Monday, August 22, 2011

A trip to Cavite

Commentary
By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

We left Project 4, Quezon City, very early that Sunday morning to attend a funeral in Cavite. We saw many impressive infrastructure projects along the way, but they left us wondering about their long-range usefulness and their skewed sense of the common good.

We were on Edsa just before dawn when the flyovers, elevated railroad and underpasses began emerging from the night. They were more impressive than ever as they loomed up. It was easy to be awed by their size and the great engineering skill it took to weave railroad, flyovers and tunnels into smooth working harmonies.

The trouble is, however, that such infrastructure doesn’t work. It will never end our traffic problems, because there are simply too many vehicles and not enough road space. We will continue to use our money unwisely unless we find a way to limit the number of cars.

We drove to the end of Edsa and on to the reclaimed land area off Pasay and ParaƱaque. Turning left to Macapagal Boulevard (which already has potholes that can injure a car’s chassis), we headed south.
The sheer size of the reclaimed area is breathtaking when compared with the size of our urban poor homes. In one survey done of 800 families in Parola, Manila, we found the average floor area for a family was 13 sq m, but many families had only 8 sq m. Here the idle reclaimed land stretches away as far as the eye can see.

The buildings now standing include the Mall of Asia and clusters of condos. There is a Catholic church and a mosque with poor families camped around it. The newspapers report that hundreds of hectares of this land will be given to gambling casinos and support services. Society must ask: Are Pagcor’s gambling casinos, and more malls and condos the best use our society can find for one of Metro Manila’s last truly large and empty areas? What of the poor? Is there no place for them on this reclaimed land? It would seem so. Government has tried to remove the only poor people on the land at present, the Muslim families around the mosque.

Why can’t some hectares be devoted to fields where poor children can run and play on grass, something most poor children have never experienced? Can 10 percent of the idle land be given to housing the poor? People should ask if gambling casinos are a good way to lessen corruption. They would seem to guarantee that corruption increases in society.

We drove on to the Coastal Road and eventually came to the latest section of the road that is built over water. It is over the water because fishermen and their wives with the help of Urban Poor Associates protested to the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank that the road they were then planning would run straight through the fishing villages. The IFC agreed.
The resulting road is first class. There is a beautiful view of Manila Bay, but there is no place for people to walk, jog or ride a bike alongside the road. Why not? Would it have cost so much more to give the people a chance to feel the breezes, see the lovely sunsets, breathe the fresh air?

When we looked to the left from the road some 100 or so meters to the shoreline, we saw that the houses of the fishermen were as miserable as ever. To the right we could admire the beauty of the bay, but to our left was the same old squalor of the fishermen and their families. The money to upgrade the homes could have been part of the World Bank-IFC loan.
We drove through Maragondon where Andres Bonifacio was tried and found guilty. On a previous trip to Maragondon and the trial house we heard Prof. Xiao Chua of La Salle University claim that Bonifacio’s critics have turned him into a man of violence with few thoughts for the full development of his people. Not so, Chua said, and he talked of his several writings. Along with land and housing, the poor, it seems, have been stripped of their prophets.

The country has had some sad experiences recently in its infrastructure building efforts in addition to its failure to end traffic problems. There were the North and South Rail projects. Some 90,000 families were evicted and relocated, but nothing has apparently been done in the North, and in the South. Five years after relocation began, there is only a commuter train that runs on the old tracks to Alabang and back. Many, if not most of the public-private partnership projects, submitted now to the government for approval are for infrastructure and will involve evictions and relocation. Such proposals should be closely scrutinized.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is upa@pldtdsl.net.

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