Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

President of the Republic of the Philippines 2001 - 2010

Decongesting Metro Manila

Perspective

Included in the President's famous Ten Point BEAT THE ODDs Agenda is the decongestion of Metro Manila, through the decentralization of major government offices to the regions or provinces to enable them to work closely with the people whom they are mandated to serve, and the improvement of the transport system of Metro Manila to make the metropolis a more pleasant place to live in by residents and a more attractive destination for domestic and foreign tourists. The task involved extensive collateral activities like building housing or creating resettlement areas for residents who would decide to move out and linking up the local transport lines with those traversing the countryside. (The matter of housing and linking up are dealt with in the following chapters.) It was a daunting task. But the Government has begun it.

I. Decentralizing Major Government Offices

From the first day of their establishment in the late 1930s and the early decades after World War II, major government departments have been located in Metro Manila, contributing to the rapid growth of the metropolis. The contribution came from the vast investment and consumption demand of the offices and their employees, which, through the investment and consumption multipliers, raised metropolitan income to high levels. That is the good news. The bad news is that these offices ran into logistical difficulties in serving the people of whom many came from as far south as Zamboanga City and as far north as Aparri. In remaining in Metro Manila, these offices in effect were also prevented from making any positive contribution to growth to the pertinent regions and provinces.

The Government is well aware that "haste makes waste." In carrying out decentralization it is thus carefully dealing with the problems associated with physical transfer before pushing through the physical transfer itself. As of the middle of 2010, four departments, namely, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Tourism (DOT), and the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), have relocated to the provinces, in order to provide more or less direct services to people residing in the countryside.

The DAR satellite Central Office now located in Davao has been performing admirably through the hard work of its more than one thousand employees. The same can be said of DA, DOT, and DOTC, with their own complement of dedicated civil servants. The DOT now has a fully functioning satellite Central Office in Cebu. The DA is currently working on the establishment of its satellite Central Office in Isabela; while the DOTC is still determining the location for its satellite Central Office, although the municipal government of Mabalacat, Pampanga has already offered a building for the department's use.

There are at the moment several more government offices that are better situated in the procinces that are still in Metro Manila.

While waiting for the completion of the physical decentralization, the Government has introduced an innovation – offering online services. These new services have been found to be cost effective and efficient and are greatly helped by the recent improvements of the country's digital infrastructure. . The decentralization process is thus proceeding with the benefit of current high level digital technology.

II. A Seamless Rail Transport System for Metro Manila

The improvement of the transportation system of Metro Manila was a component part of the decongestion process – to raise the quality of life for those who would remain in the city, to accelerate economic interdependence between the city and provincial growth poles, and to make the metropolis an attractive destination for both domestic and foreign tourists.

All this required the establishment of a seamless rail transport system that would enable public commuters to reach destinations in and outside Metro Manila in the same amount of time it took for private vehicles to travel to the same destinations and with the least inconvenience, and interconnect with people, including businessmen and women, working in the country's four Super Regions that had been earmarked by the Government for socioeconomic prioritization and expansion.

Four major railway systems have been laid out for a seamless rail transport system in Metro Manila: the Light Rail Transit (LRT), Metrostar Rail Transit (MRT), North Luzon Railways (Northrail), and the Southern Tagalog Railways (Southrail). The Government's priority rail infrastructure program directly develops and improves both electric trains (LRT and MRT) and diesel trains (Northrail and Southrail) by creating railway extensions and increasing passenger capacity.

LRT Line 2

The MEGATREN

Passing through five cities – Pasig, Marikina, Quezon City, San Juan and Manila – in the metropolis, the LRT Line 2 (also known as the MEGATREN) is one of the most successful and earliest completed rail projects of the last 10 years. Extending from Santolan, Pasig in the east to Doroteo Jose, Manila in the west, the commercial operation of MEGATREN was introduced to the public in three phases from 2003 to 2004: Santolan to Cubao on April 25, 2003; Cubao to Legarda on April 5, 2004; and Legarda to Recto on October 29, 2004.

B. Linking Up LRT Line 1 and MRT

To make internal rail travel seamless, LRT Line 1 amd MRT had to be linked up in what was known as the North Extension Project . Also described as Closing the MRT/LRT Loop, this project involved the construction of an elevated line from the Monumento Station of LRT Line 1 to the North Avenue Station of MRT , and the construction of a "Central Station" where passengers needed only to transfer platforms in order to move from one train to another. This project is complete except only the stations in-between.

C. LRT Line 1 South Extension Project.

Other government projects involve the modernization and upgrading of equipment, as well as the increasing of passenger capacity of LRT and MRT.

D. Road Extensions and Improvement Projects

One of the clear signs of congestion in the metropolis is the sheer amount of both public and private vehicles on the road every day. To ease the flow of traffic, the Government over the years has finished several projects and is concluding work on other projects including as follows: the improvement of the Ortigas Avenue Extension Road (C-5 to Tikling) under the Metro Manila Urban Transport Integration Project in 2004 and the C-5/Boni Serrano Avenue/Katipunan Avenue Interchange Project in 2007, and the Marikina Bridge and Access Road Project, which connects Marcos Highway to C-5.

E. Ancilliary Projects in the Metropolis

Aside from the priority projects spearheaded by the DPWH, there are many secondary projects geared towards treating symptoms of Metro Manila's constant problems involving the flow of traffic. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is currently involved in several of these projects, the foremost of which are their modified traffic schemes: the Big Rotonda Scheme, the Counterclockwise /Clockwise Traffic Flow System, and the Clearways. These are designed to remove intersection conflicts and at the same time improve the free flow of vehicles in major thoroughfares.

Diosdado Macapagal Bridge

To complement these traffic schemes, the MMDA has also initiated the establishment of Road Emergency Stations, regular Clearing Operations, Cleaning of Roadways, and the implementation of a Parking Discipline Program to remove unnecessary hindrances and to maximize road area. Public order is also being maintained through the PUV Lane Scheme, Organized Bus Routes (OBRs), and the development of PUV Stands. These efforts are supported by stricter traffic enforcement and a focus on traffic information and education (as evidenced by the newly organized Traffic Adacemy, which aims to professionalize traffic officers).

C-5/Kalayaan Interchange with elevated U-turn

Of course, the most noticeable projects of the MMDA are still road improvements. The concrete reblocking of EDSA from Monumento to Roxas Boulevard and the widening of Commonwealth Avenue (now the widest thoroughfare in ther country) both resulted in increased travel speeds despite the increase in traffic volume in recent years. The C-5/Kalayaan Interchange, with the elveated U-turn, also achieved the same desired effect.

III. Linking Up with Growth Poles: the Northrail and Southrail Projects

Although the LRT and MRT lines have tremendously enhanced traffic within and to and from nearby provincial population and business centers, they have not interconnected with the emerging growth areas of northern and southern Luzon. The Government has acted to cure this deficiency. It has laid down plans for the Northrail Project and Southrail Project, both with the full financial support of the Chinese Government. While details of the financial arrangements are being finalized, actual work on several project components has already started.

IV. Improving the Quality of Life

It is expected that these twin efforts, physically relocating major government departments from Metro Manila to the regions and provinces, and interconnecting the metropolis rail system's internal network and linking it up with lines of the growth areas of the region, will improve the quality of life of residents of the city and of tourists and guests coming from out the country and from abroad.