By Cha Monforte
The placemaker and the Davao City Square
In many cities in US and Europe, more people are advocating for transformation of their places. The high development of advanced economies in the world has resulted to cities being so oriented to automobiles, skyscrapers and malls that soon neglected the importance of plazas, squares and other public spaces.
A movement called placemaking is reclaiming public spaces as spaces where people have to enjoy, converge, socialize, walk and bike. The robust urbanizations caused by top-down policies and the vertical growth of cities in advanced economies have led to mindless impersonal relations between persons and traffic gridlocks. Sadly, the making of our own cities are going to that direction.
The placemaking movement wants to foster cultural identities and build stronger communities. Placemakers call for community-driven urban designing process that “would free a city from the homogenizing effect of plans imposed from above, allowing it to grow organically, place by place, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.” They want squares and public spaces to scatter and grow like they want Paris not to become a homogeneous global city that erodes its local character.
Placemakers want to shift the paradigm and trend of urban planning, transportation, their policies, systems and priorities. Placemaking is a way to create sustainable cities and preserve the environment especially in this age of climate change. They want people to stroll in the streets, walkways, enjoy sidewalk dry markets, sit in benches viewing rivers and scenes in the city. Or walk or bike around and get the full health benefits of doing it. The plaza is the place that brings people together. There’s a need to have sense of space in planning, rekindle cultural identity, the need to reshape the urban environment, they say. They form pedestrian and bicycle alliances. They call to rightsize downtown streets. And placemakers resist government projects and policies that create barriers to biking, walking and placemaking.
I see that the placemaking movement fears that built urban environment might be so redesigned into so modern environment that it forgets to provide public spaces for people to traditionally converge and talk to each other. Placemakers advocate to make cities become more walkable, bikable and livable. It is becoming a powerful new social movement that reaches Latin American and African countries. It is still be to be heard loud and clear in Asian countries.
Applied in Davao City, placemaking can be given a biggest push if a large square is carved out in its old downtown. Over fifteen years ago I postulated a possibility of carving out a Davao City Square enclosing around the streets of Quirino, Magallanes, Claveria and that road by the Gaisano Mall. In my postulation, the PUJs are barred from entering the square. Only private vehicles and taxis are allowed to enter. Pedestrians would have to walk, bike or take light tramcars to go to places inside the square. Or allow limited aesthetically designed trisikads or tartanillas to ply inside the square. In the scheme, the PUJ-caused traffic is eliminated within the square. It automatically frees and unclogs the city’s oldest central business district of the hundreds of thousands of noisy and air-polluting PUJs, and gives space for a special urban renewal.
Authorities then would further move in for aesthetic, public space- and environment-oriented physical facelifts of available public spaces. Consider the scenario of Davao City Square having a lot of trees growing, more benches, tiled pocket parks to compliment the People’s Park and the park fronting the City Hall, more covered walkways, more spaces for walk and bike lanes. Heritage buildings will rise up to compliment with private towers and condos. It relates with the coastal light train transit thought out before, and possibly with an underground train in so distant future. The northbound and southbound rotundas and dropping points of PUJs will be established, and more concepts to buttress the Davao City Square.
Revolutionary? How’s this now? For Davao City to join with the sustainable global cities it must have a square for walkability, bikability and unique urban renewal. Davao City has no square in the first place and it is contented only to provide a small People’s Park. Making a large walkable square is giving the city’s old heart a breathing space.
Mayor Rody Duterte can easily carve out the Davao City Square by mere mayor’s circular only – to start a tea party for his presidential draft, with environmentalists and placemakers. Then we can immediately enjoy cups of tea or bottles of beers under the many shades of first balled low growing trees in the freed sidewalks and pocket parks while first imagining a stunning view of the squared downtown in the city. The influential and powerful mayor can easily make a public space. He can be the placemaker in the country. The City Council’s ordinance can come in later. (@chamonforte, @ruralurbanews in Twitter)
By Cha Monforte
Our state of transportation and the mighty China
The moment other countries boasts how their grand transportation plans are we are struck to thinking how backward is ours. The Mindanao Railway Project is now forgotten and both legislative and actions for it stopped. We are reduced to waiting for who will champion for it- verbally. But as of now there’s no news about it.
Whatever is happening to our national highways is- compliments of the general appropriations act of Congress. Our public works department’s accomplishment is dependent to GAA budget. Our budgets for road infrastructure- the maintenance budget for the road’s wear and tear as well as for the opening and pavement of national roads- remain pegged to agency’s growth projection from the recent year. By that, nothing revolutionary can expected yearly. We simply got no money for a great floodwater diversion canal from the Compostela Valley’s mainland valley, or a long high seawall for Tacloban City for the next typhoon and storm surge. Our state of infrastructure is after all dependent on the state of our economy.
If ever China is getting bolder and boastful day by day it is because the country now has much money to spend for gargantuan projects. It’s China’s economy, stupid, and for becoming mucho dinero in the new globalized order it has become aggressive to squat and poach on our maritime territories. The great brain twist of Pinoy’s colonial mind long bombarded by American values is the learning that it’s not all America there is to dream of, but China to see and travel to. It is starting early in this decade that study trips of our officials have been made to see China and what’s happening there.
Before, we dream – when can we ever reach America? “God created the world and the rest is by China” is a superlative for China’s great economic standing in all things that it makes which the mushrooming shang-shang stores sell at low prices. News and images in social media and the net have opened Pinoys’ eyes that there are, too, highly industrial cities in China that started long time ago. Our eyes have been fixated to knowing and seeing the industrial complexes in the West that for a long time we seemed to imagine that there were only backwardness, totalitarianism, temples, Bruce Lee and flying kungfus in communist China.
Forget communism, “if not of Mao Tse-tung millions of Chinese might have died of hunger,” said a late Tsinoy neighbor who had hardware in a then rustic town in Compostela Valley. That was twenty years ago when he uttered that statement to me. I didn’t know why- when we heard 20-76 million of Chinese who died during China’s great famine and starvation attributed to natural disasters, lack of food production (due to policies like the farm collectivization), about 2.5 million of whom due to communist purges, in Mao’s initial reign.
I reckoned the Tsinoy’s timeline in coming to our country. He must have come before World War II as he bagged a Pinay in Toril, Davao City. She accompanied him when they retreated from Toril during the war and they settled to vend for survival in a Comval town. The Tsinoy must be one among the fearful millions who fled China after Mao won his revolution in 1949. But he was definitely one of the great millions of Chinese who revered Mao as a great leader. Was the Tsinoy’s statement a belief to Mao’s Great Leap Forward that first transformed China’s economy from an agrarian economy to an industrial one? Whatever, I knew he often listened to short-wave Chinese-speaking radio program at night. The frequency band was like a counterpart of the Voice of America in the 70s.
Anyway, back to transportation. Wew, China is thinking out aloud again. It plans to build high-speed railway to US so people can travel back and forth China and the US including the countries of stopover without flying. Seems a ridiculous idea but “if Beijing gets its way that’s exactly what will be possible in the future,” Beijing Times put it. That news comes following China’s industrialization after Mao, that is dramatic but nauseating as to envelop Bejing now of snowlike smog. China’s urbanization tempo has been fast but it goes awry when it created problem of ghost modern, Parisian buildings by sheer absence or lack of occupants.
China’s planned high-speed railway is really fast as it would run about double of the full-speeding Bachelor Bus through the undersea tunnel that is about a more than a little length of Davao City to Butuan City. But the vast country boasts already a high-speed rail network connecting its cities. Before, it takes nearly 24 hours for people travelling from Beijing to Guangzhou, with a distance of over 2,000 kms. Now the journey time is cut to just 8 hours by bullet train. If we could only have bullet train, travel time to Cagayan de Oro from Davao City via Buda is only about 2 to 3 hours compared to the 6 hours of fastest private vehicle travel.
“The China-US railway is just one of four ambitious projects the country is thinking about undertaking. One line would connect China to London with stops in Paris, Berlin, and Moscow, while another would link the country to countries like Iran and Turkey. A fourth line, meanwhile, would stretch from China to Singapore, stopping in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia.” Wew, that would eventually connect to the Philippines.
We are thrilled to that prospect. But meantime, we are aghast at the thought that China has been lately making land reclamation on Mabini Reef following series of squatting and poaching acts to our maritime territories in the recent years. We can only pray to international court and be still strategically offensive to guard our West Philippine Sea as we have proximity advantage though our naval and air forces reel on limited equipment and fighting machines against a mighty China. (@chamonforte, @ruralurbanews in Twitter)
By Cha Monforte
The fall of industrial giant, the story
There was a fall of industrial giant, the competitive description of Iligan City before. There was that fall as when the National Steel Corporation went bankrupt and shutdown operations in November 1999. So other industries supplying NSC and its downstream industries closed shop, too, like dominoes falling, on the first wave of disadvantageous trade liberalization in the early 2000s sending the city’s economy into turmoil.
The NSC, we recall, was once known as the largest steelmaking plant in Southeast Asia and the pride of Philippine industry. The NSC was resuscitated in 2004 with the entry of Malaysian investors but they shortly sold their controlling interests. A rich Indian family won the bid but they aggressively trampled the rights of our workers, who then staged wildcat strike against them. By 2010, NSC’s plant halted operations until these days. End of the story.
Why NSC collapsed? A former NSC employee has his simple view: NSC went bankrupt after the bar slab steels were eliminated in the production chain. He said it was caused by a national policy. NSC then was the receiver of Mindanao’s all steel scraps which it recycled to be good, non-substandard steels for domestic consumption. One product out of one policy. That was all he could recollect long years after he was laid out from work. He didn’t know about the nitty-gritty of steel markets and tariffs affecting NSC steel products- hot-rolled coils, hot-rolled plates, cold-rolled coils, and tinplates, etc.
It was in the late 1990s that the Asian financial crisis came and so the peso depreciated to unprecedented levels. “With many of NSC’s loans and supply of raw materials paid in dollars, the steel company just could not cope with servicing its debts,” said one memo explainer. “Trade liberalization and the cheap steel imports was also among the major factors that contributed to NSC’s demise. Competition was so stiff because of the dumping of cheap steel products from such countries as Russia and Korea,” labor unions said.
“In fact, NSC was not the only victim in the dumping of cheap imports to the country. The cement industry also raised a howl when imported cement from Taiwan, Indonesia and other countries flooded the market supposedly through illegal means, eating up a large percentage of the local manufacturers’ sales. The two cement plants in Iligan- the Iligan Cement Corp. and the Mindanao Portland Cement Corp., as well as the Alsons Cement Corp. in neighboring Lugait, Misamis Oriental, felt the blow,” labor unions recollected. A few other companies servicing the NSC, as well as smaller business firms in the downstream industry, were forced to close shop, too.
When NSC closed shop, the scrap iron business lost P1.4-billion and the Refractories Corp. of the Philippines lost 30% of its market. Mabuhay Vinyl Corp., supplier of NSC’s chemicals, was severely hit, and the National Power Corp. lost P720M in sales yearly, Philippine Star reported in May 2002.
But who were the actors then before the curtains fall in the great NSC show? NSC’s woes started with privatization. It was El President El Tabako who pushed for the NSC’s privatization for thinking out loud that the government “ain’t supposed to run a steel company, and that it’s better handled by the private sector – despite the fact that at that time, 1994, NSC belonged to the top ten corporations in the Philippines,” said a heckler in the net. That belonged to the Philippines 2000, tiger economy battlecries of El Tabako.
For wanting to limit the government’s financial exposure on State-owned corporations, so Malaysia’s Wing Tiek acquired controlling interests of NSC in November 1994 and shortly it retrenched more than 500 workers for the first time since NSC’s establishment in 1974. But being not steel maker, Wing Tiek sold its sold its entire 69.2% stake to Hottick in December 1996 while the government through the National Development Corp. optioned its own 12.5% stake to the latter on February 1997.
But the latter was of the same mold of the first buyer, a steel trader, not a steel maker. Hottick sold NSC again in 2004, and in the bidding the Global Infrastructure Holdings Ltd. owned by Mittal family, Indian nationals, won. So NSC, next called as Global Steel, resumed operations, after four years of closing shop while the NSC’s selling had been going on. But the resumption of operation took only five years as in February 2010 the Global Steel employees made a strike completely paralyzing the plant operations.
“The Indian company is flagrantly violating Philippine Labor and economic laws since it took over in year 2004 on the pretext of alleged liquidity problems and profitability issues by the abusive Indian investors in collaboration with the corrupt government officials,” the striking Global Steel workers charged. The once NSC never did recover- until now.
The DTI recently bared a draft of the road map for the iron and steel industry showing that by 2030 the country should be a globally competitive provider of quality steel products for domestic users. What road map to boost when it gives a far distant year for us to become competitive? We were once the No. 1 quality steel provider in Asia, and now we look for 2030 to recover? This is impossible as the curtain for 2015 Asean Integration is beginning to be raised! Just last year the country steel consumption reached six million metric tons, and about 50 percent of that was met by local production when in the past we took all.
The simple view of the former NSC employee is revealing that our national leaders profit from the status quo of allowing steel imports to supply 50 percent of our domestic steel requirements- to bloat their personal pockets. (@chamonforte, @ruralurbanews)
By Cha Monforte
What’s there for a bridge? Samal Island despite that it has been underdeveloped frontier through the decades, many visitors and tourists come flocking in droves because of its fresh and unpolluted beaches. It’s a weekend hideaway despite the frequent power outages of the divided Davao del Norte Electric Cooperative.
There are two contentions whether there’s a need to have the Samal Bridge or not. One wants it, and the other just wants Samal Island retained as just an island without a bridge.
The island-forever contention asserts on the need to live in a garden city island that has bountiful eco-tourism destinations, fresh and unspoiled beach resorts – “under an urban setting” as a later appendage. Island Councilor Alberto Ortiz forewarned if there would be a bridge, squatters and more settlers will swamp down in the island, and the consequent high demand for housing, their wastes and the feeding of an increased population would pose big problems. For sure, I know, the unspoiled will be spoiled. That’s being environmentalist.
But then there’s also this pleasure of riding a ferry or barge, having an exciting experience of crossing a sea in a shortest time. That’s because, Davao City is just a stone’s throw away from the island, proverbially speaking. It’s quite a valid reason and it’s awesome to be leisurely sometimes especially for those tourists from land-locked provinces. Candidly, this is the specific reason that I, for now, like Samal Island without a bridge.
But people’s leisurely wishes can be frustrated by policy decisions of government. That’s if our government has billions and political will this time. Well, the Advisory Committee (AdCom) of the Regional Development Council (RDC) –XI last April 15 included the Samal Bridge as one of regional development priorities for 2015. Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo del Rosario moved for a full blown feasibility study (FS) and detailed engineering as first phase in the implementation of the Samal Bridge project.
The Samal Bridge proposal has been there since then; we don’t know when it started. Formally, in 2002 a pre-feasibility analysis on it was incorporated in the Davao Integrated Development Program (DIDP) Master Plan. But in our country, a master plan is often a guide forgotten if not a thing deviated from during implementation.
In the case of the Samal Bridge, it’s often one wishful thinking as where will we get the P6 billion to construct a costly bridge that’s just about 1.2 kilometers in length. We’re no advanced countries that had their famous bridges constructed way long back in the 19th and 20th centuries out from capitalist coffers. What was ex-President GMA did say in 2007? “In the next 20 years we will become a First World country.” Her mea culpa yet.
The yes contention can be better appreciated in the governor’s foreseeing of a rapid development and investors coming in the island once there would be bridge. He has been pushing for a circumferential road around the island to prepare for it. After his SOPA (State of the Province Address) two weeks ago, Gov. Del Rosario said that Samal’s Babak District is an ideal place to put an international airport to connect with Davao City through the bridge. Babak can have light manufacturing industries, while Penaplata District would be the seat of government, and Kaputian District would be for eco-tourism.
“If I were a mayor, I’ll donate Talikud Island to Davao City.” He actually meant that the city halls of the island and Davao City could make a sort of sisterhood arrangement to develop Talikud Island. “Talikud is facing the Sta. Ana wharf, which the Davao City government could develop with tourist hotels and port facilities,” the governor added.
For all of his advocacies, these thoughts should all the more be pursued: the master plan can be better vindicated of its name if leaders and implementors love its rationale and know its details. The master thoughts of the seasoned and tested governor-manager can only be realized if he wrests the island’s governance itself. Then he has to run for mayor by 2016 with that platform. His winning is a ratification of the Samal people- that they, too, want the bridge. (follow @chamonforte, @ruralurbanews)
column to various newspapers (in Mindanao, natl)
posted april 18, 2014
By Cha Monforte
A hadji’s view on urban renewal of Isla Verde
The contiguous slums in the largely Islamic Isla Verde and Mini Forest area can be renewed despite its clogged-up residential milieu. It is so that for years and decades the seashore and riparian areas of Davao City’s Boulevard have been settled and trekked on by in-migrant population that make the areas a squatter colony. Pardon the use of the word squatter. That’s only for the description purposes, and not to resurrect the repealed law criminalizing squatting in one’s homeland
Anyway, in the barangay election October last year I got a chance to meet a hadji, an ukay-ukay vendor, who ran but lost in the polls in Barangay 23-C, one of the central business district’s slums that was recently gutted down by a big fire that begot a big headache of the City Hall. But he’s got one good vision for the contiguous slum colony. In his campaign, he cast a vision of converting Isla Verde and its vicinity a world-class place, “where peace and order, cleanliness, hygiene, livelihood and development thrive and the strong unity and brotherhood of people from 15 tribes and Christians is proudly shown to the world.” He is bapa Hadji Rauf Paca, also a die-hard fan of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Barangay 23-C is located in the central coastside of the Davao City’s poblacion. It’s just near to the city’s Chinatown in Uyanguren, Monteverde, Boulevard areas. It hosts the known Mini Forest and the mosque. It especially has an “island” called Isla Verde, whose population is about 75-percent Muslims of varied tribes and some integrated Christians.
The “island” is actually a small semi-submerged peninsula at Boulevard area inhabited by an above-sea water makeshift community. It has some parts that remain to show earth even at high tide. The whole barangay has some 15,000 population, while Isla Verde has around 200 houses. Fortunately, the Isla was spared by the fire inferno. But it was crept on by the fire.
The hadli envisioned to see Isla Verde arising as a developed multi-tribal community with seawall, round baywalk complete with lighting and rest benches and shades, encircling roadway, improved interior road network, street lights, concrete entrance and exit, and heightened by fillings, a “unique place where tourists are attracted to come, relax and see.”
“Our barangay is home of people from 15 tribes such as Maranaos, Tausugs, Magindanaos, Samas, Yakans, Badjaos, other Moro tribes, indigenous people and the Christians,” he added. The barangay is a melting pot of people of various tribes, and for Hadji Paca, “what is urgently needed is a non-discriminating leader with control and political will like Mayor Duterte.”
Hadji Paca has his ukay-ukay tienda located along Uyanguren Street. He has been sustaining his family through peddling, which he said is a decent source of living that helps a lot of his Muslim brothers and sisters as well as the Christians doing the same trade. How he profusely thanked Mayor Duterte for extending them tolerance and understanding for them to earn a living.
Who knows urban renewal of the slums in the Mini Forest and Isla Verde would start from the three slums recently gutted by fire? The horizontal spread of housing development for the onsite relocation of the fire victims can’t accommodate anymore their big number. Congestion there, before the fire, was also characterized by multi-story wooden and semi-concrete housing, with least open spaces and narrow alleys, besides the abundance of fire-hazard makeshifts.
For the areas to have urban renewal, medium-rise resettlement housing awaits as the alternative. Who knows development grants from Muslim countries can be accessed to fund a medium or high-rise resettlement condo for the 15 tribes and Christians to rise from the burned areas, and later in Isla Verde?
Once done all throughout the vicinity of Isla Verde, Mini Forest and Boulevard, we’ll see Davao City’s own modern Muslim facet uniquely integrated in the city’s wholesome development, welcoming all people from all walks of life and showing a close embrace of Muslim and Christian brotherhood and unity. (follow @chamonforte, @ruralurbanews)
column to various newspapers (in Mindanao, natl)