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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Stress, stress and more stress

It is surprising but also not. In a recent study, Manila emerged as the tenth most stressful city in the world. If you think that’s not so bad, for perspective, war-torn Damascus in Syria is eleventh. Baghdad, Iraq; Kabul, Afghanistan; Lagos, Nigeria; Dakar, Senegal; and Cairo, Egypt make up the top five. A big chunk of the least stressful cities is in Europe, with four German cities in the top ten.

The study by UK-based dry-cleaning and laundry service Zipjet assessed the usual indicators: traffic levels, public transport, percentage of green spaces, but also the financial status of citizens including debt levels, their physical and mental health, and the hours of sunlight the city gets per year.

For many residents of Metro Manila, the study merely revealed something they already know. Stress is not a possibility in the capital; it is a promise. Last Friday saw the usual perfect storm of weekend and payday, and an untold number of people again spent a big portion of their evening trapped in their vehicles or, worse, on stalled MRT coaches.

Lately, the stress does not just come from traffic and notoriously unreliable public transport. The barrage of political scandals, while nothing new, seems to have shifted into high gear (perhaps aggravated by the rapid pace at which they spread due to social media). One of the highlights: the threat of a nationwide imposition of Martial Law in time for its 45th anniversary on Thursday, Sept. 1.

For those who know their history, it was a matter of déjà vu: a sitting president facing a slew of scandals, protest actions left and right, and communist-led unrest as the ultimate motivation.

That the Duterte administration is particularly friendly to the Marcoses does not allay such fears. After all, one of the President’s campaign promises was the burial of the late dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, which eventually took place amid widespread condemnation. He also dangled the possibility of giving immunity to the Marcoses on the condition that they return a portion of their ill-gotten wealth.

Talk about stress. All these come in the heels of, if not simultaneously with, the threat of Marawi crisis and Martial Law in Mindanao, which some feared would spread outside the embattled city; the huge hullaballoo about the proposed P1,000 budget for the Commission on Human Rights, which many see as retaliation for the agency’s obstruction in the government and police’s bloody war on drugs.

Other things: the multi-billion peso shabu shipment that nearly passed through the Bureau of Customs, climate change and weather disturbances in the US, the threat of more taxes to fund Duterte’s ambitious infrastructure program, North Korea’s increasingly unpredictable behavior, etc., etc.

“Parang wala nang gobyerno,” remarked a particularly perceptive Uber driver.

Indeed, this combination of worsening urban life in Metro Manila in addition to the incessant political scandals results in stressful living. The repercussions is not only bad for one’s health but can have consequences even in areas like productivity and political stability.

Going back to the study, models that can create a stress-free environment include carving green spaces and having a strong local economy in the case of top-ranked Stuttgart, the home of car companies Porsche, Bosch, and Mercedes-Benz; maintaining a reliable public transport system in the cases of Singapore and Taipei; and increasing Family Purchasing Power, which balances average household salaries with the cost of living. Munich, Luxembourg, and Sydney emerged as the top in this category.

In the case of Manila, this obviously requires reconfiguring the city’s infrastructure and mode of development, a drastic rethinking of the public transportation structure, in particular, a time efficient bus system that shifts from a multi-franchise to a zonal monopoly to eliminate the “colorums” and chaotic contest for passengers in every bus stop. If government is successful in building a metro-wide mass transport solution, the jeepney problem will slowly disappear as the riding public shifts to a more convenient way to get around the city.

The developing cities in the regions must learn from the bad lessons of Metro Manila and tap the expertise of urban planners on a holistic master plan that would benefit many generations. They have the opportunity of becoming the new models of urban development and will create new potentials for growth and prosperity. A reverse exodus of workers to new jobs in the regions will greatly ease the congestion in the megapolis.

How to remedy the flurry of scandals besieging the administration? That may be a topic for another time. I just hope that all these stress points don’t climax to another destabilizing event—a situation not good for all of us.

In the meantime, try to stay cool and find a happy way to release your stress.

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