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Much has been written about the current administration’s Build, Build, Build program including it being billed as a “Golden Age of Infrastructure”. Many infrastructure projects though can be classified as “nice to have but not necessary”. They might become necessary in the future but then there are other projects that are more urgently needed now and need to be prioritised given the limited resources that we have. A good example of these “nice to have” projects would be the bridges proposed to connect Panay, Negros, Cebu and Bohol islands. The reality is that it is quite easy to manipulate studies in order to obtain results to support the construction of these bridges including justifying loans that will bring us deeper into unnecessary (for now) debt. You get more bang for the buck if you build instead mass transit systems and transform transportation in major cities of these same islands to favour active transport rather than be dependent on cars. Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod and other highly urbanised cities now require better public transportation and people-oriented systems. That’s where money should go and that will have a bigger impact from now to the long-term. The government’s infrastructure build-up is linked to the new tax scheme (TRAIN) but also requires a lot of borrowing from various entities including one country that has been documented to take full advantage (i.e., very disadvantageous to the borrower) of countries taking out loans from them (you know which one – China). Do we really want to get mired in such debt?
We all are in the lookout for opportunities that would probably give us something we will be remembered for. This is not limited to the leaders of our country, whether they be politicians or department heads or even district engineers, who perhaps want to be remembered for something they built, or, something they contributed in making a reality. Perhaps this can be in the form of a mass transit line, an expressway, or an iconic bridge? Perhaps for others it is in the form of a nuclear power plant or even a space program. We all have that dream project we want to be associated with.
Why are certain good people not critical of the government’s disastrous war on drugs or the proliferation of what appears to be government sponsored fake news and propaganda? It’s simple. Many of these “good” people are benefitting from the very same government particularly in pursuit of their own legacies (which are their main agenda). If you were an engineer, planner or scientist in government and your projects were funded one way or another, would you dare bite the proverbial hand that feeds you? “Complicit” seems to be a word used by the more hardline among us in terms of the socio-political-economic situation we are in now. But we have to remember that during the regime of Marcos, this was also the situation. The so-called best and the brightest were all employed by the administration back then including prominent names in industry and the academe, who perhaps enjoyed the privileges, perks and funding support for their programs and projects. Never mind martial law and its outcomes.
That is why history and its understanding is important. So we may learn from it and not relive the wrongs made in the past. We are not good in history or its application. Perhaps we only know how to memorise. And memory has its limits. That is among the costs of our current predicament. We withhold history, and memory, in exchange for what we think would be our legacies. At what cost? At what price? Human rights, freedoms, justice, financial stability, and dignity are just a few we can mention. Perhaps the biggest loss will be our humanity as we have become de-sensitized to the well-being of others.
We have an ongoing project with the City of Tacloban and recently we went around the northern part of the city where many relocation sites were established after the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). After doing our fieldwork, we decided to cross the San Juanico Bridge into Samar island where we were told there’s a nice restaurant sitting atop a hill in the town of Sta. Rita.
Despite the rains, we managed to get some photos of the breathtaking views. Among these were this photo of the bridge as seen from Samar. Leyte and Tacloban are behind the bridge.
It is said that the part of the bridge on the Samar side has that distinctive ‘S’ shape while the Leyte side is a simple ‘L’ form. Trucks are weighed before they get on the bridge and the DPWH maintains a weigh station for this purpose before the Samar end. I didnt notice any from the Leyte side. Perhaps this is because most loaded trucks come via Samar rather that from Leyte?
Traffic along the San Juanico is usually light. This is despite the route being part of the eastern spine or nautical highway that is also part of the Asian Highway network. This leads me to suspect that similar (but longer and more expensive) bridges proposed for connecting other islands are unnecessary and cannot be justified when compared with other more urgent infrastructure projects including those that wil address urban congestion and promote improved mobility. The latter are more urgent and meaningful than massive structures that fewer people will use and benefit from.
I was browsing Facebook the other day and found an interesting post by the Antipolo City Government’s official account. They posted about the presentation made by the current mayor to the staff of the Philippine Senate, selling the idea for the Senate to relocate from its current location in Pasay City. There are currently two options known to us: Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City and Antipolo City in Rizal Province.
The Antipolo government’s post stated that it only takes 25 minutes between the the Batasan Complex and the proposed site, which is on land owned by the Antipolo City Government. This was probably based on travel time estimate using a tool such as Open Street Map. This though is inaccurate since travel times are affected by various factors and will vary according to time of day, day of the week and even month.
Open Street Map visualization of travel route and time between Batasan Complex and the proposed site for the Senate
Google Maps visualization of alternative routes and typical travel times
I took the preceding screen captures at 10:00 AM on June 23, 2017 (Friday). Open Street Map’s version can be misleading because it states a travel time assuming practically no traffic (~26 km in 27 minutes or about 58 km/hr in terms of travel speed). Google Maps version is better as it accounts for typical traffic during a certain time of travel (i.e., 10AM). Thus, there’s the more realistic 1 hour travel time for the same distance (about 26 km/hr travel speed). Google’s is based on crowdsourced data and can be customized based on the day and time of travel (e.g., 8:00 AM on a Monday). And I wouldn’t even want to get into the discussion of the accuracy of the claimed 40-45 minutes to/from the airport (i.e., NAIA). Again, anyone with Waze or Google Maps can get more realistic travel time estimates for such trips.
What would be the transport impacts of such a relocation. For one, employees of the Senate (and I am not even considering the Senators and their closest staff here) would have to travel from their residences to the proposed site in Cabading, Antipolo City. Where do these staff live? If they were from Manila and they take public transport, that probably means they would have to take the LRT Line 2 to Masinag and then take a jeepney from Masinag to the site. Line 2 would present the most efficient option in terms of travel time and cost compared to taking a jeepney or van via Cubao. I am not aware of any direct transport services for them although we can speculate that perhaps new routes can be established. The Senate has shuttle buses so these would also be an option for those taking public transport. Car owners will have to travel and converge along Marcos Highway. It is uncertain when the extension to Cogeo will be decided and constructed, if at all.
There is also mention of the plans for Circumferential Road 6 (C-6). However, the reality is that government is taking its time in upgrading the existing sections in Taguig, Pasig and Taytay. The Taguig sections are in a very bad state now after the onset of the wet season. Dealing with the ROW acquisitions necessary for planned C-6 sections is already a big challenge as the areas are already built up or developed (mostly residential subdivisions).
Having the Senate complex in Antipolo will have repercussions on land use/development as well as land prices and rent. It will be located at a relatively undeveloped part of the city and will likely encourage urbanization there. Antipolo should be careful in regulating land development so that the area will not become another Batasan with all the informal settlements and the low density developments around it. There are many opportunities here to develop the area into a showcase government center and that should include planned development for residential, commercial and institutional uses. The housing options should include affordable walk-up apartments as well as medium rise buildings like those by DMCI and Filinvest. It is important to emphasize that options for affordable housing near the workplace cannot be provided in Fort Bonifacio since land and residential unit prices there are already very expensive; forcing most Senate staff to live outside and away from their offices. Such a situation necessitates long commutes and contributes to congestion.
To be fair, there is a good potential for congestion reduction if the Senate relocates to Antipolo. Perhaps the concept of a “New Town” in the proposed site can be developed in more detail. But questions arise: Will this attract major schools, for example, as well as offices such as BPOs? What is definite is that Antipolo will not be the only LGU that will benefit (economically) here but perhaps much of the Province of Rizal, too, as well as the nearby cities of Marikina and Pasig.
Decongestion can happen if:
a) Senate staff decide to move to Antipolo and environs (e.g., Marikina, Cainta, Tanay, etc.).
b) A significant number of staff reside at the proposed dormitories during much of the weekdays, and go home only for the weekends and holidays.
c) Efficient public transport is provided for them and Antipolo constituents along the corridor to be served.
d) Sustainable transport facilities like walkways and bikeways be developed to reduce dependence on motorized transport especially for short distance travel.
In the end, though, I think it will be the Senators who will be making the decision on this matter. Will they be more practical, pragmatic, or insensitive to the consideration of their staffs? Abangan!
I was looking for a list of projects said to be prioritized by the current administration in the Philippines and mentioned in the presentation made by government yesterday. Here’s one I found from GMA News:
Noticeable for me are the following:
1. No mention of major bridge projects that were heavily hyped both on mainstream and social media – these bridges include those that were proposed to connect the islands of Panay and Negros, Negros and Cebu, and Cebu and Bohol. It doesn’t mean, of course, that these have been abandoned but likely only sidelined for the moment.
2. Break-up of Clark Green City into several components – this seems to be a more realistic approach especially considering how big and complex this project is, and how many agencies or entities are and will be involved
3. Mass transit projects in Metro Manila – these include big ticket projects such as the proposed subway, BRT and the rehabilitation of PNR lines. These are all projects that should have been done a long time ago but for various reasons have been delayed. Say what you will about so much resources being poured into Metro (Mega?) Manila but it is the economic center of the country and efficient transport will go a long way in generating resources that can eventually be used in other parts of the country.
4. Emphasis on Clark Airport – it seems to me that the current administration is focused on developing Clark as the alternative (if not the main) gateway to the greater capital region. This is a departure from the hype we have received about a replacement for NAIA including one that was proposed at Sangley Point in Cavite.
5. Scaling down of Mindanao Railways – instead of pushing for a much grander (and unrealistic I think) railway project for the entire island, they identified a more realistic and perhaps practical line connecting Tagum, Davao and Digos. One colleague noted, however, that this corridor is already heavily serviced by buses and vans so rail ridership is at best threatened from the start.
What’s your take on the proposed projects and the list in general?
Social media is full of news or what is being passed off as news about various transport projects or initiatives. These include a proposed subway line for Metro Manila, road sharing initiatives, inter-island bridges, gateway airports and others major infrastructure projects that are being conceptualized, planned, studied or designed. Too often, people who support the projects/initiatives brand those who do not share their enthusiasm and interest as skeptics and even simply “nega” or negative people. These supporters and their opposites are most likely those who fall under one or more of the following categories:
- Overly optimistic
- Unaware of the process towards a project’s realization
Hopefully, he/she is not of the third kind who basically are posting against anyone and don’t really have any valuable opinion or constructive comment to offer. There are many groups and individuals out there including those who claim to be fanatics of urban planning, railways and other things on transport. Some even get to write in mainstream media. Unfortunately, to the untrained minds their opinions passed on as expert advise appear to be legit and that can be especially true to people who are more inclined to believe them such as very fanatics and trolls I mentioned. It is very important that proper research is undertaken before any article is written. Otherwise, there will always be bias. Of course, some articles are written with bias a given and with the objective of misleading people.
When government officials (or candidates) claim something and offer nothing as concrete proof (e.g., numbers to support a claim of improving traffic), one has to think twice about believing them. One has to be critical of such claims. Promises are often just that – promises. It is important to ask how certain programs or projects will be delivered, how infrastructure will be implemented (i.e., through what mode of financing, timelines, etc.), and what would be its impacts (i.e., social, environmental, traffic). Of course, it should be expected that officials provide suitable answers to these queries.
It should also be expected for officials to understand that institutions such as the academic ones are there to provide objective criticism. Unfortunately, there are those in the academe who themselves have some agenda they are pushing and can be deliberately misleading and misinforming with their flawed assessments and statements. Then there are experts who offer nothing but negative comments. To these people, any idea not coming from them are essentially wrong and it is often difficult to deal with such people among whom are experienced engineers and planners. Being a skeptic is one thing but being a constructive skeptic. That is, one who offers solutions and also willing to tread the middle ground or some reasonable compromise based on the situation and conditions at hand.
This is why an evidence-based approach is needed and should be mainstreamed in many government agencies, particularly those that are involved in evaluations. National agencies like the NEDA, DOTr and the DPWH have the capacity and capability to perform quantitative analysis using recent, valid data. The quality of data tells a lot about the evidence to back up analyses, evaluations and recommendations. One must not forget that with quantitative analysis it is always “garbage in, garbage out”. That is, if you have crappy data, then you will have flawed analysis, evaluations and recommendations.
My colleagues and I were talking about the not so surprising results of the recent national elections in the Philippines. I say not so surprising because people have been clamouring for change for quite some time now. It did not help the current administration and its standard bearer were hounded by the transport and traffic problems experienced by the country especially in Metro Manila. Here are some thoughts for the President-elect and whoever will be part of his transportation team:
- Come up with a framework for developing transportation in the country. The framework should contain both soft and hard measures. On the soft side would be strategies and policies like those promoting sustainable transport especially low carbon transport systems. This many include promoting walking, cycling and public transport at the local level. Hard measures would include infrastructure for all modes of transport including railways, airports and ports. Local roads development might be something President-elect Duterte’s team should look into as local roads basically provide accessibility for rural areas and contribute to development. The framework will serve as a guide for the next 6 years for whoever will be in-charge of transport-related agencies. He should have a sound game plan so as to be systematic in the approach to address transport and traffic issues.
- Watch out for and appreciate low hanging fruits. I think the current administration has already initiated solutions to pressing problems but mostly in Metro Manila in the form of the LRT Line 2 Extension and the MRT Line 7. There is also the new rolling stock for MRT Line 3. Pres.-elect Duterte’s team should already look into the mass transit needs of other highly urbanized cities such as Cebu, Iloilo and his hometown of Davao. Whether these will be road or rail-based systems should be the subject of studies to determine what can be completed immediately and within the term of the President and which need substantial investments and perhaps engagement with the private sector. The mention of “paralysis by analysis” by critics of the outgoing administration can be traced to the latter’s seeming disregard of the accomplishments of its predecessor, which could have been implemented early on during the term. The next administration should not make the same mistake.
- Just do it. That was the mantra of the late Sen. and former DOH Sec. Juan Flavier, which he got from Nike. Transport and traffic problems in this country has worsened over the years due to the slow development of infrastructure coupled with issues on land use planning. These two actually go hand-in-hand. Metro Manila is already at a stage where indeed it will take long-term planning and infra development to solve (i.e., significantly reduce) congestion (note: You cannot eliminate congestion for a megalopolis like the NCR). Meanwhile, it is not too late for other major cities so investments and infra development should start under his watch. For starters, completing the proposed Cebu BRT and building a mass transit system for Davao should serve as inspiration for other cities to follow. Already there is a need for sophisticated public transport in emerging metropolitan areas like Iloilo, Bacolod, CDO and Angeles-Clark-Mabalacat. These do not require 12 years but perhaps with urgent action be addressed within 6 years. This, of course, should go together with the building infrastructure for walking and cycling where applicable and in relation to transit development.
Before I forget about what transpired during the holding of APEC in Manila a week ago, here’s a couple of photos I found over the internet and shared via social media.
Commuters along Roxas Boulevard walk past a column of the unfinished NAIA Expressway, one of the transport infrastructure projects that has not been finished. [Photo from The Manila Bulletin]
APEC lanes and severe traffic congestion along EDSA – there’s an opportunity here for a prrof of concept test for BRT. [Photo from Facebook]
I saw many memes and read some articles mentioning BRT specifically as one solution to Metro Manila’s transport problems. The second photo above was modified to replace the car travelling along the APEC lanes with a bus.
It is easy to imagine what could have been if the government decided to use the event and the lanes they allocated for APEC vehicles to do a ‘proof of concept’ run of BRT services or at least express bus services (what some DOTC people call high quality bus services). Perhaps what could have been done for part of the 10 billion PHP expended for APEC was to buy a fleet of brand new buses and provided these for free public transport for people who would need to commute during APEC. Services along two corridors would have sufficed – these two would have been EDSA and Roxas Boulevard. [The other option would have been to talk to bus operators and cooperate with them to organize express bus services along EDSA and Roxas Blvd.] Aggressively promoting these free services ahead of APEC would also have meant commuters, including those who usually used their own vehicles, could have opted for these transport services and not affected by the ‘carmageddon’ that ensued over that period. There should have been services to the airport terminals, too, but I will write about this in another article.
The dry run could have yielded essential data for assessing the feasibility of such bus services as an alternate to rail systems that would take much time to build. Incidentally, if the LRT Line 1 Extension to Cavite was built right after the current administration took over, that line could have already served tens of thousands of passengers from the south who regularly commuted to Metro Manila for work and school. The first photo above does not lie about just how many people could have benefited from that rail project. Meanwhile, MRT Line 3 remains dysfunctional and with its reduced capacity could not handle the demand for transport that it should have been able to carry if services had not deteriorated over the years.