Metro Manila is getting uninhabitable
Philstar.com by Boo Chanco, 12-05-2014
I saw how dirty the air we breathe is from a hill in Antipolo.
Metro Manila is down there enveloped by a gray soot with only the
tall buildings in Ortigas Center managing to pierce
through. I was glad I was above the polluted air, but realized that
in a few hours I would be breathing that unhealthy brew of
I have consulted several doctors about the headaches I get and
stuffy nose almost the whole year through, and they all say it is
our polluted air. Early this month my sinusitis took a turn that's
worse than usual. I started having fever and needed a week's dose
The worse part is that the childhood asthma I thought I outgrew
is back, triggered by my sinusitis and that pesky post nasal drip.
It seems we shorten our life span simply by breathing.
Now I can't wait to fly across the ocean to be with my kids
in California for the holidays. Perhaps, the mild climate
of San Francisco and its relatively cleaner air compared
to Metro Manila's will do me some good.
I posted my health problems on Facebook and my friends suggested
moving out of my house in Quezon City, a few blocks away from C5,
to somewhere in the Santa Rosa area. Or better yet, move to
Metro Manila is deteriorating at a pace faster than I have ever
seen. Most of the pollution in the air comes from old jeepneys and
buses. Forget the Clean Air Act or the mandatory smoke emission
test. You have to be blind and an idiot to think the LTO is doing
its job in enforcing this law. It is sheer hypocrisy of government
to go all out with graphic warnings on cigarette packs, only to
force everyone to inhale poisoned air in our streets and seriously
damage our lungs anyway.
Indeed, it seems government has given up. It had been at least a
decade since we had a public measurement of how bad our air
pollution is. There was once a billboard with a device that
measures the pollution level on EDSA. Maybe the pollution reading
busted the equipment, and our government - like the one
in Beijing - has no incentive to fix it and provide proof of
Of course having the right measure of how bad our air is will do
us no real good, unless authorities are ready to do something about
it. It also isn't as if the guys in DOTC and LTO, as well as in
DENR care if our health has suffered because of our air pollution
level. The DOH must sound the alarm bells.
It will only get worse. In a briefing I once attended, Shizuo
Iwata, a JICA consultant made a comment that we need to take a more
comprehensive approach to our urban planning. It isn't just the
trains and buses and roads, but where people actually live. He said
Metro Manila is simply congested.
The JICA expert said their comprehensive study made
recommendations on satellite communities around Metro Manila that
would be linked by mass transport. I remember him saying that Metro
Manila is unlivable as it is now. We need to spread out, but we can
only do that if we have an effective mass transit system. So that
ended my daydreaming. With DOTC's legendary incompetence, abandon
According to Dax Lucas of Inquirer, a real estate
consultancy executive of KMC Mag Group warned: "The
long-term economic growth of the Philippines is dependent on
whether or not it can address the issue of decongestion and make
smart, sustainable decisions to improve its
In a Bloomberg interview, Gil-Hong Kim, the
Asian Development Bank's director of sustainable infrastructure
said: "If the government fails to address the
infrastructure gaps, this will become an unlivable city. Traffic
jams will become a nightmare, more people will move into slums. Its
wealth and business opportunities will be gone."
JICA is working on a proposal that indicates the Manila area
will need a P2.6-trillion upgrade by 2030, including 1,260
kilometers of expressways and roads, 318 kilometers of rail lines
and a new airport, according to Iwata, author of the study.
Metro Manila's 17 cities have a population of about 12 million.
The market research people at ABS-CBN are now talking not of Metro
Manila, but Mega Manila, or about 25 million people. That almost
reaches Malolos to the north, beyond Antipolo to the east, halfway
to Tagaytay in Cavite in the southwest and
beyond Santa Rosa to the south. That made me think moving
towards Santa Rosa may give me fresh air for now, but not for
The big private schools are now relocating in the Nuvali area
being developed by Ayala, and that means it is a matter of time
Mega Manila will be like Los
Angeles and Orange County in Southern
California. Congestion in the expansion areas will happen within my
lifetime and with it, pollution and traffic jams too.
On the other hand, maybe in the areas managed by Ayala and other
more responsible land developers, things will not be so bad. Nuvali
is impressive and Ayala is doing an even more ambitious expansion
in a totally new city in Porac, Pampanga. In fact, if Ayala invests
the P75 billion it said it would invest to develop Alviera, a
1,100-hectare mix-used community in Porac, Pampanga, a truly new
growth center away from Metro Manila would happen.
Now I appreciate what that Ayala executive boasted about in a
newspaper interview in Singapore about Ayala being a
government in itself with its own urban planning department. It is
true and it is good. This is how private business picks up where
government fails. It takes not just money, but guts.
Not too long ago that part of Pampanga was lahar country
devastated by the eruption of Mt Pinatubo. Indeed, I do not
understand why Ayala chose to build its planned community there
rather than in Clark. Anyway, it is close enough to Clark
where there would be facilities like the international airport and
a tertiary hospital of Medical City.
If the manufacturing and service industries now
in Clark expand operations or new ones come in, Alviera
would be the ideal place for executives to live. Meean Dy, Ayala
Land vice president and Strategic Landbank Management Group head,
promised that "Porac will be transformed to a masterplanned
township unlike any other in the province and in the whole
of Central Luzon."
It could have happened earlier. The idea of moving some parts of
government to Clark was explored by former President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Rufo Colayco, who was head of BCDA at that
time, proposed developing a second metropolis in the Clark-Subic
It was presented as a long-term solution to Metro Manila's
serious congestion problems. But it must be properly planned,
Colayco pointed out, and administered to avoid having yet another
hopeless mess like what we have in Metro Manila. Besides we need an
alternative in case that dreaded West Valley fault line shakes us
with a seven to eight magnitude earthquake soon and Metro Manila
becomes no man's land.
The idea is nothing new. Brazil created the capital
city of Brasilia in 1957 in the hinterlands. They wanted
to move people away from the coastal cities which have grown too
big in a haphazard manner. They tried to do things right by
making Brasilia a well-planned city of the future in the
interior of the country.
We could have done the same for Clark/Subic. The
SCTEx expressway connecting both is already in place. But it
was all talk for former President Arroyo. Despite Pampanga, her
home province, being a major beneficiary of the move, Arroyo didn't
have the political will to get it done.
For now, there is little reason to be hopeful. With Metro Manila
busting at the seams, new growth centers ought to be developed and
this time, with proper planning. But that's not going to happen in
a big way to make a difference.
Proper planning is not on the minds of our officials. Worse, we
Filipinos seem to have gotten used to mediocrity, as a Spanish PhD
student's very apt observation puts it.
This is what Jorge Mojarro wrote in an article in InterAksyon:
"As an example, let's talk about something simple: sidewalks, a
basic public asset that facilitates mobility and the livability of
a city. Except for a few areas, sidewalks are absent. Or if they do
exist, they are occupied in very different ways. Streets for
pedestrians are science fiction. The terrible consequence is that
elders, small children, and handicapped people are excluded from
Things will remain chaotic as our mega cities grow in all
directions like some giant amoeba. Metro Manila is
becoming uninhabitable or maybe, already is.