Imagining a truly world-class Metro Manila

The recently-concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Metro Manila proved that to get the best results out of the Philippines’ premiere metropolis, its residents need to be excluded from major events like these. This is quite ironic considering the theme of APEC Manila 2015 was inclusion — getting as many ordinary Filipinos in on the benefits that economic cooperation is supposedly delivering.

Thus, Metro Manila, as host of this affair, should have, itself, embodied this spirit of inclusiveness. Instead, unfortunately, it exhibited the opposite.

What does Manila need to become to transform into a truly inclusive urban community whose residents share every aspect of what their city has to offer? To answer that question, we need to be able to imagine.


Imagine a city without gates and fences.

We’d be a true urban community where every Manileno is equally entitled to travel any road in their city. At the moment that is not the case. Entire swathes of Metro Manila are fenced in and fortified by armed guards — which means the rest of us are sentenced to using roads that weave around these exclusive enclaves.

Without those gates, perhaps Filipinos both rich and poor will learn more about real respect for community. Rather than reserving our respect for our immediate backyards and clique of friends, we will be compelled to extend this respect to the bigger community — because, as a broadly-open community without gates and fences, our personal stake in ensuring the quality of this community is bigger than any one circle or clique.

Only then can Manilenos feel genuine pride for their city — because we truly become an urban community where each individual has an equal stake in the wellbeing of every square metre of it.

Imagine a city where pedestrians — not motor vehicles — rule.

Most Filipinos, after all, do not own cars. Why then should motorists rule the city? And, in that light, why should the city be subject to foulups in air quality and congestion accounted for mainly by motor vehicles? That leads us to an important question: Why are sidewalks in the city routinely jackhammered to make way for ever-widening roads and parking space?

Perhaps it is time that ordinary Filipinos take their city back. When we say ordinary Filipinos, we are talking about the average commuter — people who truly have skin in the game as far as building a truly great city. Until pedestrians rule Metro Manila, Filipinos cannot claim to be proud of a city that subjects their most ordinary citizens to the worst effects of urban congestion. Pedestrians and commuters bear the brunt of Manila’s worst aspects and private vehicle drivers have no right to complain — because private vehicle owners have a choice to leave their vehicles at home. Commuters and everyday pedestrians, on the other hand, don’t have that same variety of choice.

Imagine a nation’s capital without squatters.

Squatters are illegal residents. Yet they occupy prime locations all over Metro Manila. They account for some of the reason Manilenos build fences around their communities and homes — because they are surrounded by people who do not have as strong a stake in the community as legal tax-paying residents.

Without squatters infesting Metro Manila, city dwellers can accord one another respect as co-community members rather than regard one another with suspicion and revulsion. For as long as a big chunk of our cities’ populations are accounted for by illegal settlers, there will be no true urban communities composed of mutually-respectful members.

* * *

Implementing the right measures to build truly world-class stuff in the Philippines is hard enough. Doing so without an ability to imagine our destination makes the task doubly impossible.

It is, indeed, a journey worth taking. Manila, despite its veneer of modernity, remains a medieval city at heart with its aristocracy still cloistered in walled enclaves while the peasantry toils outside. Our transformation into a true 21st Century community is long overdue. Until then, Metro Manila will be nothing more than the sad national embarrassment that it is today.

[Photo courtesy Bloomberg Business.]


Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of

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17 Comments on "Imagining a truly world-class Metro Manila"

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Dream on

i dont think we’ll see the true potential of metro manila as a truly world class city in the near future. the main problem with the cities of metro manila is the population. metro manila is overpopulated. Overpopulation causes flood, traffic, harm to natural environment,etc. The only thing/s the benefiting the overpopulation is the businesses like malls. The citizen of metro manila are the main losers of this overpopulation. i really dont understand why our gov’t cant solved this problem. or why the gov’t didnt solved this? does our gov’t ignoring this? for now, imagining metro manila as a world… Read more »
Japan 145,925 mi² with 127M population with 6,852 islands Philippines 115,831 mi² with 101M population with 7,107 islands Both Japan and the Philippines are surrounded by oceans and seas. Metro Manila 246.5 mi² 12M population Singapore 277.3 mi² 5M population Tokyo 845 mi² 13M population Tokyo and Singapore belongs to the top safest city in the world. Metro Manila is overcrowded with people who get there because of the so-called offer of greater opportunities and better life. Maybe true to some, especially for regular ones becoming celebrities, but others became squatters or lived from hand to mouth. Also, in Japan… Read more »
Correction, Benign0, Metro Manila (whole country for that matter) is already ruled by pedestrians (and the lesser motorists, i.e. small motorcycles, tricycles, pedicabs, kuligligs…) Have you ever been in a vehicular accident with any of them? Traffic rules simply do not apply to them. You, the simple, innocent motorist is automatically at fault in any accident whatsoever, and have to shoulder the burden for paying for all damages to their properties and injuries sustained… and more as per their own bidding. Squatters happen because of the pinoy’s idea of rule of law. There is simply no line dividing right and… Read more »

A famous urban planner, I forgot his name, said that to improve the urban, focus on improving the rural. In the case of PHL, that means focusing on agriculture. And that means initially assisting rural families doing gardening in their backyards, and I mean organized assistance. Maybe, this is where the CCT should be redirected instead of just being a pure dole-outs.


Manila World Class ? That is a laugh.

Even if it were nuked, it would be just as inhospitable as it is now.

its nice to dream but the place is screwed, BE REAL ! Manila is in a death spiral that will take nothing short of Divine Intervention to just resuscitate it, let alone remodel.


The Rich are afraid of the Poor. The Poor multiplies like Rabbits, and more squatters houses are built everyday. The Rich can only put walls and guards, to stem the tide of the fast multiplying poor.

This era is the era of the Oligarchs, like Aquino. They pretend there are no poor. Because, they believe in their Statistics…that the country is progressing.


Here in Barcelona, it’s the architects who built the buildings that made the city iconic who are the objects of admiration – not a bunch of half-witted monarchs.

Presidente Emilio

The first step to fix MM is to take out the excess population. Upgradimg the other provinces is a must here.


@Sick_Amore: “Also, in Japan and Singapore there are organized city plans designating certain responsibilities to every city that support country’s population and operations. Also, their citizens know how to make the most of their resources and protect their natural source of livelihood. They also strive for excellence and live with discipline and honor.”
-Doesn’t hurt to have that Confucian work ethic in Japan and Singapore.