Cebu Flyovers

For the benefit of those who are not aware of what has been happening in Cebu, the construction of two flyovers in Gorordo Avenue and MJ Cuenco last October has been suspended after being met with a strong opposition from various sectors that formed what was initially known as Stop Cebu Flyovers Movement, now recognized as a civil society group called Movement for a Livable Cebu.

The Gorordo and MJ Cuenco flyover project proposal didn’t undergo a public consultation. No technical planning was done until the opposition made noise. The Regional Development Council appointed a Technical Working Group to conduct the study but its Infrastructure Development Committee would later on vote not to endorse the report of TWG. The findings say that the proposed fyovers are not going to solve the traffic congestion. TWG recommends road widening and flared intersections among others.

MLC met with Secretary Rogelio Singson of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Manila to dialogue with him. Singson was not aware of the opposition. He said he would only support projects backed by a comprehensive study. He issued a moratorium.

North District Representative Rachel “Cutie” del Mar—one of the proponents of the “network of flyovers” that was envisioned by his father, former Congressman, now citizen Raul del Mar—and Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama met with President Benigno Aquino last November. Rama is opposing the flyover projects. Former city mayor, now South District Representative, Tomas Osmena accuses Rama of wanting to divert the flyover funds to his own projects. He is concerned that “RDC would look funny if members agree to Rama’s plan to recall its endorsement of the flyover projects.” The president ordered DPWH to conduct a traffic study that should have been completed by the end of December 2011. MLC has not heard back about the said study.

But the representative del Mar—most likely, the citizen del Mar, too—and Osmena are insistent on the construction of the flyovers. And two more flyovers had been proposed for 2013 funding last Friday. The representative del Mar says she will do all she can to decongest traffic. TWG is confident that no technical study could prove that flyovers in Gorordo and in MJ Cuenco would ease the congestion. Even the Cebu City Traffic Office Management rejected the two flyovers.

Urban planners argue that flyovers have no place in the urban core, that massive structures make people become disconnected with the community, encourage more crimes and unfriendly neighborhoods. Advocates are concerned that the flyovers will destroy the cultural heritage and historical value of Gorordo Avenue without solving the problem of congestion. MLC has asserted the need for a comprehensive master plan to avoid arbitrary infrastructures—like the flyovers. It envisions a mass transit system, real sidewalks, bike lanes and wide green public spaces.

The representative del Mar appears quite optimistic that the suspended construction will begin soon. But MLC is fighting. “What explains this relentless pushing for flyovers?” somebody asked. If the proponents recognize that this is not a one step forward, two steps backward move for MLC, then they must be taking the risk to secure the funds. The construction can be delayed, anyway.

In Cebu today, some people sit on their thrones and do as they wish. Some play god; others act as if Cebu were their hacienda.

Please let your friends know.


A Cebu of Inclusiveness

(The blogger wrote this for the Movement for A Livable Cebu last month. She is a member of the Movement of Imaginals for Sustainable Societies through Initiatives, Organizing and Networking. Helping MLC grow is one of the initiatives of MISSION.)


The series of dialogues dubbed “Creating Our Future Cities: Where Do We Begin?” that transpired the other week is probably the first of its kind in Cebu. The brainchild of the Movement for a Livable Cebu brought together different voices from across the different spheres of society—the government, the private sector and the public which includes civil society movements. Two experts, together, provided a framework in which to view the future of Cebu—that in which the “software” and the “hardware” of a sustainable and a livable city are integrated. Dr. Abdoumaliq Simone, an urbanist and a sociology professor, provided the former while Architect Senen Antonio, urban design and planning expert, supplied the latter.

“I would like to thank Dr. Simone…” said a political science professor from the audience—in the open forum of the last of the series of dialogues at the CAP theater—who resonated well with Simone’s espousal of a culture of inclusiveness for citizens in urban planning and governance. This was seconded, although indirectly, by several others who participated in the open forum. What was supposed to be a question-and-answer segment became a platform in which they brought up concerns and issues from the grassroots level—like the great lack of opportunities in rural areas forcing residents to come to the urban core thereby contributing to the traffic congestion. Simone portrayed the deceptions at work in urban life that turn out to be accidental gifts through people getting things done out of trying anything and out of whatever resources they have to make their lives or their livelihoods better. This invited the participants in the audience to talk about the plight of the vendors in Colon as well as in Carbon market. One of the participants requested for a copy of Simone’s speech which he then sent through e-mail to MLC.

Apparently, the participants in the open forum had more comments and reactions than questions sending a strong message of the need for the public to have avenues in which key decision-makers and other stakeholders could engage them, include them and think with them in looking for ways to solve the issues they, after all, live with.

In the dialogue at St. Theresa’s College, a high school student asked Simone about how they could participate in the processes the city undertakes given that they are “young” and that they “don’t know anything.” Simone replied by asking how old she is. “Sixteen years old,” she answered. “So you’ve lived here for sixteen years, right?” he asked. The question didn’t need to be answered. You know a place if you live there. He cited using Facebook or online media as one of the ways in which the youth can express what they think.

Simone conveyed that one does not have to be eligible—have the authority, education, social or personal background—to speak up and act. “For if people only have something to say, only will act when they feel eligible to do so, then few people will take risks, people will remain in their corners, in their narrow worlds, and few new experiences will be created…”

Simone defined democracy as the ability to move across the city or how free one is to circulate around. He said that when people no longer have access to each other, then it is—he thinks—a sign of a diminishing democracy. In the dialogue at the University of San Carlos-College of Fine Arts and Architecture, he pointed out that some infrastructures do not help forge relationships and connectedness and sometimes even cause people to avoid each other—he cited “the flyovers” as an example. These relationships, according to him, help create more opportunities for people and that it allows them to get things done by observing each other, learning from each other.

On addressing traffic congestion, which was asked in the open forum, he said that there is no amount of engineering that could solve the problem. “You just need to take out more cars from the road,” he said. “It takes political courage to do that,” he added.

Simone did not assume to know how to resolve the problems of Cebu but he has offered valuable insights on how to go about them simply by a juxtaposition and comparisons of the different urban practices and the dynamics of urban dwellers and urban cities that are very much like Cebu.

This writer thinks that the very culture of Cebu is about having a deep sense of community with each other, fostering relationships in a neighborhood where a parent, for example, can tell his neighbor: “pabinla sa ko kadali sa akong anak kay muadto ko sa merkado, ha?” Everything is close-by—literally and figuratively.

Simone’s ideas and depiction of living viable lives in an urban setting captures the soul of Cebu. A colleague of mine in MISSION or the Movement of Imaginals for Sustainable Societies through Initiatives, Organizing and Networking would tell me later on that she thinks Simone brought in very deep, thoughtful and people-oriented ideas and thoughts that stretched many minds and raised consciousness.

Meanwhile, Architect Antonio encapsulated the heart of Simone’s talk in Smart Growth planning and designs that enable cities to avoid the suburban “sprawl.” He described a “box-to-box” kind of life that can be attributed to sprawl—where people spend more time in their cars, in traffic and confine themselves in homes and subdivisions that do not provide the opportunity for people to interact with each other. He advocated allowing the diversities to come in. Antonio, in a roundtable discussion, a day after the series of dialogues, also pointed out how subdivision developments here in Cebu are contributing to sprawl and is causing segregation of society. His presentations captured the essence of a humanist architecture.

The two speakers are “strikingly similar in their approaches, both leading towards sustainable and livable cities,” said Architect Joseph Michael “Yumi” Espina, lead organizer and dean of USC-CAFA, in his welcome address in one of the forums.

To build on the learnings from the dialogues, MLC is engaging the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.  in a dialogue next week regarding the next steps which could include Development planning at the local government unit level.

MLC is beyond stopping flyovers. Its role is to constantly engage the different sectors of society in genuine dialogues and consultations that foster transparency, responsibility and accountability. It vows to bring in the public in the decision-making process as well as bring into the public consciousness matters where it is a major stakeholder.  Today, “we are witnessing the emergence of a coalition of groups which are common in their quest for a Comprehensive Metro Cebu Planning effort,” Espina said in his opening remarks at the CAP theater. If the local government, the businesses and the community work together, Cebu might just open another fabric of history.

I cannot give justice to what MLC has been co-creating. It is beyond words. But, perhaps, a movement can be defined as something that keeps moving, with boundless energy, or a fire you can’t seem to put out.

Venus Retrograde 2010

I met you a day after I said I’m a shattered star in a glorious night sky. A day after the day I heard them sing about a star sign out of whack, and I said: that’s me. My heart was silently screaming at an accused ‘fraudulent’ zodiac.

The day before I met you, I have written: watching over you from seven houses afar. I had my stinger entangled with his horns back then, and then you came. You were the morning star. And then I found out you are ruled by the morning star. Your house next to mine.

I told you about the new moon in Libra the weekend that was to come. Your spirits were high. I was oblivious  when it came because only now, in this writing, do I reckon that it felt like Venus finally joined Mars in Scorpio. I had been waiting. And then you came.

I inflict distance, succumb to a desolate space, get lost in introspection. You slow me down, loosen me up, say you understand. Do you understand because you do or do you understand because you don’t? We’re different. You’re carefree, and I am guilty.

Very different.

They’d say we don’t have to be the same.

The Men Who Would Sell The World

I saw the tobacco guys this morning. One of them gives you a penetrating look from behind eyeglasses while the other flashes a wittingly boyish smile. 

Once, they invaded my lair at the 14th floor where I’m usually alone and so I let the music roll. Judith was playing at the time. The ambassador of smiles was drumming on his lap, right foot beating the floor as if it were a bass drum pedal. He was singing and was good at it, I thought to myself: oh, lord, what a beautiful creature.

My first encounter with them, I remember, was when I bought something at the pantry and he said he’d like a tobacco as we reached the counter. I managed to laugh. He added, “old school, alright” and flashed the smile. The other one is more reserved but he lets out a smile when the occasion arises. He reminds me of some progressive artist—or it must be the beard.

I just found out this morning that they work for an outbound call  center—doing sales—in the same building. I said they must be selling their souls, and they laughed. I second-guessed they sell their bodies, they laughed again.

Dear, Cobain, they are quite interesting. I’d like to call them the-men-who-would-sell-the-world.