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BENJAMIN DE LA PENA | No, Mareng Winnie, Metro Manila is not the 'paborito'; it is the 'tagasalo' means BUSINESS

Benjamin de la Peña currently serves as the director of community and national strategy for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @benjiedlp

This is going to be a two-part op-ed on funding mass transportation in Metro Manila.

This first one starts as a love letter to my sisters. Trust me that my family's story has everything to do with the MRT/LRT fare increase and the role of Metro Manila in the national economy.

The Love Letter

I am the bunso of my family, the youngest of six siblings. The bunso is chided as the baby, usually indulged by parents, often also the paborito. My brothers and sisters might agree but I didn't feel so favored since I had to follow orders not just from my parents, but also from my five older siblings.

My late parents had their hands full raising six kids. Ben Sr. was a UCCP pastor and pastors are not paid very well. My late mother, Purita Carmen, who was and will always be the model of what a good "pastor's wife" was expected to be, was amazing. She scrimped and saved and managed a household of eight. I still cannot imagine how she was able to put healthy food on the table and do laundry (by hand!) for all of us, week in and week out. All the while she showed us what it meant to live a life of faith and faithfulness. We all turned out well, I think.

My parents would not have been able to do this had it not been for my sisters. My eldest sister, Ate Ching, second of the brood, and my middle sister, Ate Emma, were my family's tagasalo.

Dr. Lourdes "Honey" Carandang first called attention to the role of the tagasalo in large Filipino families. Literally "catcher" or "burden bearer," the tagasalo is the child who takes on parental burdens. They set aside their own needs to help support the family. Often they share the costs of sending the younger kids to school. The tagasalo is usually the eldest daughter; strangely, rarely the eldest son.

True to form, my Ate Ching spent her 20s and 30s earning a paycheck to for the rest of us. She waited till her 40s before starting her own family.

My Ate Emma, despite having her own kids to raise, housed both of my ailing parents. She also opened her home to my nephew and niece when my brother and sister-in-law passed on. She welcomed the children of our closest cousins when they relocated to Metro Manila. She still hosts our family's holiday gatherings.

I don't think I have ever adequately thanked my sisters for taking on these burdens and seeing to our family's welfare all these years. They did it with joy and without complaint.  (Ate Ching and Ate Emma, I could not thank you enough.  I would not be where I am today without your sacrifices.)

Metro Manila and her siblings

So, what does this all have to do with the transportation? Last week, Mareng Winnie Monsod, who was my economics professor in UP Diliman and whom I hold in the highest, highest esteem, wrote about the MRT and LRT fare increase in a piece called "Metro Manilans are the favored offspring".

Just to be clear, I agree with Prof. Monsod that we need to increase the fares for our mass rapid transit. I disagree with the scale, the timing and the way it was done by DOTC. We also need to think about the transportation system as a whole when we talk about the right fares or level of subsidy. (I'll tackle all that Part 2 of this article.)

Let's focus instead on Prof. Monsod's title, which also happens to be her conclusion. Mareng Winnie echoes others who think that "Imperial Manila" takes resources better used elsewhere. She asks, "Why should Metro Manilans and their transport expenses be subsidized, at the expense of the rest of the Filipino people? What is so special about us, that we expect the government to shell out P12 billion a year for the rail transit passengers?"

Are Metro Manilans the paborito? Does the rest of the country pay for the megacity?

No. The opposite is true. If we tally it all up, what we see is a net outflow of resources from Metro Manila to the rest of the country. Our megacity pays for itself and also pays for her siblings.

Cities are the economic engines of the world, producing up to 70 percent of global GDP. Consider Greater Tokyo, the granddaddy of all megacities with a population of 36 million. Tokyo is also the world's richest city with a GDP of $1.479 trillion (PPP) representing 31 percent of national output of Japan, the world's third largest economy. And yet, Tokyo takes up little more than 3 percent of Japan's total land area. Tokyo's output helps to pay for the extensive, high-grade infrastructure that the rest of Japan enjoys.

This is par for the course for big cities and their home countries. Paris, Mumbai, Jakarta, London, Seoul, Sao Paolo, Mexico City - all of the world's major cities take up only two to three percent of their country's land but produce 20, 30 sometimes even 40 percent of their national GDP.

Metro Manila is right up there, occupying just 3 percent of our land but producing more than a third of our national output. Our megacity's share of the GDP in 2013 was 37.2 percent. That's P4.29 trillion out of P11.549 trillion (figures from

Because of their massive productivity, cities pretty much pay for more than their fair share of national investments. Any which way you cut it­ - whether it's tax receipts vs. government spending, GDP vs. government investment, per capita income vs. per capita spending - you will get a net outflow of resources from the big city to the rural areas, from Metro Manila to the provinces.

Metro Manila does not suck up the country's resources. Like her sister megacities, our metropolis actually pays for a part of every school building, every barangay hall, every farm-to-market road and every roll-on-roll-off port we build in the rest of country and more. (And I'm not even counting the flow of money from in-country migrants who work in the NCR and send money home to the province.)

Contrary to what Mareng Winnie says, Metro Manila is not the paborito. She is the tagasalo. That is the way it is, and it is not a bad thing at all.

Part 2: Why should we pay for, and subsidize, transportation in 'Imperial Manila'?