Archive for category Challenges

Metro Manila traffic

Current situationASMjf3188 10

Recent news has brought the traffic problem in Metro Manila to the forefront once again. Horrendous traffic jams cause enormous losses to the economy and make the life of those who want to get to and from work or shopping or visits very hard. The bad condition of the MRT along EDSA after just 16 years has made headlines.

But let us look at the situation more closely. Metro Manila has an official population of nearly 12 million living in an area of over 600 square kilometers. Unofficially, there are probably much more people due to large numbers of informal settlers. Mexico City has almost 9 million people living in an area of almost 1500 square kilometers. Even Tokyo which is known to be densely populated has only 9 million people living in an area roughly the same size as Metro Manila. Berlin with 900 square kilometers is home to just around three and a half million people.

In fact, several cities in Metro Manila or the National Capital Region (NCR) as it is also called are among the most densely populated cities in the world. The MRT which was originally designed for a capacity of 450 thousand passengers per day carried 600 thousand passengers daily as of 2012-2013. The population of Metro Manila officially doubled from almost 6 million in 1980 to almost 12 million in these days, meaning that inspite of measures taken to modernize infrastructure, the city is operating far beyond its capacity.

HistoryGuadalupeMRTjf1122 04

Metro Manila was created in 1975 by decree of President Marcos. The Metro Manila Commission was formed to administer the area. Studies commissioned in 1973 and 1977 saw the need to develop and extend the existing network of radial and circumferential roads, and to build a rail transit network in order to be more efficient. In the following years, EDSA or Highway 54 was widened, underpasses were built and construction was started on the first LRT line from Baclaran to Monumento. Projects continued, although the Metro Manila Commission was later replaced by weaker successors, the Metro Manila Authority and then the present Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). Unfortunately individual cities got back more power again, which made things harder to coordinate.

EDSA or C-4 got flyovers or underpasses on all major crossings. C-5 was constructed further outside. The LRT 2 line from Manila to Marikina was built as well as the MRT from Baclaran to EDSA North. Philippine National Railway stations in Manila were revived and are used again today.

Inspite of progress, some things were underestimated or forgotten. The MRT and LRT systems lacked and still lack good interfaces to other means of transport. Especially the MRT has very high stairs or escalators, making it very impractical to get into some stations. Often the sidewalks near the stations are not sufficiently wide, or the bus stops if they are used do not have bays so busses stopping for passengers block traffic – not to mention busses that hold up several lanes at a time on EDSA. PNR stations are often not very attractive or inviting to commuters. During peak times, there can be lines that cause it to take very long until one is able to board the MRT or LRT.

Possible solutions168-9001 Hamamatsu 20010804

Ideally, a commuter should be able to take his car or another form of transport and board rapid transit efficiently, then maybe take another mode of transport from his final stop to work. Since this is obviously not possible for many, a lot of people going to work take the car – most probably also for safety reasons in an Asian megacity with large differences in income and opportunities. Increased affluence has led to more cars on the streets, while maintenance issues on the MRT and its crowdedness have decreased its attractivity. Problems with discipline and traffic enforcement add to the already difficult business of managing traffic in Metro Manila.

In addition to this, people are already leaving Metro Manila, or settling in places outside like Cavite but commuting to work in Metro Manila which takes hours, given the fact that there is no really viable rapid transit to the outskirts. There is a master plan by JICA to create urban centers outside Manila, but it will take long to implement.

Fixing the MRT is one of the most urgent measures and as of this article being written is already being addressed. Tightening traffic enforcement is also already being done, so the urgent things are already work in progress. There are already apps like WAZE and by MMDA to assist motorists, but these do not solve the fundamental issues.

München MarienplatzThe next steps could be to remove obstacles on major roads that cause traffic to pile up. Maximum traffic flow is always determined by the worst chokepoint. Next thing is to improve interfaces between rapid transit lines among themselves and towards other public transport systems to make it easier for commuters, widen sidewalks or build elevated walkways for their convenience – something that has already been done in Makati for example. For potential commuters coming from outside, parking garages could be built close to major stations like North Avenue MRT so that they can just leave their cars there and continue without adding traffic to this major street.

For commuters outside Metro Manila, it is high time to build new rail lines, ideally with high capacity – double decker train wagons like some regional trains for example in Japan, possibly with stations along Manila Bay – Mall of Asia and Quirino Grandstand for example, since it is easier to build a high-capacity line along the front of Roxas Boulevard or nearby because there is (still) more space. To facilitate rapid boarding, ideas such as the Spanish solution of having platforms on both sides and one-way traffic for loading and unloading should be considered.

Instead of going for grand projects, quick results should be the goal, do what is necessary first, then what is possible.

Future developments

DOST AGT monorailThere are projects like the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike which will start soon and will make it easier to travel to areas south of Manila. Yet it may be necessary to move as much as possible out of the city. Moving government offices and their employees has already been suggested by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. New industrial centers could provide work for resettled informal settlers as well and prevent them from coming back to Metro Manila. And not only decrease traffic there, but make the city more livable again.

DOST Hybrid electric road trainTo prevent the areas vacated from being filled up again, proper urban planning should be applied to turn them into parks for example. Additional taxes on businesses located in Manila would be a negative incentive to leave and could finance restructuring – and subsidize development of new regional centers, near Manila and on other islands.

The Department of Science and Technology has developed two interesting technologies: the automated guideway transit or AGT which a pilot route is planned for U.P. Diliman to replace jeepneys – especially the higher-capacity version for 120 passengers now running on a test route in Bicutan is of interest long-term – and the road train bus. DOST emphasized developing local capabilities in manufacturing, which also means that procurement and maintenance would not cause spending or even debts in dollars. Who knows maybe one day they will build trains, but public transport that feeds rapid transit is just as important – there you have the AGT and road trains, possible in conjunction with Bus Rapid Transit – to replace vans, tricycles and jeepneys.


I would like to thank Joe America and his contributor chempo for writing an article which inspired me, as well as this blog by a Filipino traffic and urban planning expert. Please feel free to let me know your observations, ideas and criticisms!

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 23. September 2015


Centralism versus Federalism

Philippine languages per region

The Philippines is a centralistic state, a legacy of Spanish colonialism. Latin countries are very centralistic, even to the extent of suppressing local traditions and languages. France did this during the French revolution, Spain still tries to do this towards its regions even after Franco. But is this appropriate for an archipelago, for a country with so many local traditions?

It might be better to give the regions more representation in order to make the nation more flexible, even encourage economic competion between regions. What must be guarded against are separatist tendencies. Therefore I have a proposal for a decentralized, federal organization of the Philippines:

  • National level: keep legislation, national security, central databases such as NCSO, Land Titles, control over strategic natural resources etc.
  • Regional level: handles economic incentives, education and culture (coordinated among regions to ensure compatibility) and tourism promotion
  • Local level: handles citizen services (helped by national databases), small and medium-sized business promotion, and barangay-level mediation

Being an SAP expert, this is similar to the three-tier SAP model: database server (national), application server (regional) and user interface (local). It would ensure that matters that need to be controlled nationally are kept national, things that have to be close to the citizen are close to the citizen, and regions can compete with one another economically, in attracting tourists, and in promoting their professional and vocational talents. The entire nation would benefit.

More ideas as food for thought and further brainstorming:

  • Why not abolish provinces and replace them with cantons like in Switzerland – smaller than provinces but composed of several local government units (LGUs)?
  • Why not give nation, regions and cantons the power to raise their own respective taxes and spend them, with some central auditing?
  • Why not change the setup of the Senate, make it a body that has two Senators per region, giving regions a stronger voice – and more prestige?
  • Why not move the Supreme Court to Cebu, the Congress to Davao, the Senate to Baguio so they always have cool heads, keep the President in Manila?
  • Why not have a national language for all, a regional language for every region, with optional languages also accepted cantonally for those who need them?

Accomplish more real unity by accepting diversity instead of fighting it and thereby alienating large parts of the country – like what is happening now. These are ideas worth thinking about.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, Munich, 27. May 2015

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Increasing Identification with the State

Jojo Binay

Vice-President Binay

The recent events regarding Vice-President Binay, especially the freezing of his bank accounts, those of his family and associates, have brought forward once again the fight against corruption and the institutions involved. Yet the questions remains: how much does the culture of corruption, even more so the culture of me first, country later still permeat the Philippines. This could be in my humble opinion an attitude that is a holdover from colonial times – especially during indirect rule via Mexico, the state was a foreign body, there to extract natural resources out of the Philippines, use them as a trading post for the galleon trade and get forced labor out of the natives. In such a context, being a Juan Tamad was heroic and rebellious, and I guess being a “Manuel Mandurugas” or “Pedrong Magnanakaw” (my own terms) also had some kind of Robin Hood touch to it. But is that still appropriate nowadays?

Franklin drilon

Senate President Drilon

To what extent do Filipinos STILL see the Philippine State as a foreign body, either to be used for one’s own advantage when one is in power, which is something many Spanish colonial authorities and their local Filipino partners in the principalia liked to do, or to be cheated as much as possible because it is perceived as not caring for the common people anyway? Because as long as Filipinos do not see the state as their own and all Filipinos as fellow citizens, and I mean all honest Filipinos from elite to masses, then all efforts against corruption, cheating the state and taking advantage of it will ultimately be useless, whatever institutions you put up to do the job.

The ruling  Liberal Party has the advantage that it appears to be mainly clean. Could be that its members or their families, being part of the ruling class, benefit a lot from the rising Philippine economy. But this is not a problem because jobs are created – and most especially – value is created. In fact I wonder how it would have been if Binay, instead of giving poor people in Makati allegedly overpriced birthday cakes, had used his money – however he may have gotten it – to make real productive businesses to give them real jobs, even if it were just in environmental protection and recycling. But it seems many in the Philippines know only rent-seeking, not real business ventures.

Bam Aquino

Senator Bam Aquino

To some people, most established political parties look or seem like they do not really want political participation of the masses, which is a reservoir, no a deep well of suspicion and resentment, that populists like Binay – not to mention Erap –  have tapped into in the past. The perception some have is that none of them are truly for inclusive growth and opportunities. So why not elect “other thieves” if at least they give one some of their loot, instead of “nothing” or just more work? But populists only fool the people, they do not truly include them in democratic culture and in long-term wealth creation.

There is a new breed of politicians like Senator Bam Aquino, who is elite of course. But I do see this generation as very hopeful and modern.

Aquino IV is not only a strong supporter of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) meaning true opportunities for the middle class to be enterpreneurs, true creators of wealth and possible exponents of local economic progress, and not just spenders of what their overseas foreign worker (OFW) relatives earn abroad or what they earn in outsourcing or offshoring firms. He is also involved in citizen participation initiatives like kayanatin.

Because only when more Filipinos start seeing the state as their state which is there for all of them and not only for a ruling class – a process that has in my perception already began and is gaining momentum (see my Civil Society article) will people see the country as an extension of their own homes.

One’s own home, one does not dirty, one does not steal from, one takes care of it properly, one respects it – and chases out all wannabe thieves.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 19 May 2015


Building civil society

Sugar cane truck PhilippinesFor the most part, the Philippines still seems to be an elite democracy, run by the few for the few. Inspite of two People Power uprisings, could it be that true civil society is still a long way to come, that their spirit does not translate into continuous action, allowing citizens to truly address their concerns and get them solved?

  • Media seem to be mostly bread and circuses for the masses, including a reporting that has the reputation of being for the most part sensationalist and tabloid-like.
  • Citizens seem to act just on an emotional basis, voting politicians for popularity, not for performance.
  • Various groups that want to represent Filipinos belt out tired ideologies instead of looking at real issues.

But there are some rays of hope:

  • Within the blogosphere, there are websites that are truly informative and non-partisan, like that of Raissa Robles which I have linked on this blog.
  • There are online media like Rappler and interaksyon which provide fairly good coverage, more comprehensive and informative than most Philippine newspapers.

And more of what truly constitutes civil society can already be found in the Philippines:

  • Bayanihan 2Mindanews is one of the rare examples of a truly good newspaper, possibly because it is essentially a cooperative of independent journalists.
  • Closely linked to it and partly funded by the European Union is the Citizen Action Network for Accountability, which grew out of the peranatinito initiative of the late Jesse Robredo and is composed of citizen groups monitoring politicians and local politics across the entire country. It includes enabling citizens to better understand local government concepts.
  • There is also kayanatin which looks like a mixture of some politicians and grassroots initiatives. Notably, Senator Bam Aquino is involved here. He is of course from one of the elite families, but also known for his support of small- and medium-sized businesses.
  • President Aquino’s Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan 2012-2016 includes strengthening the Department of Interior and Local Government’s partnership with Civil Society Organizations. A Citizen Satisfaction Index System institutionalizes citizen evaluation of Local Government Units performance.
  • The European Union is strongly promoting building Civil Society in the Philippines.

For a stable free-market democracy, a stable middle class combined with local enterpreneurship and a civil society is essential. Other possible exponents of progress may be Federalism or decentralization, to give regions and local government units more of a voice and remove the holdovers of post-colonial rule based on perceived excessive centralism from Manila. The recent economic progress in cities such as Cebu and Davao, but not only, may give this more of a push. The result may be a more modern, progressive Philippines. Let us see where this goes.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, May 13, 2015
DISCLAIMER: opinions expressed in linked articles or sources are not necessarily mine.


The Islands issue

South China Sea vector The South China Sea or West Philippine Sea is a crossroads of international shipping lanes. The islands in the middle of these seas, mostly between Vietnam and the Philippines, may also give access to hydrocarbons and aquatic resources.It is presently the site of a struggle, mainly between the claimants Vietnam and the Philippines against China.I will not go into the details of the decades-long dispute. What is important is common sense – these islands did not really belong to anybody before, so it makes sense that they belong to the countries closest to them. Vietnam and the Philippines have worked together scientifically in the area and may work together more closely in the future to keep China from occupying more islands in the area. China’s claim, delineated by the red line in the map to the left, is obviously imperialist and absurd, fueled by the desire for hegemony over trade routes and natural resources.
2011 brought escalation to the conflict between both China and Vietnam as well as China and the Philippines, and lead to Scarborough Shoal and Ayungin Shoal being occupied by China. In this conflict, Malaysia and Taiwan are more on the Chinese side. There has also been Indian presence on the side of Vietnam, which was heavily protested against by China. Vietnam and Japan have been conducting oil development in the area, as well as China alone.

The United States is interested in freedom of navigation in the area including the right to peaceful military activities, while China of course claims these activities are not peaceful. The US is not yet a member of UNCLOS, while the Philippines has filed a case against China with this international organization, showing its new foreign policy independence.

Spratly with flags
FloorGoban What to do? Some important points in my opinion:

  • It may be wise to keep the USA out of this conflict, because a direct confrontation between the US and China may trigger the Third World War. Possibly even with Russia emboldened to attack Europe with the US busy elsewhere – this would be a war with drones and everything flying around.
  • Just accepting China’s creeping expansion is not good either. So it may be important for a Vietnam-Philippine alliance to hold what can be held – with US helping in the background.
  • Fighting China directly is out of the question now. So tighten control of what is held. Strengthen naval and air defences to prevent more incursions. This is not a short-term matter, this is probably going to be a ten to twenty year siege-type situation. Do not provoke or let oneself be provoked.

China I think does NOT want to conquer the Philippines – or any other country in the region. It wants to control sea lanes and resources. This should be prevented from happening, in this game of island go.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, Munich, 11 May 2014.
DISCLAIMER: opinions expressed in linked articles or sources are not necessarily mine.

P.S. it may make sense to look at the classic Chinese work of strategy in this situation:

The Art of War as PDF or audio.

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The Muslim regions

The Muslim regions of the Philippines with three major ethnic groups – Maguindanao, Maranao and Tausug – were never fully under control of the Spanish colonial government, otherwise the areas would have been Catholic like the rest of the Philippines. Ethnic groups living in the mountains that kept their original beliefs until the Americans came are another notable exception.

In the late 19th century, the Spanish did manage to impose some control over the area, but it was the American colonial government that waged the Moro Wars from 1903-1913 and achieved full control. Relative peace reigned for decades, until the conflict reignited in 1969.

Numerous attempts to find peace in the meantime included autonomy. I will not go into the alphabet soup of different rebel groups and agreements. The most recent attempt to find peace is the Bangsamoro Basic Law which proposes far-reaching autonomy for the area. This includes own police, own waters and nearly everything has to be coordinated with the proposed Bangsamoro government.

The full 122 pages of the BBL may be downloaded here. The BBL avoids mentioning the Philippine Government by name, referring to it always as the “Central Government”, and refers to the “pre-colonial” inhabitants of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan as the Bangsamoro people. Malaysia played a strong, controversial role in the negotiations for the agreement, which involves an area rich in natural resources. On one hand, the desire for peace and prosperity after a protracted conflict is understandable. On the other hand, the dangers are obvious given the separatist tendencies among many Filipino Muslim rebels. Some will maintain they were never Filipino at all, but never miss watching Manny Pacquiao.

The goal should be to develop the area so that all have opportunities and rebellion does not start again, while having enough safeguards in place to prevent local corruption, renewed armament and uncontrolled expansion within Mindanao that may lead to a separate state. Otherwise, hopes of a fresh start will have been premature. Experts of all colors have pointed out weaknesses in the BBL which may have to be fixed. The history of Filipino Muslims, who comprise around 5% of the overall population, is part of Philippine history. This includes their resistance against Spanish and American rule as well as Japanese occupation, the slave raids conducted against Christian settlements and the protracted civil war. Hopefully a peace settlement accepted by most Filipinos especially in Mindanao can be achieved, as only this can truly bring the necessary closure.

Irineo B. R. Salazar – München, May 6th, 2015

DISCLAIMER: opinions expressed in linked articles or sources are not necessarily mine.