an enduring love affair with the 19th or the 20th century, we do not know. For all we know, the root is the paucity of good ideas, the lack of ideas of the fresh and ground-breaking kind. No fresh gust of innovative wind may be entering the sanctums of power that do the serious planning. Hence, the staying power of zombie ideas.

Take the case of the hype that has attended the government’s program to build the so-called integrated transport terminals for provincial buses that serve Metro Manila , something that the MMDA and the DOTC have described as something bigger than the solving of the Fermat thermo or the discovery of a permanent cure to diabetes. The theme of this policy : keep the buses out of metropolitan roads.

Across the globe, at least in the countries with a modicum of sophistication in their transport planning. the development of integrated transport terminals for buses has long been abandoned . Mass transport of whatever form and kind is the desired policy. In most developed economies, buses have been given a free rein on most city roads. This is the reason for that amazing news story of a bus-taking Pope Francis, before he became pope .

In Singapore and across the Atlantic, this is the trend . Plus, the innovation such as Michael Bloomberg’s bike sharing program for New Yorkers.

The transport policies of most sophisticated and not-so-sophisticated transport planners across the globe is to give free rein to mass transport of whatever form or kind. Better options are biking and walking.

The restriction on modes and forms of mass transport is not backed by science and metrics. A private vehicle carries one and a half person per trip. A bus carries anywhere from 30 to 50 people per trip, more during rush hours. On the efficiency metrics, there is no comparison.

The massive creation of ICT jobs has created a new phenomenon : armies of ICT workers commuting from neighboring Southern and Central Luzon provinces to Metro Manila daily to work , then return by bus after work to their provinces . They disembark at Cubao, Ortigas and MOA , they go by the same route after their work shifts.

They are practically transients that help lighten the strain on housing and electricity and water resources of the metropolis. You know the reason why they can do this. There are provincial buses that operate round-the-clock that can load and unload passengers at Cubao, Ortigas and the MOA. What about the kamia and sampaguita vendors that sell their wares at the city and whose trade is helped immensely by the presence of provincial buses.

I have scores of next kin doing this on a daily basis. They venture into the city at dawn to sell garlands and kakanin and disembark at strategic selling areas. Then, they go home with relative ease as provincial buses pick them up at chosen loading points .

The spread-out terminals of the provincial buses in the metropolis are all thriving economic oasis. There is an entire underground economy—porters, vendors , canteen—that thrive in each terminal. The poor of the city , instead of living criminal lives, are given steady sources of income buy these underground economy. Of course, they are not part of the Top 10 percent and the government , historically, has no concern for the poor. But still, government has to factor in the fact that these sections of the urban poor have been living economically productive lives because of the thriving underground economies of the bus terminals .

The integrated transport terminal program is not only a zombie plan that belongs to the 19th or 20th century. It is also anti-poor and does not make any economic sense .

We have been getting reports that the MMDA is now engaged in dispatching buses , probably in the dry run heading to the full implementation of the integrated terminal scheme . And under what sane policy environment would a government agency dispatch buses ? Such things are only done in states still operating under the heavy influence of Stalinism and central planning.

In a sane, logical context that factors in the practices, norms and imperatives of the 21st century, the last thing that the government would do is dispatch buses .

Here, in our pathetic land, zombie ideas and central planning are still the order of the say . Sad country, indeed.



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