Imperial Manila has to go

In the first month of lockdown the supply chain of Metro Manila was affected. This is the reality of our development — we are too Manila-centric that all funds are cornered by the region, and development is too centralized that is why in-migration has been too prevalent in NCR creating population density problems that can’t be absorbed. 

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on August 18, 2020.

Imperial Manila is a pejorative term for the overly centralized government system we have. As a national artist, Nick Joaquin used to say, “When Manila sneezes, the Philippines catches cold.” I am referring to the National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila) and not just the City of Manila.

Metro Manila is composed of 16 independent cities and one independent municipality. The region encompasses a “land area of 619.57 square kilometers (239.22 square miles) and a population of 12,877,253 as of 2015. It is the second most populous and the most densely populated region of the country and the ninth most populous metropolitan area in Asia, the fifth most populous urban area in the world.”

According to Swiss Reinsurance Co. Ltd., Manila was ranked as the second riskiest capital after Tokyo to live. Metro Manila is exposed to multiple natural hazards such as earthquakes, floods and typhoons. It is surrounded by active faults, including the Marikina Valley Fault System. Other distant faults such as the Philippine Faults, Lubang Faults, Manila Trench and Casiguran Faults, are a threat as well. Flooding is recurrent every year especially in low-lying areas. Around five to seven typhoons hit Manila yearly.” As such, risks management should be part and parcel of governance in the region.

Metro Manila accounts for 37.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) while the entire Luzon accounts for about 73 percent of the country’s GDP. Sectors from retail, real estate, to manufacturing are experiencing serious challenges due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) containment strategies. In the first month of lockdown the supply chain of Metro Manila was affected. This is the reality of our development — we are too Manila-centric that all funds are cornered by the region, and development is too centralized that is why in-migration has been too prevalent in NCR creating population density problems that can’t be absorbed. Consequently, when a pandemic comes, the likes of Covid-19, NCR crumbles and this is again where needed monies are siphoned for purposes of saving Metro Manila more than the rest of the country.

The NCR share in the budget averages 24.8 percent, while Luzon net of NCR stands at 21.4 percent, the Visayas is at 9.3 percent and Mindanao is on the average 13.0 percent. These averages tell you a story of uneven development in all indicators.

Thus, Rollin Tusalem in a seminal paper is correct in saying that “critics of Philippine democracy have pointed out that the unitary system employed since the country became a sovereign state in 1946 led to the prolonged underdevelopment of subnational regions (provinces). Hence, policy makers have put forward the argument that a shift to a federal system is necessary because of the imperial Manila syndrome. This is the notion that political, economic and social underdevelopment is more prevalent the farther away a province is from the capital, Metro Manila, which has been a longstanding theory of ‘core-periphery’ dynamics in political geography.”

The study finds that “provinces farther away from Manila in terms of geodesic distance are indeed disadvantaged not only in terms of economic, poverty and human development indicators, but also in terms of dependence on internal revenue allotments which inhibits local growth. Physical distance from the capital also decreases rural funds for provincial development. The implications suggest that a federal arrangement can promote peripheral growth and development, but it certainly is not a panacea.” But federalism is a way through to build an equal playing field.

The pandemic is teaching us how to rebuild our cities and provinces. At the heart of such paradigm are protocols on food security, supply chain and logistics and use of technology in ensuring that government is open to transact business and deliver services.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in its recent briefing said the Philippine economy contracted by 16.5 percent in the second quarter of 2020, bringing first semester contraction to 9 percent. From an expansion of 5.4 percent in the same period in 2019, this is the biggest ever quarterly plunge since 1981. The PSA further noted that household consumption and private sector investment, which drove growth in the past, have significantly declined, given the closure of businesses and the loss of income during the enhanced community quarantine. With the downward revision in GDP growth to -0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2020, the Philippines “has officially entered a technical recession which is described as two consecutive quarters of declining economic output. For the first six months of 2020, GDP shrank by 9 percent compared to a growth of 5.6 percent in the same period in 2019.”

We cannot put all our eggs in one bag, in this case NCR, and rely on the same for the country to recover, post-pandemic. We have to do away with the notion of one strong capital to building the provincial capitals of all the 81 provinces, harnessing the power of 150 urban cities that take seriously spatial development to the core.

Spatial planning systems refer to the methods and approaches used by the public and private sector to influence the distribution of people and activities in spaces of various scales. Spatial planning can be defined as “the coordination of practices and policies affecting spatial organization.” Discrete professional disciplines which involve spatial planning include land use, urban, regional, transport and environmental. Other related areas are also important, including economic and community planning. Spatial planning takes place on local, regional, national and inter-national levels and often results in the creation of a spatial plan.

Rebuilding will have to take into consideration supply and demand side economics, balance both public health needs and economic objectives, and a strong public-private partnership to push the herculean task of getting the economy back on its feet. What is going for Team Philippines is our strong fundamentals. They are good, sound and can be the basis for the long haul. Citizenship becomes all the more important today because we will need to be disciplined, patient and united. Resiliency is given. We will bounce back.

The more urgent solution remains lodged with leaders of the world sitting together and agreeing on how the global economy will move. Détente will be crucial in bringing everyone together and shared leadership will drive everyone to one direction so all countries in the world could be together in a new world order. In fine, it has been said, “if you commit to your what and you’re consumed by the why, you will figure out the how.”

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About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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