Manila: A panel has been formed at the House of Representatives that will look into the possibility of relocating the seat of national government — Metro Manila — in a bid to decongest the capital metropolis.

“Overpopulation, traffic congestion and high vulnerability to natural disasters have made Metro Manila or the National Capital Region (NCR) a pariah among world cities. There is a need to rethink and develop a masterplan that will decongest Metro Manila,” Representative Alfred Benitez, chair of the House Committee on housing and urban development said.

Benitez (3rd District, Negros Occidental), authored House Bill 83, that calls for the creating of a technical working group (TWG) that would study the proposal to create an administrative capital city planning commission (ACCPC) which will have the task of looking into the possibility of relocating the capital and seat of government to decongest Metro Manila.

Other than this, the ACCPC will also study the feasibility of building in-city mass housing projects for informal settler families (ISFs).

Based on data provided by the Philippine Statistics Authority, Metro Manila is one of the densest populated areas in the world. As of 2010, it is home to 11.9 million people. This figure is expected to have increased sharply.

“Out of the 1.5 million ISFs in the country, nearly 600,000 are found in Metro Manila. The off-city government programmes for the ISFs failed because many of those which have been relocated have returned to the national capital region as their relocation sites are far from their source of income,” said Benitez.

Avelino Tolentino III Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) assistant secretary, said they support the mass-housing proposal and suggested that to make the housing project more affordable, government lands should be converted into housing sites.

According to Avelino, this could be cheaper in the long run for the government which will still own the lands. Relocation, meanwhile, entails spending money to relocate to far-flung areas the ISFs, who, however, end up returning to the NCR due to the unavailability of basic services in the new housing sites.

Avelino said that by allowing the free use of government lands, tenants will only pay a small amount for the investment the government will spend in constructing the housing building and for its maintenance.

Benitez said under HB 83, the proposed transfer of the capital and seat of government is also an attempt to decongest Metro Manila. He cited several countries where relocated seats of government have flourished such as in Korea, Malaysia and Brazil. Another example is Quezon City where a lot of government offices were moved because of the need to decongest Manila then.

“If we have done it before because we wanted to decongest Manila, then the same reasoning applies, that we could move our administrative offices out of Metro Manila,” Benitez stressed. Manila, the historical capital, has been the recognised centre of political and administrative authority since the period when the country was still a colony of Spain.