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Decongesting traffic in Metro Manila

/ 05:04 AM December 16, 2018

Every weekday, the streets of Metro Manila get horribly congested with traffic, as people and vehicles compete for space to get to their place of work in the metropolis and return home. A good number of these employees come from outside Metro Manila.

I live in Taytay, Rizal, east of Metro Manila, and every morning I would witness motor vehicles fully loaded with commuters  coming from towns farther east than Taytay — Antipolo, Angono, Binangonan, Tanay — all pouring into Ortigas Avenue Extension. The scene is repeated at the north, south, and west entry points into Metro Manila — NLEx, SLEx, Cavitex.

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Reflecting on this almost daily chaotic scene, I have often wondered whether it is possible for these thousands of citizens to find employment in the towns where they reside instead of having to rush to Metro Manila most mornings, only to rush back home at day’s end. They would be spared the stress and the expense that arise from the daily commute, while gaining additional time they could use to be with their families.

Is there a faster way of solving this mess other than the ones already on offer, like building a subway or another MRT/LRT line? There is, but it will require a partnership between the national government and the local governments.

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The use of telecommunications facilities which allow people to work from home may not be feasible for the majority of these commuters due to the nature of their work, e.g., construction, bank tellers, etc. Hence, the solution for the majority would be the creation of jobs right in the locality where they reside, or at least nearer to their home. But how to create these jobs?

One solution would be investment, which can start with basic infrastructure such as irrigation, piped-in water, waste disposal, electricity, telecommunications. Casual observation suggests that basic infrastructure is sadly lacking in many of our provincial towns. One wonders how much of the highly touted “Build, build, build” program of the current administration really addresses this problem. Or does it focus solely on big-ticket items such as airports and seaports, which was a feature of the previous administration’s public-private partnership  program? Of course, more and better airports and seaports are necessary investments for job creation, but basic infrastructure are “low-hanging fruit” that don’t require as much capital and ramping up, and the benefits of which can be realized sooner.

The provision of, say, a reliable source of piped-in water in provincial towns will, in turn, encourage investment in small and medium enterprises, which will create jobs in these localities. Irrigation will increase agricultural production, which means increased income for farmers and farmworkers, creating a bigger local market for goods and services and attracting investors.

Basic infrastructure can include less tangible things like crop insurance, which can shield agriculture from the devastating effects of stronger typhoons and further encourage investment, leading to more jobs.

The provision of basic infrastructure on a nationwide scale and at a faster pace should be the responsibility of local government units, guided and assisted by the national government. LGUs are empowered under the Local Government Code to take more initiative to improve their localities. With their knowledge of local conditions, they can create employment faster and more effectively than the national government (assuming no corruption).

The Neda Five-Year Development Plan provides a blueprint for infrastructure development in the entire country.  Its implementation requires a partnership between the national government and LGUs. With basic infrastructure getting a boost in the provincial towns, fewer people will be crowding into our megacities. And voila! Traffic in Metro Manila will be more manageable; she will be able to breathe more freely as the deluge of migrants from the countryside becomes a trickle.

A dream? Maybe. But it’s a dream worth considering.

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Joseph H. Francia (M.Phil. Economics, London School of Economics) is a former Department of Trade and Industry director; former secretary general, Federation of Philippine Industries; former research and education director of the National Union of Bank Employees; currently engaged with the Pilipino Movement for Transformational Leadership and Bawa’t Isa Mahalaga; and has taught at the Ateneo de Manila University Economics Department.

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