Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 27 February 2019


The restoration of Manila Bay’s pristine quality the way it was before, or how we want it to be, is a long-term project. It will require large private and public investment in resources.

Solving the problem is almost identical toward unknotting the major economic development issues that the nation faces.

 If only we can dedicate the program of development of the country toward solving the immense problems implied by the restoration of Manila Bay, or of addressing the megacity’s costly traffic gridlock, we will have solved a large part of the nation’s major economic problems!

A giant cleanup challenge. Some see the cleanup of the bay as simply the removal of floating plastic and garbage and the removal of ugly structures on the seashore and on the beach.

The problem is beyond the things that were undertaken in the so-called cleanup of Boracay. Much that is unseen – and beyond the measures taken in the small-scale problem that is Boracay’s –have to be put right.

The bad news is this. President Duterte only this week admitted that he has failed to solve the traffic problem.

Mega proportions for a megacity. The current unhappiness over the state of Manila Bay embodies the imbalance of economic expansion with environmental carrying capacity of the physical space in which the population lives.

Metro Manila today is a megacity of 12.8 million residents (per the 2015 census). There are 16 chartered cities and municipalities that compose the metropolitan area. Manila City itself has a population of 1.8 million. (Thus, the population of Metro Manila is seven times the population of Manila itself!)

Actually, the population of Greater Metro Manila is much larger on a given workday. It is estimated that the urban area of the city supports some 21.8 million people. (Multiply this number by five and we have 109 million, which is the estimated total population of the country today!)

A bird’s eye perspective of the megacity, as when one flies over Manila, would show any trained city planner or any economist the immensity of the problem: both the ones we perceive easily and the ones that are hidden from view, beyond the naked eye and from the short-view of local problems as they press themselves for attention.

The development implications are immense. They include the following:

(1) Providing decent housing for the population. A large part of the populace live in squatter shacks and temporary, hardly stable residences.

(2) Generating jobs for the nation’s many unemployed and underemployed, which means reforming our employment policies;

(3) Undertaking an orderly setup of transport networks alongside that of waterways and flood control systems, both above, on, and below the surface – supra-, on-level-ground and infra-structures – so that we can rationalize the byways of people and commerce, and of waterways and allow them to flow more freely and smoothly.

(4) Creating a reasonable system of public investments and policy incentives so that the nation’s many regions can become attractive in themselves to provide effective competition to the growth and sustenance of the country’s main urban center – Greater Manila.

The scale of effort. The immensity of the problem of restoring Manila Bay should, therefore, be appreciated as an integral part of the country’s long-term national development plans.

It is like achieving the landmark efforts required that have helped to build some of the world’s major urban cities located by similar bay areas, for instance, that of Tokyo Bay or San Francisco Bay.

The wide gap in inadequacy of Metro Manila’s urban services to a large and still growing city has to be properly attended to by undertaking a comprehensive program of public and private investments.

In the past, much of the growth of this large metropolis was undertaken with little attention to the social costs of development. Economic development often leads to higher social costs that are borne by society. To cure them, the nation has to accept higher level of taxation to finance public investments.

The problem of pollution sums this up. This can also be said about the traffic mess that is our urban daily experience. Solving both is required, not only one of them. They are both long-term problems that mandate attention.

As an example, take the case of providing drinking water for the resident population. This requires massive investments in channeling water into collection points and into centers where the water could be cleaned for human consumption. High dams have to be built to amass water reserves and waste water used must be treated and not thrown away.

Building sewage treatment plants also requires complementary investments in expanding and distributing the provision of potable water.

Investments in proper garbage disposal is related to the improvement of water supply, improper garbage disposal dirties the environment from which water is also collected.

The dependence on road and transport construction of proper water collection cannot be neglected either. The network of waterways – canals, sewer and drainage lines – with transport networks – both those on the ground, above the ground or subterranean – are part of the intricate engineering problems of cities.

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BSP Governor Nestor Espenilla

The untimely demise of Gov. Nestor Espenilla of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas deprives the nation of an experienced central banker. He has not yet been fully tested by extreme problems of financial pressures. His short tenure at the central bank has shown us the quality and preparedness of his talents for the task of being the nation’s central bank.

The UP School of Economics mourns his passing as one of its important alumni. He learned his early economics at the school and was one of its brilliant products. His career from the time of graduation was spent in central banking.

Not only did he graduate with high honors in his economics course. His undergraduate paper, Traffic Congestion Taxes for Metro Manila was adjudged the best paper for the graduating class. For that, he was awarded the G. P. Sicat best paper award for 1981. He was also trained to help solve the city’s traffic problems.