Forgotten ways of decongesting Metro Manila
It is laudable that President Duterte’s administration has embarked on a grand plan to build big-ticket infrastructure projects that are designed to spur economic development nationwide. Notable among these are those focused on decongesting Metro Manila and improving mobility in it, such as the connecting railway lines to the Clark International Airport and Clark Green City and to Malolos in Bulacan in the north. There is also the North Luzon Expressway East (NLEE) connecting the metropolis to Nueva Ecija. Going south, there are the planned railway lines leading to Los Baños in Laguna and Legazpi City in Albay.
The north-south orientation of the transport projects is understandable as they traverse the urban nodes whose locations have been influenced by the topography and shape of Luzon. But going back in history it appears that this vertical development orientation actually reinforces the dendritic transport system set up by the Spaniards in Luzon, and which pattern was designed to facilitate the siphoning of resources from the hinterlands to be brought to the port city of Manila. This dendritic pattern resembles that of tree branches—where branches of roads are connected to main roads leading to Manila from the north and south of Luzon. Today, this has created the primate city monstrosity that urban planner Gavin W. Jones calls the Mega-Urban Region (MUR).
There is a need to complement the north-south transport system with an east-west connectivity pattern that will create urban countermagnets east of Metro Manila. Government planners should revisit the Marcos administration’s Presidential Proclamation No. 1977 that created the Lungsod Silangan Townsite Reservation Areas in Antipolo, San Mateo and Montalban in Rizal, which were intended for public use, socialized housing, planned human settlements and other amenities. The concept was actually borrowed from the “new towns” planning strategy in the United Kingdom, which involved the establishment of self-sufficient towns around London in order to catch and stem the population immigration to the British capital. The Lungsod Silangan sites were supposed to do the same for Metro Manila—i.e., lessen the increasing congestion in it.
To me, a significant way of complementing, if not countering, the north-south infrastructural orientation of decongesting Metro Manila is the simultaneous focus on the development of the radial and circumferential transport systems east of the metropolis. It’s hard to understand how the Circumferential-6 (C-6) Road could remain unfinished for decades when it is obvious that once completed it can spur the development of the new towns in Rizal and Bulacan and also divert traffic flow away from congested Edsa. For instance, it can enhance the countermagnet effect of the MRT-7 main station to which it is connected in San Jose del Monte. The same can be said, too, of its effect on the LRT-2 end station in Masinag in Antipolo.
But I think the most significant east-west radial transport strategy to decongest Metro Manila is the completion of the 109-kilometer Marikina-Infanta Road that crosses the Sierra Madre mountains and ends in Infanta, Quezon. This can pave the way for the development of the long-neglected coastal areas of eastern Luzon stretching from Cagayan down to Quezon. Either Infanta or Real can be developed as a port city and transshipment point that will directly catch trade flows from the Pacific and the Americas. The area can be connected to the coastal towns of Mauban, Dingalan, Baler and other nodes to the north.
Furthermore, Dingalan with its deep waters can also be developed as another seaport. The government needs to improve the lateral road leading to it from Nueva Ecija. Tourism and fishery industries can be developed along the long and pristine Luzon coastline. Diverting our development sights eastward can also lead to the protection of our Philippine Rise, which can be developed as a marine sanctuary that can enhance the productivity of surrounding fishing grounds. It’s about time we developed our eastern Land of Promise.
Meliton B. Juanico, a retired professor of geography at UP Diliman, is a licensed environmental planner and is active in consultancy work in urban and regional planning.
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