IN a recent interview with The Manila Times, Manila Third District Rep. Joel Chua presented a spirited argument for abolishing the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), calling the agency redundant and a waste of billions of pesos in taxpayer money. While Representative Chua did make a strong point, we think calling for the dissolution of the MMDA may be a step too far now. But it may be a step the government should eventually take.
The MMDA was created in 1995 under the Office of the President, and serves as a kind of quasi-government for the National Capital Region (NCR); it is answerable to the president and the Metro Manila Council comprising the mayors of the 16 cities and one municipality that make up the NCR. It has a broad mandate to provide “those services which have metro-wide impact and transcend local political boundaries or entail huge expenditures such that it would not be viable for said services to be provided by the individual local government units (LGUs) comprising Metropolitan Manila.” These services include development planning, transportation and traffic management, solid waste management, flood control and sewerage management, urban renewal, zoning, and land use planning, health and sanitation, and public safety in the context of emergency and disaster management and response. Chua said it is not actually necessary to have an agency to do all that, as those very services are already the responsibility of other government offices. In a privilege speech in Congress, Chua detailed how the MMDA's functions could be managed by other offices, such as development planning by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA); transport and traffic management by the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and the Land Transportation Office (LTO); solid waste management by the Department of Environment and Natural Resource1s (DENR); and urban renewal and zoning by local government units (LGUs) and the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD). As an alternative to the MMDA, Chua suggested the formation of a regional coordinating council organized under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). There is a great deal of merit in what Chua is suggesting. The MMDA has a uniquely broad mandate, and as a consequence, has become one of the government's most bloated agencies. The breadth of the MMDA's authority has also allowed its activities to spill over the bounds set for it in Republic Act 7924, which reconfigured the old Metropolitan Manila Authority (MMA) into the MMDA. For example, the MMDA carries out some traffic management activities and even controls waste collection in cities and municipalities adjacent to the NCR in Cavite, Bulacan and Rizal. It also engages in other activities that appear to have very little to do with its mandate, such as managing the annual Metro Manila Film Festival. Dissolving the MMDA would be a difficult undertaking, and there is the not insignificant fact that it is also one of the largest employers in the government and the Metro Manila area. Yet if the government is sincere in meeting its responsibility to provide the most efficient and cost-effective services possible, Chua's arguments cannot be simply dismissed, particularly in light of the Marcos' administration's stated objective to “rightsize,” or streamline government offices and services. We believe a thorough review of the MMDA should be undertaken to determine whether changes should be made to the agency, up to and including abolishing it and managing development and services in the NCR along the lines suggested by Chua. A solution may very well be something less drastic, however. An objective review might conclude that the MMDA is the best option to carry out some services, or that changes in its mandate, organization, or functions are all that is needed to make it the best option. What is clear at this point is that not conducting a comprehensive assessment of the MMDA would be a disservice to the public. While the MMDA does in fact carry out many functions with reasonable effectiveness, it has too often been at the center of controversy and public discontent. The complaints and questions from those who are paying for it are not often satisfactorily answered, and it is high time that they should be.
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