Joko Widodo is doing what I recommended to then-President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018. It didn’t happen, so I’d like to try again with a new president because I believe it has to happen and started now, not when it becomes obvious it should have been done in 2016 when Duterte assumed the presidency: We must move to a new capital. Widodo had the foresight to see that Jakarta would be underwater as the world warms. Manila is already underwater in many areas and heading that way elsewhere. Worse, it’s constrained on the west by Manila Bay, and on the east by Laguna de Bay. So it can only expand north and south, pushing people further and further away from the city center into limited vacant land.
Quoting from the Inquirer: “Metro Manila is in a low-lying area facing the sea, and is embracing two river systems, making it prone to flooding and disasters. … Almost 87 percent of the megacity’s land area is below sea level to which seawater could rise should a 10-year flood occur in 2030, impacting $39.2 billion of the country’s gross domestic product and putting 1.54 million people at risk” (“Experts warn anew vs reclamation, other climate impacts,” News, 1/23/23).
In contrast, the Subic/Clark area is well above the sea, has a protected deep water harbor, an airport already constructed, and is easy to expand, plus lots of vacant lands. It’s an ideal location for a nation’s capital. President Marcos Jr., as a visionary leader, must look seriously into a shift.
It’s something former secretary Art Tugade tried in a courageous shift of the Department of Transportation offices to Clark. But no one followed him, so he was forced to return to a hugely overcrowded Manila—a city that ranks first in the world’s densest cities, with 18,649,422 million residents, 15 million of whom are daily workers. That equates to 42,857 people per square kilometer filling the Greater Manila Area every day. Hybrid work has eased the crowding—but only a little. It’s made an imperceptible change to the quality of life in the city.
Our leaders must do what so few are willing to do: look into the far future. What will Manila look like 50 or 100 years from now? I venture it will be an underwater morass, even more crowded, if that’s possible, and uninhabitable. Now is the time to start the shift somewhere else.
BGC is not it. It suffers from the same problems Manila has/will have apart from being a disastrously built old-style city, far from its original design.
I was greatly disappointed that the Supreme Court started building there. I hope the Senate, which is considering moving there, reconsiders so their grandchildren can take over grandpa’s position (there’s no anti-dynasty law as the Constitution commands) in a pleasantly designed city where there’s space. Canberra, the capital of Australia, is such a city. Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t agree on which would be the capital, so they compromised and built a new, well-designed capital between the two. All national government is there: the administration, congress, and the judiciary.
It could start with all government offices moving there. Most are in old buildings, so moving is something that should be done anyway. The Supreme Court and Congress should cancel their intent to build anew in BGC and do it in Clark/Subic instead. Think of the future, not build on the past. Let the private sector choose when it’s financially best to do so. A nonstop bullet train can connect the two in under 30 minutes.
Jun Palafox could design a new city to be proud of. A city designed for enjoyably comfortable, environmentally friendly living. A smart city where all services are interconnected and digitalized, where there are plenty of parks, playgrounds, and recreational spaces; where you choose to use public transport—or walk; where traffic flows, even during rush hours. None of this can happen in Manila, it’s too far gone. Any improvement will be incremental. Greed and lack of government control have destroyed what used to be the Pearl of the Orient.
In a bilateral US-RP meeting in late January, Subic Bay was tagged as a priority site for infrastructure projects. Well, building a city certainly qualifies as an infrastructure project.
Mr. Marcos should, at the very least, contract a local-international consortium of experienced consulting companies to conduct a study of the feasibility, necessity, and cost of doing it versus the cost of not doing it, based on a 50-year time frame.
Batangas has also been suggested to me as a possible alternative site. So maybe investigating that could be part of the study. Thinking about it, such a study should consider what will the whole Philippines look like 50 years from now when world temperatures are 2 degrees Celsius, or more. And start preparations now.
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