In order to prevent Metro Cebu from becoming congested and polluted like Manila, the seat of the Capitol must be transferred to Toledo City. This will also prevent the separation of the province.

Visitors to Cebu, as well as Cebuanos themselves, often cite the differences between Manila and Cebu. While traffic in Manila is horrific, it is still manageable here. While the slums of Manila are world famous, those in Cebu are still quite small. And while the air in Manila is a distinct yellow color, Cebuanos breathe the fresh breeze from the sea.

It is good to enjoy the blessings bestowed on us, but the greatest threat to contentment is complacency. At the rate new cars are currently hitting the streets, Cebu will be congested soon, no matter how quickly flyovers are added to the main thoroughfares. The population, too, continues to grow a little too quickly for comfort. Rather than feeling smug, we should be quietly panicking about the impending transition of our comfortable, livable city into a sprawling urban nightmare.

What can be done?

The answer is simple. The seat of the provincial government must be transferred to another part of the island. The American system of keeping the seats of government in a city away from the commercial centers has worked well for that country. For instance, in California, the seat of the state government is in Sacramento, rather than San Francisco or Los Angeles. The pattern is much the same throughout the 50 states.

Belatedly, the Japanese are discovering the wisdom of this principle. Tokyo, long the world's largest metropolis until overtaken by Mexico City recently, is home to 25 million people. The consequences of overcrowding have been severe. Despite being wealthier than citizens of any other Asian city, Tokyoites are crammed into buses, trains and subways, the way we cram sardines into cans. The average Tokyo commute is more than an hour - plus another hour on the way home. It's insane.

As a result, the Japanese government has long been trying to transfer the capital of the nation to another city. By transferring dozens of government agencies, the thinking goes, congestion in the capital can be alleviated, and the town in the countryside chosen as the new capital will be invigorated by the influx of tens of thousands of civil servants, creating an economic boom.

The problem is that the Japanese have left it too late. The more time goes by, the harder it is to move a capital. Despite intense lobbying from several provincial towns in northern and western Japan, the capital has remained firmly entrenched in Tokyo.

The lesson for Cebu couldn't be any clearer. The time to act is now. By the time the issue is unmanageable, it will be too late. Any solution to the impending problem must be undertaken right now.

Moving the provincial capital to somewhere other than Metro Cebu will be like striking a preemptive blow against impending disaster. The transfer of dozens of government agencies will lead to a boom in construction. The service sector in the destination city will mushroom. The sudden demand for housing and ancillary services will invigorate a sluggish construction industry and stimulate a dormant real estate sector. The arrival of hundreds of urbane officials and attorneys will raise standards dramatically. New investment will pour into the new capital, thereby gently putting the brakes on development and growth in Metro Cebu.

The added beauty of this solution is that Cebu City need do nothing. Or rather, it can do nothing. The provincial capital can be transferred whether the mayor of Cebu City likes it or not. It is just up to Governor Gwen to make the decision to pack up and go. For once, the mayor of Cebu City, who tends to have more than his fair share of influence, will be out of the loop.

The question first raised is, where should the provincial capital be transferred to? Theoretically, it could be anywhere, but in Cebu's case, there are only two real contenders. One is Bogo and the other is Toledo. Unlike, say, Carcar or Danao, which can be commuted to, both Bogo and Toledo are far away enough from Metro Cebu to force a permanent relocation. Both have reasonably developed infrastructure but moribund economies; moving the capitol would have as great an impact in Bogo as in Toledo.

My preference would be Toledo City. It is nearer to Metro Cebu, and having the provincial capital in Toledo would finally justify the expense of building and maintaining the Trans-Central highway, which currently remains underused. Being on the other side of the island, growth in Toledo would serve as the perfect counterpoint to Cebu City's dominance.

Of course, it is to expected that many will oppose the idea of transferring the capitol. One objection often raised is that friends and families of government employees will be left behind in Metro Cebu. Clearly, a great deal of hardship is likely to be experienced by many. Some civil servants' families will decide to stick together and move to the new capitol, while others will opt to send just the breadwinner. The whole project will cause a lot of pain initially, and this pain will linger as the new seat of the capitol is gradually brought up to Metro Cebu standards with better schools, medical care, shopping facilities, and so on.

Those of us with dealings to pursue vis-a-vis government agencies will also suffer, having to spend days if not weeks camped out at pension houses in Toledo while the government officials process documents (though this pressure may also be positive, accelerating the notoriously low efficiency of our civil servants).

However, the flip side is that the pain suffered by the entire population of Metro Cebu will be far, far worse if Metro Cebu is left to grow at current rates. Moving will be the lesser of two evils - but it will also be an exciting enterprise that will show that Cebu, through smart thinking, can avoid the mistakes made in Manila.

The other issue usually mentioned is, what to do about the splendid capitol building at Capitol Site? The answer is: I don't know. Transferring it to Toledo brick by brick would probably be too expensive. It could be turned into a world-class museum of modern art. It could be sold to the highest bidder, and turned into a shopping mall or hotel - and the proceeds could be used for building a new capitol in the new capital.

There are those who are promoting the separation of Cebu Province into several smaller provinces. While in most cases this is a case of politicians being eager to become bigger fish in smaller ponds, one argument is hard to defeat, namely that Metro Cebu is unequally developed compared to other parts of the island.

Transferring the capitol to Toledo - or Bogo - would be a neat way of doing something about development disparity within the province, without breaking it into bits.

June 8, 2005


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