Metro Manila for better or worse

I have written a few articles about my views of the dying city and the gates of hell called Metro Manila. I have as my backdrop not only the stories from my parents who, as probinsyanos, studied in Manila before WWII but my own personal experience as a first-time visitor in 1960 and later a college student in 1965 who never left. That’s a long 57 years from my first time, and the image that jumps out in my memory bank is a wooden, two-way bridge over the Pasig River known as Guadalupe. I was not very observant then, more out as a young man who grew up in the province to discover and enjoy what must have been the dream of millions of probinsyanos then. But I have made up for that lack of concerned curiosity for the more mundane, brick-and-mortar environment by a memory that knows how to grow as a woven fabric rather than just a collage of images and experiences.

Today, I write again on the same subject matter. I know that the horrible traffic last week prompted my consciousness towards a situation that seems endless, a torture that seems unavoidable, a challenge that seems impossible. I remember the long line of Metro Manila governors, now chairmen, and their shared inability to manage the physical growth of the population, the furious expansion of buildings and malls along major streets, the unchangeable habit of throwing garbage anywhere at one’s convenience to the collective detriment, and the terrible zoning laws that allowed more residential and commercial structures than roads and parking space. Of course, there is that sporadic introduction of mass transit as though it were a trophy of a political personality rather than a basic public need. Will I need to mention the corruption? I don’t think so, and least of all the corruption of politicians. After 57 years from my first 1960 visit to my fulltime life here since 1965, that’s 52 years of politicians if they are to be blamed and there have just been too many to remember.


Of course, corruption will seep in. It is inevitable when there is a lack of order, when there is unhealthy density, when there is poverty, and when 1% own and control more than 99%. Many think this is just a repeat criticism of a global phenomenon that has yet to be broken. It is, in a way, but the greater reason for mentioning it at all is because we point to the less guilty as we vent our ire while the bigger culprits guarantee it will be more of the same. In a dictatorship, it is easy to lay credit or blame at the doorstep of the sole power and authority. In a democracy, however, such as we have today or the federalism that is being sold for our future, the credit or blame has many blurred lines and camouflages. But we can be sure of one thing – power and wealth are behind it all. And we can be sure of the other thing – those who mean little to the powers-that-be will always suffer the most.

In the time of the conjugal dictatorship, everything about governance, the good and the bad, cannot escape Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Oh, yes, they employed or used or abused the human and material assets of the government, and even those they took away by force, and so it will look as though it had not been just them but their cronies, their military instruments, the Communists, the Muslim separatists – and this is true as well. However, these are collateral factors. The central accountability lies on the shoulders of those who choose to rule as dictators instead of making democracy grow and mature. History shows that some adjusted well to dictatorship and even profited from it. But somehow, a helpless and hapless people ultimately said enough and rode on the promise of new leaders from the civilian and military sectors.


Democracy as we knew it before martial law, and as we know it today, is in place for better or for worse. While it is like a journey in its initial stages, democracy has its pros and cons, and Metro Manila the way it is now is one of the collective consequences of our choice of governance. In other words, we all have a shared responsibility, authority, and accountability. Obviously, we all have not done our part well, and we all suffer the consequences. Except maybe the 1%. Because if the 99% loses, then there must be a winner that sees to it the same profitable pattern for them, no matter how bad for the rest, continues. And if we, the residents and the people of the Philippines do not want to understand this simple reality, we must continue to lower the bar of expectations in proportion to a bad situation going worse.

The cry of political reformers, including political hypocrites who only want to remove those in power so they can themselves enjoy the perks when they assume office, is good governance. Never have I heard a triter refrain than good governance. It has become trite not because it is wrong but because those who pushed it mostly failed, including in making the people outside of themselves understand just how important good governance is. And people, the majority or enough of them to represent the majority, must be the most active players of good governance if democracy has to work as an efficient and beneficial political system.

Good governance can work only on the back of good citizenship. Good governance, therefore, means making the people understand their own responsibilities and accountabilities and then motivating them to contribute these to the collective governance. In teaching our people, the best among those who govern, as living examples, are perhaps the best and primary motivation for success – and laws the least effective without leadership following them before everybody else.

Well, what has Metro Manila got to do with democracy, good governance and good citizenship? Everything. It is the mirror on the wall.

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TAGS: corruption, Metro Manila, Population, traffic
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