The Powerless Public

Civility is the art of living with others.  It is also what we so terribly lack in this country.  Those who have money, power and technology go about their daily business, completely unmindful of the effects  they create on the life circumstances of others.

The State, whose function it is ideally to balance these effects and to equalize access to social resources, is nowhere to be found.   Its identity has been absorbed, its role pre-empted, by the free market’s influential players.

Evidence of this is everywhere.  Massive shopping centers are put up on vital arteries of the city, without any provision for the traffic that is bound to be created by the concentration of so many people and activities in one place. High-rise offices and condominium complexes are built without adequate provisions for parking, drainage, and garbage disposal; and totally without regard for the pressure that high-density buildings exert upon existing water, power, and other utilities.

Huge construction projects, sometimes employing as many as a thousand workers, are  started without providing proper  temporary housing for the workers.  As a result, squatter colonies often sprout beside   large construction sites, remaining there long after the building is finished to await the demand for  maids, drivers and security guards.

Street are taken over and used as dumps for gravel and sand, steel bars and lumber.  And while the construction is going on, the entire neighborhood must up with all the hellish noise and dust created on the project site.  The developers don’t care, of course, for they don’t live there.

Zoning and land use laws are supposed to be the means by which the community regulates those activities that have a potentially negative impact on the total environment of a place.  They are the civil constraints on the exercise of private property rights.  Through them, the State, acting in the name of the common good,  is supposed to preserve harmony, heritage, and the health of the human community.

Unfortunately, our zoning laws are among the most ambiguous in the world. Their implementation, now transferred by the Local Government Code to local government units, is also the most capricious.  By their daily sins of omission,  the local instrumentalities of the State effectively sign away public resources like  streets, underground drainage, and water resources to sociallyunaccountable developers.

The public, long accustomed to the ways of an uncaring State, may at first organize itself into  constituencies to protest and assert their rights to public hearings.  In time, however, everyone learns to cope privately.

Meanwhile, the developers move on to unconquered sites, irreversibly transforming the city’s landscape with a lethal combination of force and shortsightedness. The pressure on public facilities has, in fact. built  up so fast in the last few years, we are just beginning to realize what monstrous traffic situations we have created, what an impossible water crisis we have led ourselves into, what a horrible garbage disposal system we have, and heaven knows what else.

We cannot go on living like this.  Private coping mechanisms have their limits, and they too create new problems.  The lack of an efficient rapid mass transport system cannot be solved by having more cars.  We do not necessarily avoid traffic by buying a second home in a condo near a school.

We cannot afford to be digging  private wells  every time there is a water crisis.  Nor can we beat the water crisis by waging a war of booster pumps. In like manner, we do not solve the city’s crime problem by hiring more security guards to protect us against criminals and the police.  Nor do we really  protect our communities by erecting wire fences across our communities as they have done in every major subdivision in the metropolis. These are all individual coping mechanisms.  They do not address the real problems of living in an increasingly complex society.

As we have chosen democracy, so we must hear the public before anyone is given a license to permanently change how we shall live.  Somewhere in the city, someone is dreaming of putting up a Manila Tower, that will dwarf the Eiffel Tower,  in the heart of  Luneta.  Do we really need one?  What will it do to historic Luneta, one of the last remaining open spaces in the city? The public should be heard.

Somewhere in Diliman, someone has figured out a way of raising funds for the University by commercializing some of its idle lands.  It is a valid idea. But has anyone made calculations of the impact on traffic alone that the presence of SM-type megamalls is  bound to create in the surrounding areas? Have guidelines been drawn for the B-O-T bidders so as to  ensure the ecological integrity of the Diliman campus?  Is the University ready for the influx of wave upon wave of new settlers once the construction begins?  The public should be heard.

In nearby Loyola Heights, high-rise boxes are going up all along Katipunan avenue, just across Ateneo and Miriam.  In the face of mounting traffic jams on Katipunan, it is reasonable  to ask whether the property developers  are providing adequate  basement parking for all their tenants.

In our society, money men have muscled their way into our communities, creating consequences that are borne by a powerless public.  Instead of fighting and insisting upon an ethic of civility, we choose to cope with these invasions, treating them as minor vexations that we must accept as the costs of development.  The State, partly as a way of concealing its own ineptness and partly to hide its complicity, has fostered this lie.

This is the arena of life-politics, and it is not too late for the organized citizens of the metropolis to try to put a stop to this madness that the drumbeaters of Philippines 2000 call development.


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