By: Jose Bayani Baylon
As I flew out of Manila yesterday morning I noticed that it happened to be a clear day over most of the NCR, and what big clouds there were weren’t big enough to cover everything. So our PAL Airbus A330 flew around the giant clouds and in between them you could catch a glimpse of considerable sections of Metro Manila. My younger brother seated behind me pointed out UP Diliman - and I marveled at the way the campus was green as seen from the air and at how it was laid out.
And then I noticed beyond UP Campus how well planned the Quezon Memorial Circle was, with Commonwealth Avenue (for a while known as Don Mariano Marcos), East Avenue, Mindanao and Quezon Avenues radiating out of the circle. As I admired the orderly design from above I also noticed how green -- and how huge -- the land area of Veterans Memorial Medical Center was. Indeed from the air that little section of Quezon City - from the UP Campus to the QMC to Veterans - is so pleasing to the eye in its symmetry and its greenery.
But when your eyes dart away from the area to everything else around it, everything become a mess. It’s a concrete jungle laid out in patterns only a drug addict would understand. Maybe not even.
But what’s new?
History buffs - as well as students of urban planning -- would know that not only was the Quezon Circle master plan not implemented fully, the same could be said of the Burnham plan for the City of Manila. Yes, the same man who planned out Baguio City and in whose honor its main park is named had a master plan for the City of Manila, one that would have saved not only the Manila Bay waterfront but even the area fronting the length of the Pasig River and its tributaries. The plan would have incorporated public spaces, had shaded walkways along the esteros, would have taken into consideration the location of public buildings, and even took into account railways and train stations! This planning was happening just after the 19th century became the 20th century - when only about a quarter of a million people lived in Manila.
Today, with over 12 million inhabitants in the daytime, Metro Manila is a mess. Its once majestic river is dead, its tributaries a dumping ground for solid and human waste (save for a few that have been rescued by the Pasig River Rehab Commission) and it seems the only way we can truly make Metro Manila livable again is if the whole metropolis is gutted -- or sinks into a giant sinkhole that then closes up above it.
Heck even the P10 billion annual Pasig River rehab budget that Ms Gina Lopez claimed in a DENR press conference was given her by PNoy during her six year term could only rehabilitate a few esteros. Yes folks it seems that’s all we could do for P60 billion!!!???
Each one of us who is a Metro Manila resident sees at ground level what mess we have turned our metropolis into. From street side litter to traffic, from zoning gone wrong (or non-existent!) to undisciplined motorists; from high rises side by side with shanties to malls that choke the major roadways, the city that Burnham had hoped to become his model in Asia has instead become a model of what happens when planning is not done properly, if at all.
And the saddest part? As I gazed out my airplane window I realized I was seeing what the gods were seeing.
Makes me wonder whether they ever get frustrated at us Pinoys; surely one of them must have quipped that we could be one good argument against free will!
Because from the air and over the last 100 or so years it must be obvious to the gods how we’ve turned a fine thing into one fine mess!