5 things travelers hate about Manila -- and how the city's tackling them

5 things travelers hate about Manila -- and how the city's tackling them

It’s a great city, but what’s with all the traffic and trash? Finally, Manila is trying to clean up its act

For travelers used to efficient public transport, wide roads and a general sense of order, Manila’s careening jeeps and buses, overflowing trash and a globally “hated” airport are a shock to the system.

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Bill Davis, an American missionary and editor based in the Philippine island of Palawan, calls it “benign chaos.”

“That's how it seems to many foreigners,” says Davis, who has lived in the Philippines for 30 years and visits Manila several times a year. “Frenetic activity. Almost inconceivable numbers of people everywhere you look. All in motion. Noise, music, voices … [Filipinos] have a tolerance for crowds and noise, and actually consider it masaya (fun) …”

Fortunately, the Philippines is waking up to the harsh realities underscored by world rankings and social media rants. Using our trademark ingenuity and resourcefulness, we are now starting to address some of the biggest things that travelers hate most about this gateway to the Philippine archipelago.


1. Ninoy Aquino International Airport 

Ninoy Aquino International AirportRenditions of the proposed NAIA-1 makeover by the design team of Cobonpue, Layug, and Pineda.

The problem: Known as the “world’s worst airport for sleeping in” and one of the “world’s most hated airports.”

The solution: A one-year renovation project by internationally acclaimed architects and designers.
After earning global notoriety for its “numerous and long queues,” its “filthy” toilets, its substandard facilities, and its “creative airport departure fees,” among a long list of ills, Terminal 1 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA-1) in Metro Manila is finally getting reconstructive surgery worth over Php1.16 billion (US$26.48 million).

The Department of Transportation and Communication of the Philippine government has clarified that the contract will be awarded to the architectural firm of the late National Artist Leandro V. Locsin, who created the original design for NAIA-1 more than 30 years ago.

That has set Filipino tongues wagging, but the Philippine government has assured the public that experts will be available to help with the renovation. Consultants from Singapore’s Changi Airport have visited Manila to appraise the necessary repairs. The new and improved NAIA-1 is set to be ready by 2013.

2. Air pollutants

manila air pollution artArt that's good on your eyes and your lungs.

The problem: Manila's air is filthy. 

The solution: Large-scale public art made with pollutant-absorbent paint.
Who would have thought that art can actually help clean up air pollution?

Filipino curator Marian Pastor Roces, who led the team that designed the award-winning Philippine pavilion for the 2008 World Expo in Zaragoza, Spain, together with paint manufacturer Boysen, spearheaded a groundbreaking project that aims to execute eight 1,000-square-meter visual artworks made with paint that can “transform toxic nitrogen oxide (NOx) in the atmosphere into harmless residue.”

Three murals already occupy EDSA, Metro Manila’s main vehicular artery, in locations that “have the highest commuter and pedestrian density” and “staggering pollution levels.” Five more will be finished before the end of 2012. 

The project’s website states that “In the world’s largest air cleaning paint trial done at the Guadalupe MRT Station (Manila) in 2009, the KNOxOUT painted on the walls of the station and surrounding embankment was found to clean the N02 exhausts of over 30,000 cars passing by the area per day.”

A fact sheet also states that “KNOxOUT will keep cleaning the air as long as the paint stays on the surface and (is) exposed to light and humidity.”

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3. Unfriendly streets

cycling in ManilaWill this be a common scene in Manila's future?

The problem: Manila's streets are a hazard to pedestrians and cyclists.

The solutions: A citizen-led advocacy for bike lanes and a “Road Revolution.”
Connected to Metro Manila’s public transport problem is the fact that its sidewalks are narrow and often crammed with street vendors. It doesn’t have enough bike lanes and walking its streets is akin to spending time inside a gas chamber.

“Pollution is a fact,” says spoken word artist and biking enthusiast Miko Pepito. “No matter what mode of transport you use, you’ll really be able to inhale pollution. However, it shouldn’t stop anyone from getting to Point B from Point A.”

Bike advocates like Pepito, such as the group called The Firefly Brigade, are engaging other like-minded citizens and local governments to promote bicycles as a regular mode of transport and to provide facilities that make it safer to ride bicycles in Metro Manila’s streets.

Another group called Road Revolution aims “to turn around the present bias of the road system to favor people instead of motor vehicles. Those who have less in wheels must have more in road.”

As veteran Manila-based journalist and cyclist Howie Severino points out, “I believe if enough bikers assert their right to a public space, we will eventually get that space.” 

4. Public transport

manila jeepneyPassengers push a jeepney after a typhoon hit the city in July 2010.

The problem: It's inadequate and inefficient.

The solution: A research project for “New Mobility.”
While a research project alone won’t immediately solve the public transport problem that’s been plaguing Metro Manila for decades, the partnership between the Ateneo School of Government (ASG), the MMDA and the Rockefeller Foundation promises to improve mobility in the Philippine megalopolis.

Called “New Mobility” by ASG Dean Antonio La Viña, the project aims to provide commuters with a more “seamless” mobility experience “where the individual commuter can get from home to work (and back again), or anywhere in the city, in a fair amount of time, almost door-to-door, using many inter-connected options with a minimum of hassle.

“The technology of this future already exists today, thanks to the innovative drive of cities similar to Metro Manila,” La Viña continues in his newspaper column.

He cites as examples platforms such as the United States' Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the car-sharing initiative known as Zipcar, and the myriad bike-sharing programs in different cities around the world. 

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5. Roads and traffic

MMDA twitterTweeting your way to an easy journey.

The problem: Daily traffic jams, rage-inducing chaos.

The solutions: A 24/7 Twitter help desk and a real-time, interactive “Traffic Navigator.”
Before the advent of social media, anyone crawling along Metro Manila would be at the mercy of seemingly endless traffic that would stretch from one end of the 638-square-kilometer metropolis to another.

Roadworks would pop up in the middle of rush hour, roads would be closed and rerouted without warning and rude traffic enforcers were a law to themselves.

Thanks to Twitter and what seems to have been wise government investments in technology, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) now has a 24/7 Twitter help desk (@MMDA) that reports on the traffic situation in major thoroughfares, including vehicular accidents, rerouting and flooding.

A MMDA app is also now available for most smartphones, and a real time Traffic Navigator is available online.

According to Twitter user @philippinebeat, “Before (the existence of the app), you took chances when you took a particular route. Often, you had to leave home a lot earlier as you didn't know if you'd be caught in traffic or not. After: more effective route planning. Better estimate of travel time. Less aggravation.”

Niña Terol-Zialcita describes herself as a “communicator, connector, idea curator and changemaker.” She writes on art, culture, travel, and politics and is deputy editor of the award-winning socio-political blog, ProPinoy.net. Her latest book is entitled “[r]evolutionaries: The next generation of Filipino youth and youth organizations.”

Read more about Niña Terol-Zialcita