Do we need the PAREX?


James Deakin

Let me just start by saying that, in my humble opinion, I think Ramon Ang has done more for our country than any other private or corporate citizen, especially during the pandemic. I’m not sure if that is factually correct, but it is how I––and I’m sure most Filipinos feel––after all the selfless efforts and philanthropy that RSA and SMC have done over the last 20 months or so.  

That being said, while RSA’s and SMC’s contribution to the country should be rightfully commended and genuinely appreciated, it should not be a basis or factor on whether or not this new project gets green-lighted. This is a massive project that affects all of us and should be treated independently of our debt of gratitude, and be evaluated solely on the benefit to the Philippines and the Filipino people, not just the road users. 

This doesn’t mean I’m entirely against it either. I’m just concerned, as some urban planners and environmentalists are, as to whether this is really the best use of space and funds to solve a problem like Manila, and whether all other options have been considered. 

To answer this, I invited renowned urban planner and landscape architect, Paulo Alcazaren, to guest on my weekly podcast, Tito’clock, to share his professional concerns regarding the project. And just to be fair, as I was unable to get RSA on the show on such short notice, I chose to play his advocate using his published rebuttals to some of the news that has been circulating around the PAREX project. 

I chose to keep the discussion simple. There has been already too much confusion and fake news circulating––a lot of which is politically motivated––so I tried to just break it down into 3 issues: effect on traffic, effect on the environment (including the visual  and social impact) and a possible alternative. 

On the environmental impact, the main concerns of Mr. Alcazaren is that Metro Manila already lacks open green spaces. The priority should be to claim some of these spaces back, and the PAREX, with all its good intentions, only takes what little we have left away. So even if it is argued that the PAREX doesn’t add any more burden to nature and society, at best, it does nothing to reduce it either. 

RSA has made his position here clear in an article published in, of which I quote “Pasig River has long been considered biologically dead and has been reduced to a flowing dumpsite for solid waste, industrial and chemical wastes, and sewage. SMC will be mounting the largest river clean-up and rehabilitation effort for the Pasig River, at a cost of P2 billion initially, to extract at least 3 million metric tons of solid waste from the river to allow it to channel floodwaters more effectively.”

So as you can see, both are correct in identifying the problem here. They only differ in their opinions of how to solve it.

On the effect it will have on traffic, Architect Alcazaren and I both share the same concern of induced demand. I’ve personally been extremely supportive of all the latest road projects of the DPWH and SMC, including the extremely helpful Skyway 3, but that is only because these roads connect cities or decongest them by providing an alternative route to bypass the main arterial roads to go out of the city. The PAREX, by its very design, is an internal road project that circulates the traffic within the same area. That might be fine when you are driving on the PAREX, but because it still starts and ends within Metro Manila, as soon as you exit, you will  only be increasing density and volume at the convergence points. It is no different in concept to managing your weight issues by buying a bigger belt.

Mr. Ang disagrees, and assures us, as well as those with similar concerns, that “It is not expressways that induce people to buy more cars. It is poor or insufficient public transportation, pollution, and even personal progress of people. The number of vehicles will continue to rise with or without PAREX. Traffic and pollution will worsen if we do not build efficient, multi-purpose, future-ready infrastructure such as the PAREX.” He also assured us that it will incorporate bicycle lanes and pedestrian areas, to provide a safer environment for people to use alternative ways of getting from one place to another.

On this point, Mr Alcazaren agrees. At least with the first part. Better public transportation infrastructure is the answer to decongesting any mega city, and praises SMC for their MRT 7 efforts, but disagrees that the PAREX is the solution to this problem and encourages SMC to use the massive budget allocated toward the PAREX to create more mass rapid transportation projects instead. He would also like to see the detailed finalized plans for the BRT and bike lanes before he changes his position, and not just a statement, to which Mr. Ang replied with “All valid concerns will also be addressed during the Detailed Engineering Design development phase for the project.” 

And finally, for the alternative. Mr Alcazaren has suggested that for 1.5% of the proposed budget allocated for PAREX, this can build parks, walkways, open green spaces for the city and its people to breathe, and rehabilitate the banks of the Pasig River to allow life to flourish around it––similar to what he achieved in Iloilo, with their world class and esplanade and bike lane network. 

This of course doesn’t have a business model around it, so one can’t exactly blame SMC, a publicly listed company with a responsibility to shareholders, for not seeing the value in the proposal. But Mr Acazaren argues that when quality of life is improved and the movement of people is prioritized over the movement of cars, then the economy flourishes as a result. Not the most attractive business proposition for a private corporation, I agree, but that’s precisely why we have a government––to balance out the well being of its citizenry without the capitalist pressure. You know, just like how Iloilo did.