How do you solve a problem like Metro Manila?
It has come to this, that a drop of rain traumatizes us all with its dreadful consequences: EDSA gets clogged, the train stops, power breaks down, commuters are stranded, and yet another day is wasted.
The capital of Asia's best performing economy next to China is losing its wits on the streets. Over the past weeks, a few minutes of heavy rain have brought its thoroughfares to a standstill in practically every corner – whether the well-paved avenues of Makati or the pot-holed streets of Navotas. This has got to be the worst traffic situation in history for a metropolis of 12 million people and in a country that's the 12th most populated in the world.
At stake is no longer just our sanity or happiness as a people.
In its 2014 global competitiveness report, the World Economic Forum hailed the Philippines' structural reforms but gave us a failing mark in infrastructure. The Philippines ranked 91st in terms of infrastructure – in particular, 108th in airports and 101st in seaports. A study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency shows that Metro Manila loses P2.4 billion ($53 million) in potential income daily due to traffic jams. Local and global economic experts have declared that poor infrastructure has become the biggest threat to the Philippine economy given its burgeoning population. Even businessmen cite traffic as one of the hindrances to doing business in the Philippines – sometimes even worse than corruption.
One wonders why this has not triggered protests or a bottom-up approach that activists usually campaign for in their advocacies.
Why is there individual anger but no collective rage?
Could it be because of collective guilt? After all, we have not moved this infrastructure problem beyond our dining table conversations or daily litanies from our cars. We have not gone to our communities to get a sense of how we could collectively address the problem. We have not been involved in mass transportation issues beyond what we follow in the news as we're stuck in traffic. We have not done anything beyond rant as we continue to budget for that third car for our family. And there is no better proof of this than the delayed construction of badly-needed trains which runs in direct contrast with the strong car sales.
Government inertia combined with public indifference to mass transportation is a fatal disease that's killing urban Philippines.
The situation calls for more than a traffic czar. It calls for a radical shift in the way we view our commute from our home to our workplace which, due to limited space and limitless population, has ceased to be simply our personal business. The problem of mass transportation will not be solved by individual action alone – because a crisis in mass transportation creates other crises that impact our everyday lives, no matter how many chauffeur-driven Porsches you could afford. Traffic, like death, is the ultimate equalizer.
What needs to be done urgently?
A responsible government overcomes bureaucratic hurdles and puts up the infrastructure for it. On the other hand, a responsible community reduces the burden – like cars, the daily back and forths – to these infrastructures.
A responsible local government clears the road for those who choose to walk or run or take the bike.
A responsible big business, on the other hand, tempers its greed and stops building malls and condominiums where there should be roads.
A responsible traffic enforcer not just implements the rules but plays by the rules.
A responsible driver knows when to turn and does not grease his way through.
A responsible and organized sector, on the other hand, makes sure both become a reality.
A responsible people begin to care for mass transportation and take part in it (just ask bike-riding lawmakers in The Netherlands for inspiration).
And who knows? Perhaps a responsible Catholic Church will stop getting in the way of efforts to control our population which, in essence, is a core component of the mess we face today.
It's high time we addressed this unstated collective guilt – collectively. – Rappler.com