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Practical solutions to Metro Manila’s woes

In 1919, Dean George Malcolm of the University of the Philippines College of Law, then located in the Ermita district of the City of Manila, urged the state university to move to more spacious surroundings, preferably north of the city.  As early as then, Manila was already getting crowded. 

Malcolm had good reason to be alarmed.  A city that becomes too congested exhausts its own housing, employment, education, and health resources, deteriorates inevitably, breeds crime and poverty, and becomes an urban eyesore.  It ends up a ghost of itself.  

After Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon endorsed Malcolm’s idea later in 1938, UP prepared for its exodus to the expansive roughlands of Diliman, in the city named in Quezon’s honor.

Urban planners during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines seemed to share Malcolm’s opinion and created a Greater Manila area which included the suburbs of the city.  For whatever that wartime plan was worth, it ended upon the defeat of Japan in 1945.

In the early years of the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, the government saw the importance of developing both the suburbs and the nearby countryside with industries and major roadways to decongest the national capital.  Marcos thought of reviving the concept of a Greater Manila area.

Under the Marcos regime (1966-1986), Circumferential Road No. 4 (C-4) envisioned by President Quezon, and renamed Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in 1959, was completed with the construction of the Guadalupe Bridge.  Before that, only the City of Manila hosted the main bridges spanning the Pasig River.  The new Guadalupe bridge decongested Manila of vehicular traffic for the next several years. 

Marcos followed this project with the replacement of the old, one-lane wooden Nagtahan Bridge with the wider, concrete one in use today.  Major roadways in the suburbs were streamlined—the hill in San Juan separating Ortigas Avenue from Gilmore Avenue was removed to connect both roads.  The North Diversion Road and the South Diversion Road (present-day North Luzon Expressway and South Luzon Expressway) were likewise constructed to ease passage to and from the Greater Manila area. 

With the new roadways in place, provincial buses were encouraged to expand their operations.  Squatters were relocated to Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna and were given free housing units and support services there.  Many people working in the Greater Manila area but had no place to stay in the metropolis could easily go home to the nearby provinces everyday.

By 1974, the Greater Manila area gave way to Metropolitan Manila.  The new entity became official in 1975 with the establishment of Metropolitan Manila and the Metropolitan Manila Commission.  Housing problems were addressed through the Bagong Lipunan Improvement of Sites and Services (BLISS) tenement housing buildings built all over the ­metropolis.

These developments notwithstanding, the population of Metropolitan Manila increased exponentially and overtook its available housing accommodations and employment opportunities.  The traffic nightmare today is also a consequence of that population factor. 

Cavite Province under Governor Juanito “Johnny” Remulla provided a solution.  Using tax incentives, Remulla enticed industries to put up factories to generate employment, and encouraged real estate developers to put up inexpensive housing communities to accommodate the workers.  Schools and medical facilities soon followed.  In time, Cavite became an industrial destination, a far cry from the gangsterland that it was under previous administrations.

The departure of the Americans from the Subic Bay Naval Base in Zambales and from Clark Air Base in Pampanga also provided development opportunities in these areas, enough to decongest Metropolitan Manila.  These former military installations have vast tracts of land suitable for industrial development, including the necessary housing facilities and related support services.  The recent completion of access highways to these areas should have jump-started the development there, but the current pace is disappointing.     

Laguna, Bulacan, and Rizal Province employed the same strategy in Cavite, but only Laguna managed to become a viable industrial estate.

Cavite remains a leading industrial hub today due to its high concentration of factories, manufacturing and assembly plants, and business process outsourcing companies there.  Unlike Bulacan and Rizal, Cavite is easy accessible from Metropolitan Manila through several major roadways, including the new Cavite Expressway.

The Cavite example best embodies the solution to the problems of Metropolitan Manila —that industrial sites should be developed in the countryside and complemented with housing communities, schools and hospitals.  There are many available investors for all this.  Once an industrial estate is established, shopping malls, which provide leisure and employment, will follow.  With integrated industrial estates in place in the countryside, there will be no pressing need for people in the provinces to live in Metropolitan Manila, and congest the metropolis in the process.

Two former legislators saw the investment potential in Cavite as early as the late 1980s.  They introduced inexpensive housing projects in the province to complement the industrial estates that were being established there.  Other land developers followed suit.

An interesting housing developer to watch is the Property Company of Friends (Profriends), which was established in 1999, and which has numerous development projects in Cavite. The company’s affordable housing communities in this province are proximate enough to industrial sites that breadwinners need not travel to far destinations for employment.  Schools, hospitals and leisure centers are also located nearby. 

Lately, people from Cavite are talking about Lancaster New City, the latest housing project of Profriends.  It consists of more than a thousand hectares in Kawit, Imus, and General Trias.  The area is home to about 15,000 families, and counting. 

Profriends has other projects like Parc Regency Greens and Montecillo Villas in Pavia, Iloilo, and the Palm Lake Shore in Pampanga.  These projects also prevent further congestion of the national capital region by enticing people to consider Iloilo and Pampanga as alternate destinations for their future lives.    

Indeed, reputable investors in inexpensive housing projects outside Metropolitan Manila should be welcomed.  Their projects provide viable solutions to the many problems of the metropolis today. 

Topics: Victor Avecilla , Practical solutions to Metro Manila’s woes
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