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MMetroplan: Missed opportunities

MMetroplan: Missed opportunities 1
FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

THE state of our country today was anticipated in the World-Bank-funded Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project, or the MMetroplan, that was published in 1976. The MMetroplan was an interagency project of the government of the Philippines with Freeman Fox and Associates that provided recommendations to manage development and control where it takes place, and presented planning advice for transport and other development opportunities. I was a senior planner and team leader for development planning of the MMETROPLAN. Guided urban development comprises providing physical and institutional infrastructure required to promote inclusivity and prosperity for all and to improve the overall health, welfare and economic stability of the community. To be more specific, it ensures the balance of activities in an area, guides the planning and implementation of efficient basic services and utilities, and makes sure that the health of the environment and the people are not compromised for the sake of development. Today, I will be sharing with you planning recommendations that were put forward in the 1970s but have unfortunately become missed development opportunities because they were not implemented.

According to the World Bank, Filipino families living in makeshift dwellings are among the country’s 17 million urban informal settlers. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) discovered that we are losing billions due to crippling traffic. During the rainy season, our cities are easily flooded, submerging large land areas and threatening the safety of many. The lack of compliance with our solid waste management law causes further flooding and many other challenges. These are just a few of the severe issues we have been facing for years. As the urban population continues to grow, so does the seriousness of these challenges.

Flooding is a constant problem we deal with, even during ordinary thunderstorms, and we all know how perilous it becomes during monsoons and typhoons. The MMetroplan team assessed flood mitigation and disaster risk measures. After comprehensive evaluation, they proposed the simultaneous construction of the Manggahan Floodway and the Parañaque Spillway. As of today, only the Manggahan Floodway exists, and Laguna Lake’s single discharge channel to Manila Bay is the Napindan Pasig River Channel, which has a capacity of only 600 cubic meters/second. During the infamous Typhoon Ondoy, approximately 4,000 cubic meters/second flowed into Laguna Lake from the mountains of Antipolo and Rizal. Because the Napindan Pasig River Channel could only drain 15 percent of the torrential downpour to Manila Bay, 80,000 hectares of urban land experienced catastrophic floods. Metro Manila and 23 provinces were placed under a state of calamity, approximately 993,200 families were affected, and P11 billion worth of infrastructure and agriculture were damaged. The Parañaque Spillway would have lessened the dangerous impacts because it would have served as another outlet that can flush out accumulating floodwaters in Laguna Lake into Manila Bay to prevent flooding in the lakeshore towns and nearby areas.

For urban planning and development, MMetroplan emphasized the importance of preventing urban sprawl and uneconomic development patterns by restricting the supply of land to shift development away from hazardous and unsuitable areas. Development must not happen sporadically; it should be the result of careful study and coordinated efforts between the public and private sectors. With concentrated, consolidated and guided land development, sufficient groundwork and services for water supply, drainage, electricity, transportation, health, education, security and other needs would be in place and ready for the inevitable urban growth. It is easier and less expensive to provide infrastructure and services beforehand compared to providing these late in the game when the combination of informal settler communities and unmanaged commercial and housing developments have settled in. Sadly, it is faster for urban sprawl to create problems than the ability of the LGUs to keep up and solve the issues that come along with it. With directed urban development, the provision of infrastructure and facilities can be in step with the rise of the population. People who live in a planned area can also reduce their travel time to and from work, school, and commercial centers because everything they need are within the area. More agricultural lands and green open spaces are also saved from being converted, therefore urban areas are healthier and can still provide additional contributions to the economy. Examples of areas identified in the MMETROPLAN that are unsuitable for development include “Marikina Valley, the western shores of Laguna de Bay, and the Manila Bay coastal area to the north of Manila.” These areas were defined as unsuitable either because they are flood-prone areas or because development lacks sufficient facilities for the disposal and treatment of garbage and sewage that will lead to severe pollution. Development can only proceed when basic utility services and measures are established, so the areas are equipped to accommodate urban expansion and address existing challenges.

When it comes to transportation, a holistic set of policies and projects was recommended to provide methods to solve the transport and traffic problems in Metro Manila. Included in the recommendations were thorough planning and construction of efficient and interconnected transportation systems like the addition of LRT lines; transit-oriented developments; high-quality, safe, and environment-friendly roads and streets that both pedestrians and motorists can appreciate and benefit from; and more radical methods such as congestion pricing.

In 1976, the MMetroplan team said that with a “do-nothing scenario,” Metro Manila would have catastrophic traffic and flooding; garbage and sewerage problems; lack of water supply, decent housing, and transportation systems; and would not be prepared for disasters and other urban ills. These problems are happening now, but our situation is not incurable. Other countries that had the same problems or underwent even worse scenarios were able to turn their situation around and are now prospering. Gradually, we are seeing more policies and actions from the government to address these, and increasingly, Filipinos are showing a growing interest and leading more endeavors to achieve a better quality of life for all.

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