City Profile

Ho Chi Minh | Hong Kong | Singapore
Mar-Apr 2013

Emerging Manila: A City on the Rise

by Harry Serrano
Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is situated in the southern part of the island of Luzon, largest of the three main islands in the Philippine archipelago. Geographically, it is the seventh largest city in Metropolitan Manila (also known as National Capital Region). According to the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network (GaWC), the historic, cultural, political and economic centre of the Philippines is also a Beta+ global city. Presidential Decree No. 940 proclaimed Manila as the Philippines’ seat of government. The Malacañan Palace, Manila’s equivalent to the White House, is located in the San Miguel district of Manila.
The official language is Filipino. But English is commonplace and is the official language of instruction in Philippine schools. Seventy eight point five percent of the population speaks English (National Statistics Office, 2000). Perhaps it’s one of the reasons call centres and English language learning centres abound in Manila. The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) business in the country posted a $9 billion-revenue, equivalent to 4.8 percent of Philippine GDP in 2011. Recently, the country has also become an English language learning destination for Koreans for its cheaper tuition and affordable housing compared to South Korea. Along with the influx of Koreans came “Koreanovelas”, “K-pop” and an annual $1 billion in consumer spending (Damazo, 2007).
Manila City is bordered by Navotas City and Caloocan City to the north, Quezon City to the northeast, San Juan and Mandaluyong City to the east, Makati City to the southeast and Pasay City to the south. Manila, blessed with an excellent harbour, is also the country’s main seaport. The city of Manila trumps Kolkata as the densest city in the world. Laid out initially in a city grid patterned after Washington D.C. by American urban planner Daniel Burnham, it has a total land area of 38.55 square kilometres and a population of 1.65 million (NSO, 2010) giving it a density of 43,079 persons per square kilometre. And this is just the Manila City itself, not the greater Metro Manila area that is composed of 16 cities and a municipality. Manila easily dwarfs Kolkata City’s 27,774 persons per square kilometre density (Forbes Magazine, 2006). The Tondo district is the largest area with a density of 69,297 persons per square kilometre (NSO, 2007).
Mass poverty remains one of the major stumbling blocks in the country’s development. In 2009 the National Statistical Coordination Board reported that 26.5 percent or one-fourth of the population are living in poverty. The Philippines is still a long way from its commitment to the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of 16.6 percent poverty incidence by 2016. Metro Manila’s population accounts for 13 percent of the country’s total population (2010 Census), and the growth rate for Metro Manila is estimated at 2.11 percent. The City of Manila’s population accounts for 14 percent of Metro Manila’s total population.
Another pressing issue is the increasing population living in slum areas. Around 4 million or 37 percent of the total population of Metro Manila live in slum areas according to 2006 data. From year 2000 to 2006, the proportion of households in informal settlements rose from 5.3 to 9.6 percent in Metro Manila, an increase of 81 percent (Philippine Development Plan 2011–2016, or PDP 2011-2016). Slum population is projected to reach around 9 million by 2050, as the promise of livelihood in the city continues to attract a mass exodus from the countryside.
The current state of aging infrastructure coupled with construction of new infrastructure that is decades late is resulting in a congested metro, which is a far cry from the progressive Manila of the 1960s. In the transport sector, approximately 80 percent of Metro Manila relies on public transport. According to the National Environmentally Sustainable Transport (NEST) Strategy study, the metro is serviced by three lines of LRT/MRT, 23,000 buses, 36,000 taxis, approximately 217,000 jeepneys and 90,000 tricycles). The NEST Strategy pegged the Philippines’ road density at 0.67 kilometres per square kilometre in 2007, the highest among Asian countries except Singapore. The transport sector consumes more energy than other sectors as demonstrated by the 37.7 percent total energy consumption posted in 2009 (NEST, 2010). The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) estimates emissions from mobile sources at 65 percent of total air pollution nationwide. Modernisation of the transport fleet has been recently stymied by high operating costs brought about by perennial traffic congestion (Patdu et al., 2007). The shift towards a more sustainable mode of transport is also hindered by economic survival as depicted by the proliferation of jeepneys and tricycles.
The country has always been vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as can be seen in the recurring El Niño and La Niña phenomena. Seventeen percent of the country’s total land area or 5.2 million hectares are severely eroded and another 27.3 percent or 8.34 million hectares are vulnerable to drought (PDP 2011–2016). The super typhoon Ondoy in 2009 prompted a review of the flood plans of Metro Manila and beyond.

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