Roads to developmentt should head further south
According to a Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) report, P3.5 billion was lost per day in 2017 due to traffic congestion in Metro Manila. The same report projects a loss of P5.4 billion a day by 2035. While it is right to point out the poor traffic conditions of the city and the host of problems they have spawned as a major reason for decongesting Metro Manila, discussions on this issue should start looking at it from a different perspective and reframing the approach to the problem.
If we truly wish to effectively address the problems of Metro Manila and decongest the capital region, the perspective and ensuing discussions should not be limited to solutions or projects specifically aimed at alleviating traffic congestion, such as transferring government offices to the provinces and more infrastructure. That approach is too Metro Manila-centric and runs the risk of missing out on the bigger picture and larger interests that are at stake. The approach should start focusing more closely on the economic development of the regions further south of the capital, to the Visayas and Mindanao in particular.
Just looking at gross regional domestic product (GRDP) figures in 2019, one can see that the percentage share to GDP (at current prices) of Metro Manila or the National Capital Region (NCR) is 32.3 percent. The same set of data identifies Region III (Central Luzon) and Region IV-A (Calabarzon) with the next highest percentage share to GDP at 11.2 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively. Close to 60 percent of the entire country’s economic activity centers around three contiguous regions in Luzon island: NCR, Region III, and Region IV-A.
What about the rest? Region VII (Central Visayas) comes in at fourth with 6.5 percent. The rest are all below 5 percent. If we look at major island groups, Luzon has close to 70 percent of the nation’s GDP, while the Visayas and Mindanao contribute only 13.6 percent and 16.6 percent, respectively.
The pandemic has highlighted the risks inherent in this disparity of economic development among the regions. The advantage that the archipelagic nature of the country had in containing the spread of the virus was pretty much nullified because all roads figuratively led to Metro Manila, and to a certain extent to Regions III and IV-A.
Investments and projects must be directed to create economic opportunities in other regions. The government’s “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa” program is a step in the right direction, but this should be more ambitious and aggressive in scope and the timeline of its implementation. The objective should be to support the regions in stimulating economic activity in their domains and creating jobs so they can attract those who had sought their fortunes in the capital back to their home provinces. The decongestion of Metro Manila will follow as an outcome of the achievement of that objective.
Economic data on the growth rates of the regional economies for 2019 all showed positive growth. This indicates that the regions all have potential that can be tapped. The pandemic may have affected that growth last year, but once the country goes into its recovery phase, that potential must be taken advantage of by the government and the private sector. The need to shift priorities and correct the mistakes of the past to build a more economically progressive and resilient Philippines is long overdue.
The mindset and perspective that continue to place Metro Manila at the center of everything in the country should change. Metro Manila is not the Philippines, and the Philippines is not Metro Manila. It is high time roads to economic development headed further down south, to the Visayas and Mindanao.
Moira G. Gallaga served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer.
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