A Cultural Change in MMDA

Manila Bulletin, February 3, 2011 | Go to article overview

A Cultural Change in MMDA


MANILA, Philippines - The actions of government can result either in external economies (benefits to the public at large) or diseconomies (harm to the common good). The decision of government after government in the Philippines to adopt an inward-looking, import-substitution, ultranationalist industrial policy led to the concentration of economic activities in the Metro Manila area or National Capital Region, to the detriment of rural areas where the majority of the Philippine poor live. In contrast, the intelligent decision of the Thai government to cover their whole country with farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities, and other rural infrastructures had three benefits, two of them unintended. The first one, which was intended, was to make the Thai farmers rich, constituting a strong domestic market which in turn helped local industries attain the economies of scale needed to be competitive. The second benefit, generally unintended, was to open the country to millions of tourists from abroad, who used the same rural infrastructures benefiting the farmers to reach all the attractive destinations for which Thailand is famous. The third benefit, also not directly intended, was to enable the Thai military to pursue the communist guerrillas to the ends of the earth, leading to an early suppression of the communist revolt (in contrast with our long drawn-out struggle against the NPAs).

Today, Metro Manila is a monstrous urban conglomeration of 11.5 million by night and 14 million by day that costs the country billions of pesos in lost hours of work and in travel expenses, in addition to the psychological and physical damage to millions of travelers who suffer from traffic tensions and air pollution. Besides the obvious solution of decongesting the NCR by developing the other 16 regions to stop the continuous migration to Metro Manila and even to reverse the flow, there is need at least during the next six to ten years to look for ways and means of promoting the well-being of the NCR residents. This well-being can be defined in terms of safety, mobility, civility, and productivity. Making Manila more livable can have external economies to the whole country similar to what happened to Thailand with the building of rural infrastructure. If Manila improves in livability, more foreign tourists can be expected to come because, for better or worse, Manila is still equated with the Philippines in the minds of foreigners, no matter how islands like Cebu, Palawan, and Panay may market themselves as "islands in the Pacific" independently of the Philippines. …

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