Follow Myanmar, Indonesia: Time to move, or Manila is dead
The alternative title to this piece is “Manila is dead,” and I mean that in ways stated below.
Many capitals and major cities in the world started as settlements along riverbanks or outlets to the sea. In the olden times, this meant access to water for drinking, to fish in, as a means of disposal, and a means of transport. It was by far the most convenient and easiest way for populations to grow and flourish, to trade and thrive.
Fast forward a thousand years, and we see the phenomenon of crowded urban centers with heavily polluted and silted waterways that pose health risks and no longer serve their ancient primary purposes.
Manila, or rather Metro Manila, is a historical anomaly born from as recent as the creation of cities around and beyond the grand plan of Manila. We now have 16 cities and one municipality covering a relatively small area of 620 square kilometers for an estimated 15 million people.
These 17 unique local government units (LGUs) have become the root of many of the country’s systemic ills for several reasons. By extension, this also infects the rest of the country’s LGUs.
For one, there is extreme fragmentation of political organizations trapped in the same time and space, but which are forced to operate along artificial borders that are not rational. Moreover, there is a lack of scale for a cosmopolitan area of such political, economic, social, and cultural significance.
A case in point is the differentiated 17-color/number/imagined traffic scheme that drivers in Metro Manila must know by heart lest they be ensnared by 17 differently uniformed traffic personnel. Woe to the delivery van driver who overlooks a particular number coding scheme in a specific area! Two, this brings us to a very ugly capital that can never make it to the top 100 most livable cities in the world. (Manila was recently ranked the 34th best city in the world for 2022, according to the results of the Time Out Index 2022. The index quizzed 20,000 city dwellers worldwide.—Ed.)Look around and see the rainbow of colors that is usually the choice of the winning mayor and the winning congressional representative. Every election season, there is a new effort to impose a different color scheme on public facilities—a waste of scarce paint and labor that could have gone to more meaningful, rather than just cosmetic, projects.
Enter the road signs and symbols that result in confusion and “kotong” (extortion, usually by cops) in the asphalt jungle. There is an internationally designed and adopted system that is utterly disregarded, which makes commuting a challenge and more stressful for locals and tourists alike.
Three, there’s the limited three-year timeline for any well-meaning local chief executive to get anything of substance done. Never mind the nonperforming ones.
In 2022 and in a post-pandemic world, the biggest announcement from the Metro Manila Development Authority is that a U-turn along Edsa is to be closed or kept open. And how is the bus rapid transport system expected to work on Edsa, which does not have a consistent number of lanes throughout its stretch? The subway is just too expensive, given the porous underground on which Metro Manila sits, or is sinking into.
It is time to move the capital. Our neighbors have done so: Myanmar moved its capital politically from Yangon to Naypyidaw, a more central location from which to govern, and to get away from the constraints of the old city. Then, there’s the transfer of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, to its new location an island and a strait away—to Nusantara, far from the mouth of the Jakarta River with its worsening floods and congestion paralleled only by Bangkok and, of course, Manila.
In archipelagic terms, Indonesia is much more challenging. The number of indigenous peoples and varied dialects and languages across many islands with more than one-time zone makes pinpointing the location of a new capital interesting, to say the least. But Indonesians were able to do it, and their new capital is now rising as a smart eco-city surrounded by a forest, even as we in Metro Manila look up to a tangle of electrical, telephone, and cable wires, and look down on potholes and constant diggings. Can we Filipinos do less than our Asean peers?
Let the search for a new capital begin with the country’s leadership—starting with the 17 mayors of Metro Manila—raising the banner of the dreams, visions, and aspirations of 111 million Filipinos to save a dying metropolis.
Geronimo L. Sy, [email protected]
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