POSTSCRIPT / April 2, 2017 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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It’s time to move the national capital?

NEVER mind who suggested it first or who had beaten other speculators to the likely relocation site, but while there is time and land prices have not become prohibitive, it may be a good idea to consider moving the administrative capital of the Philippines.

The symptoms of sclerosis and a congestive heart point to the impending death of Metro Manila – a victim of urban blight, horrendous traffic, flooding, overcrowding, filth and crime. The indicators have been flashed often enough we need not repeat them here.

Nature seems to conspire with humans gone unruly in their cramped cage. Even as the ground continues to sink, the tectonic fault running through the area is about to shake and crack open — the dreaded Big One expected to cause massive destruction and loss of thousands of lives.

The long-term remedy to the pressure, experts say, is to relieve the congestion. However hard Metro Manila managers work at it, their Band-Aid solutions to the banner problems do not show promising relief.

One of the proposals for decongesting Metro Manila is to transfer the administrative national capital. Among those who have broached such a plan are urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. and former Rep. Renato V. Diaz, chairman and president of the Center for Strategic Initiatives.

Studying the problem separately, both of them have set their eyes on Central Luzon as site of a new Administrative National Capital whose backbone is the 75-kilometer corridor between the Subic Bay port in Olongapo and the Clark International Airport in Pampanga.

Both port facilities, built to exacting American military standards, were taken back by the Manila government after the 1991 expiration of the Phl-US bases agreement.

The relocation proposals remind us of the sad story of Quezon City — now the most densely populated urban center in the country – which failed after almost three decades to prove itself worthy of standing as the national capital.

At the end of World War II, President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act No. 333 on July 17, 1948, declaring Quezon City the national capital in place of the old city of Manila.

This fulfilled a dream of President Manuel L. Quezon, who had been reportedly advised to move the seat of government farther inland, in the elevated areas north of Manila, beyond the range of cannon shots of possible invaders creeping in, Admiral Dewey-like, from the bay.

• Repeat the blunders of Quezon City?

THE NATIONAL capital was moved back to Manila on June 24, 1976, on the 405th founding anniversary of the ever loyal city, with the signing by President Ferdinand Marcos of Presidential Decree No. 940.

Marcos had in mind incorporating suburban Quezon City into a new and bigger entity called Metropolitan Manila which he had created under PD 824 reportedly for first lady Imelda R. Marcos, who became its first governor.

While QC was still the capital, the transfer of some major government buildings — except the presidential offices which were envisioned to be erected on what is now the site of the Veterans Memorial Medical Center on North Avenue — had actually started.

But the follow-through was sluggish. And greed gobbled up the grand development plan.

The ambitious original design of a Government Center sprawled around the Elliptical Circle (where now stand a few national line-department buildings and the Quezon City Hall) has been bastardized by a succession of inept or corrupt administrators.

For instance, as opposed to what is done in civilized countries where structures are demolished to open up breathing space, the trees in spaces reserved for parks in QC were uprooted and the space choked with the malls and high-rise condominium buildings of influential tycoons.

Do we now repeat the same corrupt cycle and pour massive resources to feather the nests of rich families who always seem to corner the prime development sites?

• ‘Pampanga is ideal site for Phl capital’

IN THE CONCEPT paper of former congressman Diaz, CSI chairman and president, the offices of the three branches of the government will be transferred to a well-planned National Capital Center close to the all-weather expressway linking Subic and Clark.

Palafox is more definite, suggesting that the new capital be in Pampanga. By coincidence, some well-known developers from Makati have cornered some choice areas near the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), triggering a speculative spike in land valuations in the area.

Diaz recalled that then President Fidel V. Ramos had ordered a feasibility study on Floridablanca as a potential site along SCTEx. The town, sitting on a flood-free plateau, has vast government land to spare.

Pampanga is generally flat, protected by the Zambales ranges to the west. It is not flood-prone and is far from the Marikina Valley fault whose imminent high-magnitude movement is said to be overdue. The cyclical outburst of nearby Mount Pinatubo, which erupted in 1991, is not expected in 500 years.

The fully operational Subic Bay port and the Clark International Airport are a big plus to the region’s highway network: SCTEx, North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx), MacArthur Highway, Jose Abad Santos Avenue (formerly Gapan-San Fernando-Olongapo Road). Soon to be built is a dedicated rail line connecting Clark airport and Metro Manila.

As for Pampanga’s suitability, Palafox said:It has the necessary geographic features and infrastructure. It can be a megalopolis with urban growth and development triangle, composed of three metropolises. It has a fully functioning seaport and distribution center, an international airport, and is easily accessible through national highways. See:

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 2, 2017)

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