Indonesia builds new capital
Last week, Indonesia, our giant neighbor to the south, celebrated the 74th anniversary of its Independence Day. Aug. 17, 1945 is the actual day when Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta unilaterally proclaimed independence in the face of Dutch opposition. The local Indonesian community, led by Ambassador and Madame Sinyo Harry Sarundajang, marked the event with a gala dinner and cultural performances last Saturday, Aug. 31.
The festivities reminded me of my own personal ties with the country and its people. My father, Modesto Farolan, served as Philippine ambassador to Indonesia for almost 10 years, concluding his tour of duty as dean of the diplomatic corps in Jakarta. Indonesia was practically his second home, and his love affair with the people was such that shortly after he left the country in 1978, he passed away. When I took over the same post in 1987, his old friends were under the impression that he had returned for a second tour of duty. They all made my stay a memorable experience. Adding to the Indonesian connection, our only daughter, Carmela, was born on Aug. 17, and so we have more than enough reasons to observe the day.
The founding father of the Republic of Indonesia, President Sukarno, once said “Great nations honor their heroes.” To support this idea, he proceeded to cover Jakarta with a number of huge, conspicuous statues and memorials. It was Sukarno’s hope that these monuments would help Indonesians cultivate pride in themselves, their nation and the individuals who helped shape their country. His drive for an independent Indonesia is forever immortalized in these memorials.
The most spectacular of them is the Monas (National Monument), a 137-meter-tall marble tower crowned with a 14.5-meter bronze flame coated with 32 kilograms of pure gold. It is sometimes irreverently referred to as “Sukarno’s last erection.” Another statue is dedicated to the youth. It is symbolized by a muscular fellow supporting a flaming plate high above his straining body. The monument represents the spirit and drive of the youth in the development of the country. There is also the striking figure of a man breaking his chains, a familiar landmark located in front of Hotel Borobudur Jakarta. It commemorates Indonesia’s military and political victory in its dispute with the Dutch over
Irian Jaya, the western half of New Guinea in 1963.
Whatever may have been the shortcomings of President Sukarno, no one can deny that he bequeathed to his people a sense of pride in themselves and in their nation. These monuments all over the city have contributed to reminding the Indonesians of what they have accomplished and of what they are capable of achieving. Perhaps, this is part of the secret behind the fierce nationalism so evident among our cousins to the south.
Sadly, it is this all-important sense of nationalism that our own leaders have failed to inculcate, nurture and strengthen among our people. And so, we remain a collection of tribes, unable to rise above parochial interests, divided as a nation.
A few days ago, President Joko Widodo announced that Indonesia plans to move its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo. The new capital would be located near the coastal cities of Samarinda and Balikpapan, an important port for coal and oil shipments. In his announcement, Widodo said “It is a strategic location at the center of Indonesia… It does not have a history of natural disasters unlike Java, Sulawesi, Bali or Lombok.” The studies that led to the government decision took over three years, and the project is estimated to cost about $33 billion. Construction could begin as early as 2021 and target date for moving in is 2024.
Jakarta is one of the world’s most densely populated cities, home to more than 10 million people. According to the World Economic Forum, it is also one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world. The fastest-sinking cities in Asia are: Jakarta, Bangkok, Manila and Shanghai. In the case of Manila, the main culprit, according to experts, is groundwater extraction, primarily for rice irrigation projects north of the city.
Instead of trying to solve the traffic problem along Edsa with all kinds of band-aid solutions that may be at best temporary, why not move the seat of government to another place? This is not a new idea. It has been talked about in the past, and most likely, there are all kinds of studies on the subject gathering dust in some government office. A review and updating may be all that is necessary. I am not going to suggest any location. The government should seriously study the matter and come up with a decision and get moving. Malaysia did it with Putrajaya, and Indonesia is now on its way to do the same.
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