Decongesting Metro Manila




By Jovee Marie de la Cruz - October 1, 2017

Offices of national government agencies may soon inch their way out of Metro Manila to outlying regions, as a proposal for their relocation gains traction in the House of Representatives.

House Committee on Housing and Urban Development Chairman Alfredo Benitez of Negros Occidental said his panel has recently approved a substitute bill moving national government administrative offices from the National Capital Region (NCR) to the provinces.

Benitez said the proposal seeks to decongest Metro Manila and ensure the functions of government during calamities, while allowing a better government transaction system.

“Overpopulation, traffic congestion and high vulnerability to natural disasters have made Metro Manila, or the NCR, a pariah among world cities,” Benitez said.

The measure, he added, will now be submitted to the mother committee for final approval. After the approval on the panel level, the bill will be transmitted to the plenary for deliberations.

The lawmaker said there is a need to rethink and develop a master plan that will decongest Metro Manila.

Progress after relocation 

According to Benitez, several countries where government agencies were relocated outside the main city have flourished, such as South Korea, Malaysia and Brazil.

“Relocation of capitals had already been done by several countries. Malaysia, for instance, built a new administrative capital to ease congestion in Kuala Lumpur. Putrajaya is envisioned to be a ‘green’ and ‘intelligent’ city,’ with wide parks and open spaces, and strong ICT [information communication technology] infrastructure. Its aesthetic design also shows distinct Islamic character to reflect Malaysian identity and heritage as a predominantly Muslim country,” he said.

Alternative plan 

National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Ernesto Pernia, in a position paper, suggested that a “well-coordinated master plan on how to decongest NCR and support the development of regional and subregional centers [must] be prepared instead.”

“This can be done through existing institutions, particularly the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, which is mandated by law to formulate and coordinate implementation of medium- and long-term plans and programs for the land use and physical development within NCR,” Pernia said.

While recognizing the intention of the proposal, Pernia said under the 2017-2022 Philippine Development Plan (PDP), the NCR is envisioned to remain as the seat of the national government.

“The strategy for decongesting NCR is to direct growth to regional and subregional centers, which have the economies of scale and agglomeration needed to become attractive investment hosts and alternatives to NCR,” he said.

“The PDP also provides the basis for identifying strategic infrastructure projects that will ensure connectivity among urban centers and rural production areas. It encourages local government units to incorporate disaster-risk reduction in their comprehensive land-use plans, given that it is at the local level where hazards could be defined in detail, including the specific interventions to reduce vulnerability to disasters,” Pernia added.

Under the bill, the Administrative Capital City Planning Commission shall be created to lead the development of a comprehensive plan to relocate the government agencies and establish an administrative capital city outside Metro Manila.

Also, the Administrative Capital City Planning Commission shall conduct a feasibility study of relocating most of the administrative offices of government agencies outside of Metro Manila. The commission will be placed under the Office of the President.

“The authority shall call upon any department, bureau, office, agency, or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or -controlled corporations, government financial institutions, local government units, and request non-governmental organizations, the private sector and other entities for assistance as the circumstances and exigencies may require in carrying out his mandate,” the bill said.

It added the commission shall also submit to the President the mechanisms and oversee the initial phase of the transfer of the government agencies.

The measure said the commission shall identify the most suitable site for the administrative city and provide a master plan for the development of the site.

The bill also allows the commission to engage the assistance of local and foreign consultants and experts in the development of the master plan.

According to the measure, the master plan for the establishment of an administrative city shall guide and accomplish a coordinated, adjusted, harmonious development of the capital of the Philippines, which will, in accordance with the present and future needs, best promote health, safety, morals, order, convenience and prosperity.

The measure said that the amount necessary to implement this proposal shall be included in the budget of the Office of the President in the annual General Appropriations Act.

ISFs

Another major concern, Benitez said, is the increasing number of squatters, informal settler families (ISFs), in Metro Manila, eating up valuable urban space.

Benitez stressed that medium-rise buildings could be constructed in the areas that will be vacated by these government agencies.

The lawmaker said the off-city government programs for the ISFs failed because many of the relocatees have returned to the NCR, as their relocation sites are far from their source of income.

“Out of the 1.5 million ISFs in the country, nearly 600,000 are found in NCR,” he said.

The Philippine Statistics Authority said Metro Manila is home to 11.9 million people in 2010, making it one of the world’s most densely populated areas.

Meanwhile, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) Assistant Secretary Avelino Tolentino III suggested that to make housing projects more affordable, government lands should be converted into housing sites.

Avelino said this could be cheaper in the long run for the government, which will still own the lands, as relocation sites entail spending money to relocate to far-flung areas the ISFs, who, however, end up returning to the NCR due to the unavailability of basic services in the new housing sites.

By allowing the free use of government lands, Avelino said, tenants will only pay a small amount for the investment the government will spend in constructing the building and for its maintenance.

Clark City

During the technical working group phase, AlloyMTD Philippines President engineer Isaac S. David presented before lawmakers their plan to build Clark Green City as the new administrative center for the national government.

Like other cities, David said the $2.5-billion project is large enough to accommodate business, government, education, housing and lifestyle amenities.

He said the Clark Green City will be well-connected through public transport like rail and expressway.

The Clark Green City is patterned after Putrajaya. Putrajaya is the administrative capital of Malaysia, where there are executive, legislative and judicial offices.

Benitez admitted that it would take a longer time to implement this project, but “what’s important here is, we are now starting the process.”

“One of our dilemmas is most of our programs are [only] at short term because we were only looking at a six-year time frame for any administration. [With this], we cannot plan more than six years, but in this case, this requires more planning and implementation period,” he added.

The Clark Green City is envisioned as a disaster-resilient metropolis that could face the strongest typhoons and earthquakes.

“[We have to be resilient since] during Supertyphoon Yolanda, there was a time when there was no government. [This] will assure that we will not be immobilized during calamities because [of the absence of the government],” he said.

Benitez said Metro Manila also sits above a fault line that could trigger massive and destructive earthquakes.

The Clark Green City project is now being evaluated by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority.