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Babying the DOTC

By Boy P. | Jul. 12, 2013 at 12:01am
TV host and celebrity Bianca Gonzalez caused a bit of a commotion on social media when she tweeted, “Ang dami nating nagtatrabaho para makaipon para sa prime lot at bahay plus buwis pa. Bakit nga ba bine-baby ang mga informal settlers?” (Many of us are working hard to save up for a house on prime land while paying taxes. Why do we baby informal settlers?)

Bianca’s social commentary stirred a hornet’s nest of discussion in cyberspace, with some decrying the pretty celebrity’s “naiveté” on the country’s huge population of informal settlers while others fault the infamous Lina Law (Anti-Squatting Law Repeal Act of 1997). At the vanguard of critical thought in cyberspace is the massive community of mega-blog, Get Real Philippines (http://getrealphilippines.com/blog/).  Rather than taking sides on an obvious debate over whether the national government is indeed coddling squatters or not, Benigno (Ben Ignzero?) targeted the root cause of the problem, clearly describing the situation which resulted from the repeal of Presidential Decree 772 (Anti-Squatting Law):

‘Well, we sow what we reap, don’t we?’

“Metro Manila is now a pigsty of a city. Squatters routinely deposit their household sewage into the Pearl of the Orient’s once picturesque esteros. The illegal structures they erect, have long been seen as the single biggest urban blight that contributes significantly to the problem of flooding in the Philippines’ wretched capital… The aroma of raw sewage that engulfs the country’s premier metropolis is unmistakable during the wet season. And during the dry season, the thought of open sewers and where the thick ubiquitous clouds of dust that hang over the city 24 hours a day comes from is enough to discourage anyone from eating ice cream on a cone outdoors.”

Some may be thinking of reviving the Anti-Squatting Law. But to be fair, it’s not just state policy that can be faulted for the large number of informal settler families (ISFs) in Metro Manila. Merely changing policy to suit a narrow goal of ridding the metropolis of ISFs may prove to be draconian in a completely left-brained way.

Squatting, for the most part, has been treated as a social-economic problem that has its roots in poverty, with no real solution or conclusion in sight at the moment. On second thought, perhaps the rise in the number of ISFs may actually have more to do with transportation—and that’s right up the roost of our golden egg-laying chicken, the Department of Decidophobia... er... the Department of Transportation and Communications (which buddies perceive as an oxymoron, saying it neither moves or communicates much).

So how is transportation related to the huge growth of informal settlers? Well, given the number of hours you spend in traffic (maybe four hours, both ways), wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense to just live in your office?

In fact, a lot of well researched articles on poverty and in-migration cite a proportional relationship between poor quality, high cost transportation and the increased need for urban-based housing for the poor a.k.a. potential or actual informal settlers. This was explained at Global Urban Development Magazine  (http://www.globalurban.org/GUDMag07Vol3Iss1/Kumarage.htm) citing a study on Sri Lanka’s informal settlers and transportation. One of its conclusions said, “… the relationship of transport facilities, distances between work and housing and the value of land have a close relationship. The need to provide for city center housing for the poor increases with poor transport facilities. Thus land use policy should take into account the quality of transport services that are available.”

One of the solutions to a booming urban informal settler population, which also concretizes long-clamored for “decentralization” is to have a cheap, efficient, and reliable public transportation system in place.  Such a public transport system, if and when it happens, would make it more possible for poor people to live in rural areas and still work in the city.

A couple of months back, the DOTC very boldly said it will finish P500 billion worth of infra projects by the time President Noynoy Aquino finished his term in 2016 (which means by June that year). Let’s see: Airport projects in Puerto Princesa, Panglao, Mactan, Bicol and the NAIA rehab; various LRT extension projects in Cavite, in Masinag (Pasig); Cebu Bus Rapid Transit System; Davao wharf project; the MRT-3 and MRT-7 projects plus automated fare collection system for LRT and MRT; intermodal stations in the metro including the revival of a ferry system covering Laguna Lake-Pasig River-Manila Bay.

So how is the DOTC doing so far? Journalists/columnists seem to be underwhelmed, their accounts indicating that DOTC is not exactly doing much of the right thing with the list of still-to-be-awarded projects plus stories of alleged “extortion attempts” piling up the way traffic becomes kilometric along EDSA after a two-car collision!

Long before the multimillion-dollar controversy allegedly involving well-placed relatives erupted, Happy Hour got wind of a story involving a bad apple who reportedly claimed that for P25 million, he would withhold a memo recommending the rejection of a certain bid for the P8.2-billion DOTC-LTO Road Infrastructure IT project. As of this writing, the said project is in limbo, and while some people are laughing all the way to the bank, millions of motorists will have to do without an upgraded IT system for car registration and drivers’ licenses—the linchpin in keeping private motorists and public transport operators accountable.

Interestingly, the DOTC-LTO have not announced a failure of bidding or that they will rebid the project months after rejecting the third lowest bidder for the project. Given the whole mess with the bids, wouldn’t it be much better for the DOTC to contemplate the wisdom of going for a negotiated bid for crucial transportation infrastructure projects? People, we have to get moving!

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