Philippine Public Transportation and Metro Manila’s Squatters

On the wayside of an outrage fiesta over Metro Manila’s teeming population of squattersPiñata, people seem to have missed a gaily colored solution piñata: public transportation.

After people have salved their poverty butthurt and middle-class angst, perhaps it would be a good idea to revisit a column in Manila Standard called “Happy Hour” where it was pointed out that poor public transportation tends to increase the demand for housing in urban areas.

The idea is simple, really.

If we had a cheap, efficient, and reliable public transportation system, it would be possible for people to live in rural areas and then commute to work in Metro Manila.  Here’s an excerpt from Happy Hour’s “Babying the DoTC”:

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, store, or factory?

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 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!

Right now, one of the key pressures driving people with low-incomes or informal sources of income to live in slum areas is poor public transportation.

Just assume that the average cost of a two way trip with a total length of 16 kilometers (8 kilometers one way) is anything from 50 to 100 pesos and at its worst, it takes two hours to complete one trip (including waiting time at boarding stations).  This means that the average Pinoy has to shell out as much as 1/3 of his daily minimum wage and lose 4 hours of his time in traffic — often arriving at his place of work too frazzled to be effective or arriving home too tired to have any meaningful interaction with their family.

In a way, perhaps, the lousy public transportation we have could be the very reason why Juan is tamad (lazy), cannot attend to his duties as a father, and takes home such a small amount of money (around 250 pesos, assuming he is getting the full minimum wage).

Of course, one option commonly taken by the minimum wage earner is to just rent a room within walking distance from his work place and where else can the minimum wage earner find cheap accommodations but in slum areas.  In fact, in decades gone by, this is the reason why we had areas in Manila (places like Tondo and Sampaloc) almost completely settled in by laborers.

If only the Administration’s slogan “Tuwid na Daan” signified a strong commitment to giving the country a cheap, efficient, and reliable public transportation system, perhaps we would see a reduction in the population of Metro Manila’s squatters.

But guess what?

That’s not going to happen in a department known as “Do-Nothingness Meets Decidophobia” or the Department of Transportation and Communication, a department that was previously headed and some say is still very much under the control of my former boss, Mar Roxas.

We can trade barbs over the squatter situation, or perhaps, this early, we can tell Mr. Decidophobia that if he wants to have a good chance of winning in 2016 either as a senator again or as a Presidential candidate, he better tell his proxy at the DoTC ( Emilio Abaya) to start implementing transportation projects ASAP.


Post Author: Paul Farol

Try not to take me too seriously.

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27 Comments on "Philippine Public Transportation and Metro Manila’s Squatters"

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Why do I find this article not convincing and a tad bit shallow? It must be the tone, plus throwing out a journal based in Sri Lanka doesn’t really support your argument that much due to the differences in the values of our society which is most probably different from Sri Lanka. But it was good to put out at least some basis. Multiple Philippine based articles would have helped. Moving on. Try to think, why do they squat in metro Manila anyway? Are you sure its because of jobs? Are most of them even employed? Or do they just… Read more »

he can start doing something great OR again – by the wonders of the PCOS machines – ahah! there – they’ll program it again and viola! we have a winner!

Johnny Saint
The essay is unconvincing because the article cited uses Sri Lanka’s squatter problem vis-à-vis mass transportation as an example? What about “People and Housing in Third World Cities” by D. J. Dwyer (1977) or “Man’s Struggle for Shelter in an Urbanizing World” by Charles Abrams (1964)? There are also studies by the World Bank — “Evaluation of Shelter Programs for the Urban Poor: Principle Findings” by Douglas Keare and Scott Parris (1982). The causes (and effects) of squatting — excuse me, “informal settlers” — have been documented for several decades. None of them contradict the Global Urban Development article. Over… Read more »

sana may bulet train, subway system, double decker bus system, amtrak, etc tayo dito sa Phil… kaya naman natin bumili nun diba? ayaw lang ..tsk tsk…

pano na kaya ang ncr nyan, pano nalang pag baha+trafic+dami tao, etc etc??

complete overhaul cgro sa transport system ang kelangan, wel just my 2cents..

I agree that an efficient, affordable mass transportation is one solution to the problem of decongesting the Metro and making resettlement outside the Metro a viable option for the squatters, and perhaps even the working middleclass and upperclass. An example is my previous experience working in UK wherein my rented place is 20km from my work in central London (i.e. equivalent to working in Makati with home residence in Novaliches or Imus, Cavite or Morong, Rizal) which only takes me about 40 min via London Tube. One of my boss who lives 40km from our London office (i.e. equivalent to… Read more »

i’m happy that a lot of commenters did not act like zombies. They tried to critically appraise this post.


Yes. Public transport. And accessible basic social services

bida kapamilya

I agree with the most sentiments here in the comments section that the write up is a fail. It is high time the writer changes his career from writing to cleaning.


IBM have this week ‘ donated’ the services of 12 of their consultants from abroad for free to help solve the traffic problem.
a) ibm will get their pound of flesh in other ways.
b) sad that for every problem there are no skills/abilities in the country to solve them, and tge philippines always want something for nothing from others and have to run crying asking for free help.

Robert Haighton
From a European/Dutch point of view: Efficient and affordable do NOT go hand in hand. Train prices in UK are high (at least that is my experience); train prices in the Netherlands are also high. This means that commutting by car is as almost as expensive as going by train while the government wants people to travel by train (less pollution). By far not everyone owns a hybrid or electric car (running on batteries). And commutting by train doesnt bring the commutter straignt in front of his office building; it always needs additional travelling (bus, tram, metro/tube/underground, biking, walking). The… Read more »

a good point. too much traffic for laborers to even want to try to make it home after working all day in the blazing sun. and for what? 5, count ’em, 5 fuckin dollars?
it can be understood why people would rather sell drugs, gamble, OR thieve their way through life than be a fuckin slave. it really is too bad that the country has such low-paid workers, a disgrace really.

[…] Unlike Detroit’s underpopulation problems, the Philippine capital and its vast suburbia collectively known as “Metro Manila” is, of course, suffering from a fundamentally different terminal disease — an explosion in population within a burdensome underclass of illegal settlers (more aptly known as “squatters”) that engulf the city in squalor, dump refuse that clogs waterways and traps flood waters, and complicate much-needed city planning and development further hobbling implementation of systemic solutions to the megalopolis’s horrendous and infuriating traffic mess. To Detroit’s degeneration into a barren wasteland, Manila had become a fetid shithole. And much of the shared causes of… Read more »