The latest headlines this week include Metro Manila being the second city to have the worst traffic in the world. According to the report, commuters spent 257 hours last year stuck in traffic. This news is not surprising. Some people are even disappointed that we did not make it to the top. 

A lot of efforts have already been made by different institutions that aim to alleviate traffic. Efforts include the coding scheme, road widening projects, putting up the skyway, and so on. And all these are good. But they are only good for a limited time. Because every day the number of vehicles increase and the roads, no matter how wide and many, will still be occupied by a huge volume of cars, buses, trucks, etc. 

Traffic is just one facet of the overlapping predicaments in our cities in Metro Manila. To make things worse, the solutions that we have been working on are nothing but band-aid solutions that lack long-term vision for the entire metropolis. If we look into the Metro and remove problems pertaining to transportation, what is left for us to see? There is homelessness, improper waste disposal, excessive pollution, crimes, poverty, and of course, our lack of discipline. With these, I think it is high-time for us to look at the Metro Manila issue in a holistic manner. 

The consequence of our lack of a socio-cultural understanding of our predicament is that we don’t see the problems here as national concerns. As a result, when we try to address them, we limit our proposals to what we can do in Metro Manila alone. Hence, the coding scheme, the road widening, etc. are the only things we have in mind. But once we look at it at the national level, we will understand that so much of our problems in transportation, in the labor sector, in education, and in healthcare here in our major cities are brought about by the heavy concentration of Filipinos in a space where they can no longer fit. Metro Manila is a congested area and it has become the locus of all sorts of problem that affect all Filipinos. 

What then shall we do? We should adopt another perspective that will help us see beyond the economic implications of our problems. Instead of just computing the billions we’re losing because of traffic, let’s also recognize the disintegration of the Filipino family in relation to parents not spending quality time with their children. This is just one problem in the Metro that branches out to a lot of societal problems that we are not able to discuss because of our myopic view of its impact to our relationships, communities, and the whole country. We should go beyond Manila in order to craft long-term, inclusive, and effective actions. 

When we begin to understand and see the gravity of our suffering in the Metro, that it goes beyond economy and productivity, and that it permeates homes, marriages, and even mental stability, we might perhaps start thinking thoroughly of solutions that ensure an all-encompassing approach to the challenges we’re facing. Metro Manila does not need more road, more traffic rules, or even more people to address its problems. The Metro needs decongestion. There are three things that I think will help us decongest the cities. 

First, promulgate a national minimum wage in all localities. It is completely understandable that this action takes a lot of considerations such as investments, Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP), among others. However, these considerations are generally by-products and not sources of progress. If we invest in the human capital in other places, ideas will thrive, entrepreneurial skills will flourish, and we get to highlight the presence of local industries. As a result, people will no longer have to leave their hometowns and more importantly, they will also become involved in the economic boosts of their respective localities. An essential step to this standardized wage is to start with the major cities in different regions such as Baguio, Vigan, Iloilo, Batangas, Davao, Naga, Tagbilaran, General Santos, etc. 

Second, there is a need to recalibrate our institution’s interoperability. As an archipelagic country with more than 7,000 islands and rich traditional and colonial histories, it is almost impossible for any place in the Philippines to not have a livelihood program that is exclusive to that particular place and a natural tourist spot that will attract visitors. We should bank on the uniqueness of our towns and products. To do this, the Department of Trade and Industry’s One Town One Product Program should be strengthened in partnership with the Department of Tourism’s effort in sustainable tourism. The private sector, NGOs, and independent technocrats can also be tapped to share their expertise and ideas. In short, we should create a synergy of different organizations that can help envisage a development plan for our localities. 

Third, which is also the easiest to implement, is to enact rigid guidelines in selling vehicles and granting licenses. To situate the importance of this effort, let’s take into account the wider context that affects the automotive industry. The turbocharged boom of tech increases the demand for vehicles that ranges from motorcycles, to cars, to heavy-duty trucks. Take for example the expansion of tech companies such as Grab, Angkas, and Transportify.  These will directly and indirectly encourage people to invest in vehicles in order for them to be integrated into the business. In addition to this, with the introduction of 5G technology, New Manila International Airport, and building more highways, even the businesses engaged in these huge projects would need more vehicles to ensure timely completion of the infrastructures. Lastly, the proactive promotion of having cars nowadays as seen in advertisements and media content has become a driver of the increase in the demand. Yes, we need to accommodate these needs and wants but we should also make sure that it is not at the expense of our collective good. Hence, the strict execution of rules and regulations should be monitored.

In all these, it is imperative to note that we are changing not only material conditions but also social behavior. Again, one of our problems in the Metro is the people’s lack of discipline. Our problems are deeply embedded in our daily lives that they have reached our psyche. As a result, we are dealing with decades of social engineering and enculturation. But in any society, change in material reality results to change in our daily lives, mentality, culture, and eventually the entire social sphere. With this, it is only right that we start moving now. And our movement should not be directed only to institutions that are in charge of structural modifications. As individuals, we should also strive to do our part in realizing a better Metro Manila: Adhere to the law. Respect traffic enforcers. Not take advantage of others. Remember that our actions, no matter how big or small, reverberate both in the city and the whole country.

Many of us would say that we are in a hopeless and helpless situation. It’s completely understandable. Most of us have had enough. Many of us have resorted to “sanayan lang.” But I think exhausting all the possibilities, no matter how rigorous and time-consuming, is worth it if it means waking up one day, having the luxury of time to read a headline about a revitalized Metro Manila, improved local industries, and a better Philippines for the Filipinos. This will most certainly take time and 257 hours is not enough. But we are not paralyzed. We can move now.