Tuesday, June 20, 2006

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Iloilo City is by far the most crowded city in Western Visayas today. According to the National Statistics Office (NSO), its population density as of 2000 is already at 8,724 persons per square kilometer. The most recent census, done by NSO more than ten years ago in 1995, reveals that Iloilo City had a population of 1,415,022 persons. Moreover, this figure does not show its “day-time population.” There are no existing surveys on Iloilo City’s daytime population but it is easy to surmise that it could be double because residents of Antique, Iloilo and Guimaras all go there to study, work, conduct business or do their marketing.

In contrast, the next most crowded city in the region, Bacolod City, has a population density of only 2,749 persons per square kilometer. Likewise, Iloilo City is more crowded than most of the other regional centers in the South. For example, Cebu City has a population density of only 2,282, Davao City 469, and Zamboanga City has a mere 425 persons per square kilometer (2000 NSO data). The population density of Iloilo City is already comparable to some areas in Metro Manila like Parañaque and Quezon City.

All these data only means that Iloilo City is nearing its saturation point and that we have to consider newer means to solve our “new” problems brought about by rapid urbanization and congestion. Residents of Iloilo City are now encountering the phenomenon of traffic jams, periodic floods and too much garbage: problems that in the past Ilonggos usually associated with Metro Manila and Metro Cebu. Thankfully, despite rapid urbanization and its high population density, the cost of living in Iloilo City has remained low and the quality of life continues to be one of the highest in the country (that is according to the 2004 AIM-City Competitiveness Survey). Likewise, Iloilo City’s crime rate is relatively low compared to other cities in the Philippines.

But the prevailing ideal conditions in Iloilo City might not remain for long if local leaders will allow things to slide. The vital question then, from a local policy perspective, is how to promote urbanization and development without sacrificing quality of life and low cost of living being that is being enjoyed right now by many Ilonggos?

One plausible solution is to create a metropolitan authority similar to the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which is exactly what the local executives of Iloilo City and the surrounding towns of Oton, Pavia, Leganes and San Miguel have done. Several years ago, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas and the mayors of the above-mentioned 4 municipalities formed the Metropolitan Iloilo Development Council (MIDC). The primary aim of MIDC is to foster closer cooperation and to coordinate development initiatives between Metro Iloilo member-LGUs. In a short time, the said Council has become an important venue for discussing wholistic solutions to local problems and has already initiated various projects towards investment promotion, environmental protection and heritage conservation.

The only drawback to MIDC is that it remains to be an ad hoc committee functioning primarily as a discussion group or planning agency. Unlike the MMDA, MIDC is not a “line agency” in the sense that it does not have the authority or manpower to implement projects. The MIDC is merely a policy-making body, not an implementing agency with financial resources and real manpower to execute and operationalize policy directives.

This is what House Bill No. 3577, authored by Iloilo City Lone District Representative Raul Gonzalez, Jr., seeks to change. The said bill wants to strengthen the current MIDC by creating the Metro Iloilo Development Authority (MIDA) and granting it the necessary funding and authority to implement its given mandate. The bill allots an initial sum of P50 million for the establishment of MIDA and will thereafter receive annual expenditures from the General Appropriations Act (GAA). The newly-created Authority will likewise be empowered to levy fines, impose fees and charges for the various services it renders. Lastly, each member-LGU will contribute 5% of its annual gross revenues (net of IRA) to MIDA.

Understandably, local executives have mixed reactions to House Bill No. 3577. Some mayors are concerned over the diminution of their authority once MIDA is in place while others are adamant to donate 5% of their gross annual income to the proposed agency. It may also be that the master plan to be designed for a Metro Iloilo might run counter to the desires of incumbent mayors.

But whatever “issues” local executives have against the creation of MIDA, I believe that it is an idea whose time has come. Our people are already feeling the effects of urbanization and are looking to our leaders to find solutions to their problems. The way I see it, the creation of a central authority to manage the problems of Metro Iloilo is the only way to preserve our city’s enviable position as one of the most pleasant places in the country to live in today.

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