Urban decay threatens hot Philippine economy

Urban decay threatens hot Philippine economy

MANILA - Manila's creaking train network means a miserable three-hour work commute for salesman Gerard Galang - just one example of major infrastructure woes that analysts say threaten to cool the Philippines' red-hot economy.

Peak-hour hell comes in many forms in the city of 12 million people, with commuters experiencing a sweaty, stinky crush on dilapidated trains and giant queues to buy tickets.

"I pity myself and my fellow commuters but I don't have any other option than the train," said Galang, 29, who inhales antiseptic rubbed on to his hands to help negate the stench on the train.

"It gets so crowded our faces get pressed against each other and on doors and windows." Galang spends three hours commuting to work every day, half of which is spent in queues.

For other commuters on buses or in cars, daily gridlock worsens to a complete standstill that can trap people for hours when even small rain storms trigger flash floods.

The Philippine economy has in recent years shed its reputation as one of Asia's laggards, with growth of 6.4 per cent in the second quarter maintaining its status as the region's best performing after China.

The country also recently gained its first investment grade scores from the big three global credit rating agencies.

Urban decay

Infrastructure development, however, hasn't moved at the same pace, and economists warn the creaking systems that are of so much frustration to millions of people will also have a growing impact on economic growth.

"Our facilities are not built for an economy that is growing at seven per cent every year," Ronald Mendoza, a senior economist at the Asian Institute of Management, in Manila told AFP.

Mendoza said growth could have been faster had it not been for the ageing airports and road networks that turn off foreign investors and tourists, and limit the movement of local trade.

Manila already loses 2.4 billion pesos (S$228 million) in potential income daily due to traffic jams, according to a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Among the other infrastructure problems are power shortages that lead to brownouts, clogged drainage that exacerbate frequent rainy season floods and an Internet network so slow that it sparked a parliamentary enquiry.

Millions of people in slums, and even some residents of middle class districts, do not have access to running water.

And Manila's decades-old international airport, with malfunctioning air conditioning and leaking toilets, has been cited by a travel website as the worst in the world.

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