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Decongesting NCR

THE House Committee on Housing and Urban Development (HCHUD) has created a technical working group (TWG) meant to establish an Administrative Capital City Planning Commission (ACCPC) that will study the feasibility of building in-city mass housing projects for informal settler families (ISFs) and of relocating the capital and seat of government to decongest Metro Manila.

In House Bill 83 filed by Committee Chairman Rep. Alfredo B. Benitez (3rd District, Negros Occidental), data of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that Metro Manila is home to 11.9 million people, making it one of the world’s most densely populated areas.

“Overpopulation, traffic congestion and high vulnerability to natural disasters have made Metro Manila or the National Capital Region (NCR) a pariah among world cities. There is a need to rethink and develop a masterplan that will decongest Metro Manila,” said Benitez.

Benitez showed an audio-visual presentation at a committee hearing which summed up the results of the National Housing Summit two years ago and which culminated last year. Among the consensus reached was the construction of medium-rise buildings which would accommodate the ISFs scattered in Metro Manila and eating up valuable urban space.

The lawmaker said out of the 1.5 million ISFs in the country, nearly 600,000 are found in the NCR. He said the off-city government programs for the ISFs failed because many of the relocatees have returned to the NCR as their relocation sites are far from their source of income.

“If it can be done in the local level, then the implementation on a larger scale, on a national level, is really feasible,” Benitez agreed.

Benitez argued that under HB 83, the proposed transfer of the capital and seat of government is also an attempt to decongest Metro Manila. He cited several countries where relocated seats of government have flourished such as in Korea, Malaysia and Brazil. Another example is Quezon City where a lot of government centers were moved in because of the need to decongest Manila then.

“If we have done it before because we wanted to decongest Manila, then the same reasoning applies, that we could move our administrative offices out of Metro Manila,” Benitez stressed.

Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) Assistant Secretary Avelino Tolentino III said they support the mass-housing proposal and suggested that to make the housing project more affordable, government lands should be converted into housing sites.

Avelino said this could be cheaper in the long run for the government which will still own the lands. Relocation, meanwhile, entails spending money to relocate to far-flung areas the ISFs, who, however, end up returning to the NCR due to the unavailability of basic services in the new housing sites.

By allowing the free use of government lands, Avelino said, tenants will only pay a small amount for the investment the government will spend in constructing the housing building and for its maintenance.

Rep. Arlene D. Brosas (Party-list, Gabriela) agreed to the proposal and reiterated the need to ensure not only the affordability of the housing project but more importantly the tenants’ access to basic services. She also proposed to make the Tondo housing project an example and learn from its failures.

Rep. Federico S. Sandoval II (Lone District, Malabon City) cited the success of the mass housing project piloted in Valenzuela City and posed the challenge that if a local government was able to do it, then the national government can do it too. He also recommended the allocation of additional budget to the HUDCC once the proposed mass housing is approved.

Rep. Winston Castelo (2nd District, Quezon City) also recalled the experience they had during a recent trip to Korea, which was initiated by the committee, to personally witness how the relocation there decongested Seoul and spurred economic growth and development. He said the country could learn from Korea’s experience and this would help the proposed Administrative Capital City Planning Commission in crafting the masterplan to decongest Metro Manila.

Rep. Rodel M. Batocabe (Party-list, Ako Bicol) proposed to require the proposed commission to also draft measures that will give the masterplan more teeth. He said the relocation plan could save valuable government funds, noting that many public offices are leasing or renting.

For his part, Deputy Speaker Raneo E. Abu (2nd District, Batangas) requested the committee to invite attendees of the housing summit so they could apprise the committee on the development and update each agency as a result of the agreements reached during the summit.

Rep. Jose Christopher Y. Belmonte (6th District, Quezon City) also suggested that all national agencies involved be required to attend the TWG meetings.

About Cecilio Arillo

Cecilio T. Arillo, a veteran author-journalist. He taught undergraduate and MBA interdisciplinary studies at International Academy of Management & Economics and was president of the Philcoman Council of Management and Research Institute. Arillo is a member of the American Economic Association, the American Sociological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Philconsa and lifetime member of National Press Club. He is also a columnist at the BusinessMirror, the Philippines' top business newspaper.

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