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On The Move

MMDA: Fixing an erratic, intrusive machine

Beginning this month, unless the courts or President Duterte intervenes, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) will allow provincial buses to disgorge their passengers only in terminals at the outskirts of Metro Manila—Parañaque, Sta. Rosa and Valenzuela.

So much sound criticism has been leveled against this scheme: (1) It discriminates against promdis — Filipino slang for “from the province” — on buses, but not promdis on cars; (2) the “last mile” transport transfer will actually multiply the vehicle footprint on Edsa; (3) countervailing informal and illegal “last mile” creative solutions will buck discipline and worsen traffic congestion; (4) the promdi exclusion policy will be a tourniquet that will choke Metro Manila’s economic, administrative, social services, education, government, tourism and other operations; (5) without public buy-in, such a public behavior modification project will not be sustainable; (6) the provincial commuter anger will be worse than the “laglag bala” case; and (7) the MMDA will suffer enforcement fatigue and drop the ball on its other functions.

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In light of various questionable MMDA schemes of late, there may be a need to examine not the shoddy policies, but the agency that produces them. What is wrong with the MMDA? Let’s use Graham Allison’s rational actor, organizational process and bureaucratic politics models to examine MMDA decision-making.

Seemingly, the MMDA, as an administrative and technical body, is a rational actor, making informed decisions based on rational principles. But the MMDA has shifted away from its integral, strategic role as enabler of Metro Manila’s role in mega-Manila and in the Philippines. The MMDA has ceased to march to real, long-term, mega-Manila visions and plans. It has so narrowed its role that, in the area of metro mobility, it has concentrated primarily on keeping Edsa flowing. By so constricting its focus, the MMDA has become “irrational” — trying to do the wrong things right.

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The organizational process in the MMDA that produces its shoddy decisions is a result of structural aberration. The decentralization mandate of the 1987 Constitution created little Caesars of Metro Manila’s 17 mayors, despite there being a single, organic metropolis. A Metro Manila Council was formed of these little Caesars, but bringing them together occasionally in one room has not created the desired metro-wide coordination. To seal the pretense at consolidation, the President appoints a nonelected chair to preside over the council.

To compound the problem, the MMDA is organized into offices, functions and different staff for development planning, transport and traffic, solid waste, flood control and sewerage, urban renewal, health and sanitation, and public safety. But lack of real authority and resources to reasonably perform these metro-wide functions has spawned an impulse for showmanship, sometimes in aid of future political ambitions, that has created contending factions revolving around various imagined alternative power centers—the offices of the chair, the vice chair, the general manager, and the assistant general manager for operations.

The bureaucratic process model illuminates how a diverse set of players scramble for control over Metro Manila policies and actions. These include national agencies and local government units with projects and operations in Metro Manila, and oligarchs and politicians involved in transport and communications, real estate, commercial establishments, social services, public utilities, etc. Add to the mix the various community, civic and nongovernmental organizations advocating global, sector and community-oriented issues. Overall, the MMDA does not even play the major role, often ending up only the glorified convenor of meetings and “summits.”

On the matter of its latest aberrant policy, the MMDA shores up its claim to authority by citing President Duterte as the source of the directive to remove provincial bus terminals from Edsa. This is a comical situation, because when the public clamor reaches the appropriate crescendo, it is President Duterte who will come out to scold and heroically stop the MMDA.

But we need to look beyond this  promdi exclusion policy. The MMDA cannot fix itself. Somebody has to fix the MMDA before it can presume to fix Metro Manila.

[email protected]

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TAGS: Edsa provincial bus ban, MMDA, On The Move
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