Tip of bigger infra woes | Inquirer Opinion

Tip of bigger infra woes

/ 05:03 AM July 02, 2023

What started out as cries of frustration from fans because Manila was not among the stops for an international concert tour ended up highlighting the sad state of Philippine infrastructure, specifically our recreational facilities. But the lack of a venue that could meet global standards and host events from entertainment, sports, conventions, and the like is just the tip of a bigger issue.

Complaints from fans of American artist Taylor Swift flooded social media last week because her Asian stops in an ongoing concert tour are only in Japan and Singapore — snubbing the Philippines, purportedly one of her biggest fandoms. Several theories were made: expensive production costs, logistics, no venue available. But what about the Philippine Arena, some asked, with its seating capacity of 55,000 that is comparable to Japan’s Tokyo Dome and Singapore’s National Stadium?

The horror stories of fans of another international artist, Bruno Mars, who performed for two nights at the arena last week, might offer answers and a cautionary tale. Roads leading to the Philippine Arena, located in Sta. Maria, Bulacan, 30 kilometers north of Manila or about an hour from the metro — without traffic — were jammed hours before the concert. Those lucky to get to the venue spent at least an hour looking for parking space.

Once they finally did, they still had to walk a long way to the arena. Many did not make it, or in some cases like the celebrities who posted their experience on social media, only managed to catch the tail-end of the show. Others left their homes in the morning, for a concert happening at 7 p.m., to avoid the bottlenecks. Their suffering did not end there — they still needed to get out of the arena afterward, some taking as long as two hours just to exit the parking lot, which speaks to the inherent problem of the venue as inaccessible and inconvenient.


The problem is not really having a proper venue that could accommodate thousands at the same time — it is accessibility. Getting to Tokyo Dome and Singapore National Stadium is very convenient with Japan’s and Singapore’s efficient transport systems while getting to the Philippine Arena is a test of determination and “diskarte.”

There is no direct public transport going to the arena unless you have a car given the lack of options such as trains or buses. Most of the complaints have focused on this inconvenience, definitely a minus point for promoters and event organizers. The organizing committee of the Fiba World Cup 2023 is already looking into the issue of transport going to and from the arena, where the opening ceremony will be held on Aug. 25. It has reportedly hired a traffic expert and plans to use a bus system to shuttle participants and ticket-holders. But these are merely stop-gap measures — what the Philippines needs is a comprehensive urban plan, something that urban planners have long been calling for.

It is either a lack of foresight or too much confidence in believing that “if you build, they will come.” Droves of people have indeed been to the Philippine Arena since it was completed in 2014 but the same complaints today prove that no long-term solutions have been made to address them.

This is the case for the rest of the country with infrastructure connectivity issues plaguing Filipinos for years, just ask ordinary commuters who stew on their daily commute. It is not enough to build sophisticated structures, it is also paramount to ensure that equally necessary features including road networks, parking lots, public bathrooms, and most importantly, an efficient transport system, are available and accessible.


There is need for a sound urban policy that will not only serve those who want to watch concerts but also those who want to sell their farm products to public markets, those who need to travel to the nearest city from remote islands for medical or other reasons, or those who just want to get to work on time.

The problem with those who hold power in this country is that they seemingly make decisions in a vacuum whether in approving the construction of an arena in the outskirts, the reclamation of Manila Bay, or building a new expressway in the metro. They do not look at the big picture and are deliberately obtuse about the consequences.


For instance: will the arena be accessible, or will the reclamation or new expressway impact the ecosystem of the surrounding bodies of water? It appears that as long as politicians get their commissions and businesses get their permits even without checking compliance, the well-being of the general public be damned.

Our cities and towns need to be planned so that various types of infrastructure — road networks, transport systems, housing, recreational and business facilities—complement one another and create a livable environment for everyone. But for as long as those who do the planning have a tunnel vision focused only on what is in it for them and not what will be best for Filipinos, the Philippines becoming a developed, progressive country will only remain in our wildest dreams.

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TAGS: Editorial, infrastructure problems, Philippine Arena, Taylor Swift

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