MMDA chair envisions a bigger ‘Mega Manila’
The man in charge of putting order in Metro Manila has unveiled a multi-pronged plan to resolve the traffic problem, which involves reducing the volume of vehicles on the street by building mass transport systems, creating layers upon layers of roads above the ground and underground and developing a much larger ‘Mega Manila’ to ease the population density.
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Danilo Lim says the plan is in line with the Duterte administration’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure program and strategy to spread economic activities outside the metropolis.
Lim, 62, says in an interview at MMDA headquarters in Makati City that while these long-term solutions are being undertaken, there is a need “to swallow a bitter pill” to unclog major thoroughfares and other roads in the 614-square-kilometer metropolis, which has a daytime population of over 20 million and a population density of over 20,000 people per square kilometer that ranks among the highest in the world.
“Let us develop a culture of discipline so that we can restore order in our streets. Of course, that does not address the problem of overcrowding. However, it can help mitigate the problems of Metro Manila,” says Lim, a retired brigadier general who was appointed to the MMDA post on May 22.
As MMDA chair, Lim has to contend with major concerns such as road congestion, flood during rainy days, garbage disposal, beautification of the streets and putting an order in the chaotic urban jungle where more than 20 million people produce over 10,000 tons of garbage daily.
“May hair is turning gray fast,” says Lim, the first non-elected politician to head MMDA, which is tasked to deliver metro-wide services to 17 cities and municipalities in the National Capital Region without undermining the autonomy of local government units.
Lim, who was born on June 2, 1955 in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, studied at the University of the Philippines, Philippine Military Academy and US Military Academy and is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Makatarungan Class 1978. He was incarcerated at Camp Crame for four years from 2006 to 2010 on rebellion charges in connection with the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny. He was freed on May 31, 2010 and joined the 2010 senatorial race, but lost. He briefly served as deputy commissioner at the Bureau of Customs, but resigned in 2013.
On his first day at MMDA, Lim vowed to cleanse the ranks of erring personnel and ordered a thorough inventory of equipment and physical assets.
“I felt older, but a little wiser and a lot more determined to confront the problems and challenges that come with the position,” says Lim, when asked how he coped with the job.
“It is easier in the military, because the soldiers will immediately obey your orders. Here, it is different. If you want something done, you have to study it carefully, you have to consult people. If you want to discipline someone, you have to deal with civil service eligibility of these people,” he says.
Lim says as MMDA chair, he cannot act on his own without consulting the mayors. “We work through the Metro Manila Council. If we have resolutions and we have to implement a new system, it needs the approval of MMC,” he says.
“The chairmanship is not enough, in truth. You have to deal with LGUs, especially the very established ones here in Metro Manila. They were elected by the people. They are independent and have their own authorities. So you have to work through them, with them,” says Lim.
MMDA has only 2,600 plantilla positions, excluding contractual employees to address the needs of over 20 million people. Its budget comes from the national government, local government units and the Road Board of the Department of Public Works and Highways.
Lim considers traffic congestion as his biggest challenge. “The reality is it is really very hard to find a good solution to the traffic problem when your cars are multiplying, but the roads aren’t. Last year, vehicle sales hit a record 420,000 units. According to industry people, 65 percent of these vehicles found their way to Metro Manila. This year, we expect vehicle sales to reach not less than 450,000 units,” he says.
“You can just imagine the new vehicles that are added each day to Metro Manila roads. For the past several decades, there are no really big ticket infrastructure projects completed. We are four to five decades behind in infrastructure compared to other countries,” he says.
Lim says one solution is to create more space or roads. “People spend an inordinate amount of time going from one point to another. We need to add space. This is why we now build roads, bridges, subway, and bypass roads. This would have the effect of transforming a one-story house into a multi-level building. That’s what we are waiting for,” he says.
“In other countries, they have several layers of infrastructure above ground and below ground. Metropolises in other countries have never stopped putting up infrastructures,” he says.
Lim says to tackle the problem, the Duterte administration launched the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program. “We will have a longer Skyway. There will also be a first subway in the country from Mindanao Ave. in Quezon City to FTI to Ninoy Aquino International Airport. There will be MRT 7 along Commonwealth Ave. and there is the NLEx-SLEx Connector Road. The Philippine National Railways also plans to put up a rail line from Tutuban to Malolos to Clark,” he says.
“But for the meantime, while these projects are being built, we have to deal with the traffic problem. We need to take a bitter pill as a remedy to the traffic problem. Once these projects are completed hopefully within the term of President Duterte, the traffic congestion will ease,” he says.
Lim says there is also a plan to reduce the volume of vehicles on the street, such as retiring old vehicles and expanding the number coding scheme. “A congressman suggested that we expand the number coding scheme to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. We are open to the suggestion, but then again, I have to take this up with MMC,” says Lim.
“On the other side, some people oppose this, saying it is a violation of their rights. Those who are rich with more than two vehicles can also get around the number scheme. Two months ago, I actually floated the idea of implementing the coding scheme twice a week, instead of the current one day per week. I floated the idea to get the reaction, sentiment, feedback of our people, but there was a strong opposition to it, to the point that it was not tackled at MMC,” says Lim.
Lim says another solution is to start planning for a bigger ‘Mega Manila,’ a term first made popular by marketing agencies of consumer goods companies. Lim says Edsa, the main thoroughfare in Metro Manila, is heavily congested because there was no traffic impact assessment done before any structure was put up along its stretch. There are now 36 shopping malls and 45 bus terminals along Edsa, he says.
“We need to think of a solution. Let us look at areas outside Metro Manila. Instead of thinking of Metro Manila, let us begin thinking about Mega Manila. For example, from Calamba to Angeles and everything in between,” Lim says.
“From there, let us start planning. Our planning should already incorporate the projected economic growth and population growth over the next 40 years or 50 years. Infrastructure development should consider the projected population and economic growth so that we can spread out development. We are currently stuck with Metro Manila, so why not spread out to other areas,” Lim asks.
He says the government began creating new centers of activities outside Metro Manila, with DOTr already transferring to Clark, Pampanga. “Let us spread the development so that we can defeat the problem in details and parts by parts. Let us start planning. Our planning should be 40 to 50 years ahead, covering infrastructure, population growth, economic growth.”
For the meantime, Lim says MMDA is in talks with Metro Manila mayors to support the Kalayaan Lane as an alternative road to Edsa. He says the Department of Transportation also plans to adopt a Singaporean intelligent transport system using technology to mitigate traffic congestion.
MMDA also teamed up with the Department of Science and Technology to enhance the No-Contact Apprehension Policy using a technology-based application called Contactless Apprehension of Traffic Violators on 24-hours Basis, All Vehicle Detection System. The system will display the vehicle’s detection and tracking, profiling, plate localization and plate character recognition for more detailed traffic violation identification.
Lim says on the garbage problem, MMDA plans to tap waste-to-energy technologies to convert 10,000 tons of garbage that the metropolis produces daily into electricity. He says this would also free up space on landfills.
Lim says with the cooperation of local officials and basic discipline being observed by the people in Metro Manila, “somehow we can make this metropolis more livable and vibrant.”