Federalism and Metro Manila – Part 2

Roamer's Roundup

Previously, we have discussed the matter of federalism and how it can help address the issue of congestion in Metro Manila for the region to achieve a more meaningful development. But as was pointed out last time, decongestion is just part of the equation to achieve this goal of a meaningful development. The other part of the equation is equally important, and that is governance.

A metropolis of 17 kingdoms

Metro Manila, sadly, presently suffers from an ill-conceived system of government that has often prevented measures that would have enabled meaningful development for the metropolis. The thing is, Metro Manila today is nothing more than a set of 17 little kingdoms that have their own whims with no authority that administers over them, save for the President.

image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (adkranz / CC-BY-SA-4.0)

That is because these cities are classified as highly-urbanized cities. And under the 1987 Constitution (Article X, Section 12), highly-urbanized cities are considered as completely independent from the provinces, thus implying that these cities do not have an authority to answer to except to the President. (There’s the case of Pateros which is the only municipality in Metro Manila but being located in Metro Manila it is a de facto independent town in itself.)

This is problematic for two reasons. One is that it burdens the Presidency which is already overseeing many government agencies plus the existing provinces with their own issues. Second is that as far as Metro Manila is concerned, we see a very disjointed and broken system without a metropolitan-wide urban plan as the cities have their own plans without taking into account of what their neighboring cities will say without fear of being blocked by a higher authority. And with the President usually preoccupied with other things, they usually get their way.

As a result, we see Makati and Pasig insulating themselves with their own traffic regulations to the detriment of non-residents of those cities, Manila proceeding with reclamation projects left and right, Mandaluyong acting like an ass when it refused Pasig’s request to have the Ortigas Center pedestrian walkway along Julia Vargas Avenue be extended to Mandaluyong’s jurisdiction which is the San Miguel-Megamall area, Makati and Taguig (and Pateros too) fought over Fort Bonifacio, Caloocan years back blocked the Line 1 North Extension construction because they wanted a station to be built in their jurisdiction. You get the picture.

What about the MMDA?

With all these and more going on in Metro Manila, the question arises: shouldn’t the Metro Manila Developing Authority (MMDA) be doing something to address these issues? After all, the MMDA supposed to be government body overseeing Metro Manila, right?

While it is true that the MMDA is supposed to be the agency that looks after Metro Manila, its powers are actually quite limited. Mostly, the MMDA is a coordinating body which would seek to confer with Metro Manila’s 17 local governments for implementing policies and regulations such as traffic and delivery of basic services. By itself, the MMDA cannot create metropolis-wide urban plans, spearhead mass transportation projects, make interventions, or mediate on conflicts between local governments which may affect the metropolis as a whole.

Even when it comes to traffic, their oversight is limited only to some national roads like EDSA and C5. Take note, the key word there is “some.” Because there are national roads but it is the local governments that oversee the traffic. For instance, Makati oversees the traffic at Ayala Avenue, Manila for Taft and Rizal Avenues while Mandaluyong and Pasig for Shaw Boulevard, depending on the jurisdiction certain parts of the road fall under.

So beyond managing traffic in EDSA, overseeing flood control, cleaning esteros, and building footbridges, the MMDA sadly cannot do much beyond them. And those problems beyond are those that are needed to be fixed.

And any move to expand those powers would require a rewrite of the constitution. Because you know, these are highly urbanized cities whose “independence” is enshrined in the constitution and the cities themselves defend it to death.

A regional or provincial governor for Metro Manila?

Taking into account the MMDA’s limitations, there have been proposals for Metro Manila to be its own province with an elected governor of its own. However, what many do not realize is that this also goes against the current constitution. Again, these are highly urbanized cities and they are supposed to be independent of the province.

As an alternative, some suggest to make Metro Manila an administrative region with a governor ala Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). After all, the constitution does not say highly-urbanized cities are independent of regions, right? While that is true, that proposal still won’t fly under the current constitution. That’s because it only considers provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays as official subdivisions of the country.

And…oh yes, the autonomous regions are established in the constitution too. However, just to screw things even more, the constitution only allows for the Cordillera and Muslim Mindanao regions to have their own autonomous regional governments, which eventually only the Muslim Mindanao region elected to have.

So…tough luck I suppose.

One option left

Considering the mess of a bureaucracy the 1987 constitution created for Metro Manila, if we are to realize a better managed metropolis, a system overhaul is needed. And as much as I hate to say to those who resist the idea, there is sadly no other way around it.

The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines has to be amended.

It is time to reform the system to realize a metropolis espousing a single vision of development that is not being hampered by 17 bureaucracies with their own interests,

For ONE METRO MANILA.

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