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The edge of ‘Imperial Manila’

OUR COMPATRIOTS from Mindanao and the Visayas have long complained of Metro Manila’s undue dominance in setting the country’s directions, and how its residents possess a clear advantage over their counterparts in the countryside. One key economic statistic showing this is the inflation rate. In the first half of this year, prices outside of Metro Manila have risen three times faster (1.5 percent over the levels a year ago) than in Metro Manila itself (0.5 percent). Are government initiatives to help consumers cope with rising prices (e.g., via various subsidy schemes) biased for Metro Manila residents? The numbers would appear to suggest so.

This is of course only one of the various manifestations of what southerners have long lamented about what they have come to call “Imperial Manila,” which also include a lopsided share of the infrastructure budget. It’s the principle of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”: Political noises have always been much louder in Metro Manila than in the provinces. And Metro Manila, based on Commission on Elections data, accounts for 6.3 million out of the country’s 54.4 million registered voters, comprising nearly 12 percent, or about one-eighth, of the total. This is about the share of Metro Manilans to the total population as well. And yet, Metro Manila only accounts for a miniscule 0.2 percent of our total land area. But its population density of 19,137 persons per square kilometer is about 62 times the national density of only 308.

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Metro Manila’s advantage vis-à-vis the countryside goes well beyond having much slower price inflation and getting much more budget for infrastructure than the latter. Well over one-third (36.5 percent) of the country’s total incomes (measured by GDP) are earned in Metro Manila, which also accounts for nearly half of the growth in total incomes. Business tax revenues from countryside operations of firms operating nationally also tend to get collected in Metro Manila where the companies’ headquarters are located, mostly in Makati City. (And that’s among the reasons so many things can be given free to Makati residents, including birthday cakes for seniors.) That we have a highly Metro-Manila-centric economy is already obvious from those figures.

And there’s much more. Though somewhat dated, some data from the 2007 edition of the government publication “The Philippine Countryside in Figures” provide further indications of the bias for the National Capital Region. Some highlights:

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  • The Human Development Index or HDI—a UN measure that combines measures of average income, health and education—was 0.887 in Metro Manila, against the national index of 0.629. Broken down into its components, average income in Metro Manila of P44,357 is more than twice the national average of P21,104. Average life expectancy was one year longer (70 vs. 69), and literacy rate was more than eight percentage points higher (92.4 vs. 83.8 percent). That is, Metro Manilans are healthier and better educated than the rest of Filipinos.
  • The government spent P1,129 per person in social services in Metro Manila, four times the national average of only P282. There were six doctors for every 100,000 people in Metro Manila, twice the national average of only three. Some provinces have only one or less (Zamboanga Sibugay, Basilan and Tawi-tawi in Mindanao; Aurora and Bataan in Luzon).
  • Only one in every 14 Metro Manila families (7.1 percent) was poor in 2006, while the national average was about one in every four (26.9 percent). Of the Filipino poor, almost three out of every four (70 percent) come from the rural areas. Average income (GDP per capita) in Metro Manila is also three times the national average.
  • All national roads (100 percent) in Metro Manila are paved in either concrete (69 percent) or asphalt (31 percent), whereas the national average is only 71.5 percent, with 45.5 percent in concrete and 26 percent in asphalt.
  • There were four murders recorded per 100,000 population in Metro Manila, against the national average of six. But this seeming “advantage” is only in murder statistics; overall crime incidence in Metro Manila is much higher than in the rest of the country, as will be pointed out below.

Metro Manila is not favored in everything, though. In some indicators, Metro Manilans are worse off relative to provincianos:

  • The unemployment rate as of last April in Metro Manila was at 7.7 percent, against 6.1 percent nationwide. The jobless rate has in fact always been consistently the highest in Metro Manila, reflecting excessive migration of people from the provinces.
  • The pupil-teacher ratio is also higher in Metro Manila (41 pupils for every teacher, against the national average of 35 in 2007, indicating that the capital region is at a disadvantage in terms of supply of teachers).
  • Other than murder, incidence of other crimes against persons or property in Metro Manila is two to three times the national average. In general, it is far safer to live in the provinces than in Metro Manila in terms of overall crime incidence.

Change is here, however. Now that we have a “Mindanao triumvirate” in the President, Senate President and House Speaker, we are likely to see a deliberate effort to move us away from this Metro-Manila-based bias. And given the need for our economy to be more inclusive in both the sectoral and geographic sense, it’s high time we did so.

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TAGS: Government, Imperial Manila, MANILA, Metro Manila, Mindanao, opinion, Population, Visayas
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