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Time to elect a Metro governor

THIS could be an idea whose time has come – the election of a Metro Manila governor, rather than having an appointed Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) governor who cannot get his way against elected municipal and city mayors of the country’s capital region.

The traffic crisis in Metro Manila may have many causes, but surely one of them is the absence of a central authority to do the planning and implementation of a comprehensive transportation program for the area. The rules differ from one city to another, for example, on “windows” when motorists with banned number-coding license plate endings may take to the streets. Some mayors also allow street parking in certain areas where others would not.

Rep. Lito Atienza, a former Manila mayor, has now filed a bill, HB 4758. An Act Creating the Metropolitan Manila Government, headed by an elected governor, which would replace the MMDA whose chairman is now appointed by the President.

The idea of a regional authority began in 1973, when the Metro Manila Commission was created by President Marcos.

With the First Lady Imelda Marcos as chairman and under the circumstances of the time – martial law – the commission proved effective, Atienza said.

Today, however, the elected city mayors of Metro Manila are jealous holders of their authority and prerogatives and do not easily yield to proposals of the appointed MMDA governor. There are many problems that need to be met and planned for regionwide, like floods, power and water supply, fires, garbage, and, of course, traffic. But under the present system, each mayor and each local government must focus their attention on problems of the city.

Other megacities in the world like New York and Tokyo have governors elected by the people. “These are megacities which used to have traffic problems like ours which they were able to manage effectively with a governor elected by the people, answerable and accountable to the people,” Atienza said.

The heart of the problem is the lack of accountability in the present system of the MMDA with just an appointed governor. An elected governor, the congressman said, would be more sensitive to what needs to be done and how to work with the mayors.

The proposal is not among the priority bills of the new administration. It is not a key advocacy like federalization and tax reform. But solving the years-old traffic problem of Metro Manila is a nagging one for which nothing much has been done so far aside from asking for special powers from Congress. It may be time to try a structural solution as suggested by Congressman Atienza – a MMDA with an elected chairman with sufficient sensitivity and authority to solve problems.