OPINION: Will it rain on the 'Golden Age of Infrastructure' parade?

Buddy Gomez

Posted at May 19 2017 05:23 AM

Foreboding dark clouds hover over the horizon of the forthcoming foreign debt regime espoused by Dutertenomics. It is not an ill-wish but a concerned déjà vu fright over a painful past returning.  And fear of the mysterious  unseen and unforeseen.

The threat of mislocating  projects and the misallocation of resources might be a repeat of the folly of  the Marcos years that  ruined the economy, the ravages from which the country has not quite recovered fully. Do we not remember that humongous loans for infrastructure were to become the classic smokescreens behind which Marcosian rapacity leered?

Dutertenomics is anchored upon borrowing to finance public spending. There will always be an ever lingering doubt over its efficacy and beneficence in the absence of   transparency and accountability. The administrators better be confidently certain that the application of borrowed funds yield best  and optimum results in terms of peoples welfare;  resonant wealth  creation and that society’s ills are  addressed and alleviated.  Borrowing and going in deep debt is not progress.

Instead of Build, Build, Build, the country may have  to Pray, Pray, Pray!  

The Star Sparkplug of a Jump-Start Strategy

“Government economic managers  also said that all infrastructure projects in the pipeline will be finished during Duterte’s term.”  

Have we not noticed that the major infrastructure now being inaugurated and harnessed into truly beneficial  public use were all “pipelined” by and during the past Aquino administration?  In fact, I estimate that the pending balance of such projects will be in fruition through the following three years. Yet, approaching one year, the present administration has absolutely nothing to show of its own exclusivity. Except for ‘pipe dreams,’ as yet. “As yet,”  but of course, yes.  And that is to be lenient and kind.

The much ballyhooed star of Dutertenomics is a 25-kilometer (15.5 miles)  subway, the first ceremonial dig for which is scheduled for late 2020 yet, said  to be finished in late 2024, two years after the incumbent minority-elected President’s term is over!    

Pardon me but I fear what I eerily sense. Beyond the glamor of something novel and  truly attractive, a facility never ever having been tried before, a veritable political monument to Dutertenomics, and indeed a “first” in the Philippines, existential doubts about a Manila subway’s utility disturbingly loom.

A 25-kilometer subway system is touted to solve the malaise of Metro Manila!  It is also billed as the star sparkplug of the Dutertenomics  jump-start strategy. Let us pause and breathe in some sobriety, and as we healthfully exhale, answer me these:

Will the Subway solve Manila’s strangulating congestion? Is the subway the best and optimum use of borrowed PhP227 billion.   

My take: it will not and it is not!

For Your Enlightened Consideration

Of the world’s five most densely populated cities (people per square kilometer), three are in Metro Manila. Number 1, 2 and 5 (Manila, Pateros and Caloocan), with Mumbai and Dhaka as 3 and 4. In fact, of the planet’s 40 most densely populated cities, 9 are in Metro Manila!

Manila’s latest  “density” numbers, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (September 2016), stands at 71,263  persons per square kilometer; Mandaluyong - 41,580; and Pasay - 29,815.

Duterte’s Subway Will Not Decongest Metro Manila!

Pray tell me, honestly now, can Metro Manila’s population congestion be any less, even by a soul, if a new transportation facility via subway train came into their midst?  The inevitable outcome will be the unstoppable influx of more people  coming to the metropolis, and staring hopelessly askance over this flow is government’s continuing failure to contain the proliferation of informal settlers and settlements, along with society’s neglected  human detritus. A subway will certainly not do it while Manila’s numbers will just continue to balloon.

Of utmost importance, let us not forget that the 13-station route of the dream subway runs parallel to and in many sections, abuts the Marikina Valley Earthquake fault lines.   Scary, no? We do not doubt the expertise of the intended engineering designer in terms of tectonics and geology. But neither do we doubt that the long prophesied “Big One” tremor could finally occur anytime even before the first dig and during construction.  Do we ever doubt the yearly regularity of tropical monsoons and the always ensuing flooding?  

That is not the rain I foresee pouring over ‘the Golden Age of Infrastructure.’ For as long as there are unexplored better ways to solve Metro Manila’s  malaise, dark clouds will hover. The rains of ardent caring criticism will not cease.

And, oh, by the way, there is no known subway tunneling project undertaken in the world that did not suffer delays, had late discovery of design flaws, cost overruns and many unseen barriers towards successful completion. Most recent example is Boston’s “Big Dig”  tunnel. It took 10 years to complete 5.4 kms. (3.5 miles) at a cost of almost US$15 billion ( PhP 750 billion!). Boston’s does not provide a subway train system. Then, there also is Seattle’s tunnel, using the Japanese-owned world’s biggest tunnel-boring machine. It is only 3.2 miles long. Launched in late 2013, still at half-way point today.   

I wish to continue this discourse next week. Perhaps in the meantime, you may fancy brainstorming on smarter uses of borrowed funds over the expense for a subway that does not solve the problem of  population congestion that it was celebrated to do! As a teaser, let me then  hammer into our collective consciousness the following statistics on densities. Metro Manila’s is 71,263 persons per square kilometer, as already stated. For the highlands of Apayao, it is 26 persons per sq. km.; Cagayan Valley is 120, and Nueva Ecija is 370. I will attempt to effectively use these figures to bolster an argument.

In the meantime, folks, drool and weep over what could have been Manila, but would now never ever will be! Maybe it is what generations of political ineptitude and imbecility, the absence of reasonable foresight and sheer neglect, all seem to have conspired and prevented Manila to become!

Daniel Burnham, the world renowned American architect and urban designer, came to the Philippines in 1905 to divine for the colonial government the possibilities of Manila. In concluding his report, this what he wrote:

“…..Manila may rightly hope to become the adequate expression of the destiny of the Filipino people…….,” -----  ”…..improvements of great hopes are attainable in Manila by reasonable means. On the point of rapid growth, yet small in area, possessing  the bay of Naples, the winding river of Paris, and the canals of Venice, Manila has before it an opportunity unique in the history of modern times, the opportunity to create a unified city equal to the greatest of the Western World, with unparalleled and priceless addition of a tropical setting.”

Now, weep!

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.