Is Manila poor because it is ugly? Or is it ugly because it is poor?
Is it poor? Is it ugly?
Is it dead? Is it dying? Or does its chaos suggest it is a thriving, beautiful, and living metropolis?
It is no denying that the capital city of the Philippine archipelago is dying. It is one of the best examples of urban degeneration, one that is disintegrating at record speed. Despite the so-called economic boom the government and the middle class trumpet, the sad and disturbing reality is the capital of the Philippines represents the many contradictions and sad realities this society is facing.
It is unfortunate that Metro Manila, which is the capital of the Philippines, is the PERFECT PLACE to see that which can appall any visitor or resident. A capital is meant to be the SHOWCASE of everything that is EXCELLENT and BEAUTIFUL in a country. Unfortunately, most often than not, what people see here is not the best in Filipinos but the BEAST in us.
Earlier today (this blog entry has undergone various versions, but I wish to remind everyone of 17 June 2013: http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/video/nation/metro-manila/06/17/13/heavy-rains-cause-floods-traffic-jams-anew-metro-manila), thousands (oh, but Metro Manila has MILLIONS of residents) experienced awful traffic congestion due to flooding throughout the metropolis. For hours, tired students, professionals, workers and perhaps, tourists, were left helpless as the city’s major highways were left on standstill. There was an obvious and disappointing absence in terms of the presence of Policemen, traffic enforcers and members of the usually pesky Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). Drivers (and their passengers) were asked to be simply “patient”.
Metro Manila is dying, and it’s dying every day.
With what happened earlier, expect NO CHANGE whatsoever to take place. Both motorists and the government will not change. And this is perhaps the perfect equation for a city to die.
The tremendous volume of vehicles in Metro Manila is appalling, and it is an alarming signal of the values of the people. Thousands of Metro Manila (or Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan, or some nearby province) residents buy cars without (YES! WITHOUT!) considering their cars’ effects on the environment, traffic congestion or even urban plan. Many (NOT ALL, OKAY?!!) Filipinos, upon reaching a particular fortune, the first thing they do is buy a car. Brand new, second-hand, duty-free – whatever. Basta magka-kotse. Some car owners have two vehicles but do not have a single plot of land named to them. Some have four cars but do not have ample parking space for these! No judgment here as people have EVERY RIGHT to spend their hard-earned money on what they own and it is not for me to dictate or even suggest how they should spend this. But I believe I can at least comment my observations and experiences.
The values or practices or even political environment of the Filipinos do not facilitate healthy urban plan.
First, there is the backward stigma on commuting. For Filipinos, a sign of wealth and prosperity is the car. Commuting is for the poor. Commuting is scary. And to some degree, these are in fact, true. I myself commute. I know perfectly how it feels to be cramped among many sweaty and tired people inside train coaches that do not have aircon. I know how it feels being herded into buses that are full. I know how it feels riding a jeepney that barkers call-out as “pang-siyaman” when it’s good for 7 persons. Government has to beef up and do something with regard to public safety in public transport. (please stop commenting that I don’t take public transport. I do.)
Secondly, Filipinos just love appearances. We are afflicted with the disease of being an impressionable lot. A nice car can impress people, and so it is a necessary asset. We are so conscious of what other people might say that’s why we always buy the latest cars. We’re like the half-brothers of people from Los Angeles. I remember my French foreign exchange friends and they were really astonished and taken aback by the cars being driven by my schoolmates in college. They asked me often too why it’s always traffic in almost every major thoroughfare in Metro Manila. Like them, I am curious “saan ba galing lahat ng coche na yan? saan sila galing at saan sila papunta?”
A classic example of our fetish for external appearances is when we have cars, we want to be fetched by our drivers right at the footstep of the mall, school, hospital or church we are visiting. Who cares about the long queue of cars? I want to ride my car from where I am standing. I won’t walk to my car. The car must make its way to me… and I will ride my car at my own glacial pace or my kids’ yayas will put on their polo uniforms only AFTER alighting from the car, putting powder on the kids’ backs.
Thirdly, there is the global disease that is materialism. The materialistic mind-set propels mall developers to continue destroying our cityscape and construct their mammoth developments. Look at a certain mall in Ortigas. Not content with the chaos it has caused for decades, it is now constructing another horrendous edifice right smack along EDSA!
This materialistic mindset has spawned so many sins in our urban lives: the further subdividing of our cities, distinguishing places for the rich (and feeling rich) and the poor, the worsening pollution, envying one’s neighbor, why our wastage! Capitalism indeed propels the world’s financial development, but let’s ask ourselves deeper questions: is that what matters most? the economy? Is buying and selling really how the world works?
This condominium trend spells the sure death of once genteel Manila. Are these high-rises all perfectly suited for our geographical needs, the Philippines being located at the Pacific Ring of Fire? And with the trauma the West continues to face due to its real estate crisis, is the Philippines fully-prepared for a possible bubble economy explosion? Are all the rooms in all the condos being built actually PAID?
And then, there is our frustrating government. Not much discussion on this.
People spit anywhere, vendors put up their stalls on sidewalks and roads are not liberated. Our airports continue to employ inefficient staff and do not have airconditioning. Our cities continue to flood and billboards, obscene and pleasing, are everywhere. What are our local officials doing? And where is the national government’s interest in the genuine development of our capital? Where?
Metro Manila is dead. Its wide open avenidas are gone. Its tree-lined streets are nothing more but memories. Its people are so infatuated with the lives of celebrities and the latest gadgets that they forget to notice that their capital is dead. And the apathy of the educated and the elite is disturbing.
Compare Bangkok with Manila and you will find many contrasts amidst the similarity of traffic. They have a river that is utilized and their street foods, at the very least, look clean. The only “street foods” that look safe here are the ones being in MRT/LRT stations or in that UP parking lot. Have you visited our wet markets? Except for Marikina’s, as far as I know, wet markets can be really dim, smelly and well, yes, wet.
I do not know how we can list all of Metro Manila’s problems right now but I am telling you, Manila is facing a horrible end if people and the government do not change. Let us not forget that history tells us that “The Big One” is about to shake Metro Manila any moment now. How prepared our government is, we do not know. How prepared the people are, we also don’t know.
Basta you experienced earlier how our city’s main highways immobilized thousands upon thousands of persons. It gives you the perfect idea how Metro Manila will be when in a crisis hits.
Our city is dying, and nothing major will change. After Ondoy and Habagat, NOTHING has changed. Universities continue to allow thousands of cars to enter their premises. Schools almost encourage their students to cause traffic by allowing them to dismount their vehicles one-by-one at the door’s footsteps. Our heritage buildings are being sold and demolished. Our bay is dirty, our rivers are dead, our cities flood and the air we breathe is poisonous and toxic. There are so many street children and condominiums and malls are being built like mushrooms. Vehicles of all types daily exhaust the cityscape while obscene and materialistic billboards flourish in our ugly city. Metro Manila is dying.
Where is culture? Where is music? Where are our open spaces? Where are the scenic riverbanks? Where are the vistas of Laguna de Bay, of Manila Bay, of Sierra Madre, why, even of the Pasig? We have so many problems in urban planning and cultural preservation that we ought to impose drastic measures to rescue our city.