God is soooooooooo good. Although I really wanted to be in the list of finalists, being part of the best 200 essays in an international essay competition kung saan ang mga participants ay umabot sa 3000 is enough for me to feel happy. 🙂 Here’s the essay, alam ko may mga flaws pa talaga. Dun sa mga nagrequest na mabasa, ito na po. 🙂 Salamat talaga kay God for this, super saya hahahahaha at sa mga naging msaya for me. By the way, ito yung list ng authors ng best 200 essays kung saan sampo ay mula sa ating bansa ksama na truly yours. hehe:




Toward Becoming a City of Dreams

Aaron Laylo

Comprising more than 30% of the Philippines’ total population, Manila (metropolitan area) is considered home by millions of Filipinos who regard it as the city of their dreams. It may be my home but it has never been “the city of my dreams” or maybe, has not yet.

I was born in Quezon City, a Manila suburb, to a father raised in Tondo, a Manila district and to a mother who grew up in a province miles away southeast of the metropolis. They met and settled in the city with hopes of building a family that is entrenched in an urban setting where the primary social necessities such as good education, job and career opportunities, healthcare, social security and others are concentrated. For 22 years now, I can say that it has been satisfactorily reached. Perhaps, I really can’t consider my city as a social playground but every time I explore Manila, its unique charm reflected by its lively and cheerful people, and rich history and culture, catches my attention; with a happy smile yet followed by a poignant emotion as I reflect on the reality behind this rugged charm – the poverty that clings with it. Taking a closer look at the city’s physical disorder and congestion as well as the social structural mazes may bring someone to the realization that Manila really needs concrete and appropriate programs so it can somehow release itself from the persistent problems where it got trapped and still struggle to face and fight against for decades and subsequently, sprint towards progress. It sounds too ideal but surely viable.


A city of their dreams

About two or three summers ago, I got involved in our church’s counseling, feeding and evangelism program. As God put that desire in my heart to reach out to these less-privileged people in our community, I heed the call and took part by teaching the village’s children who were really excited in learning from our educational sessions and bible studies every weekend. I and my fellow volunteers could see how they rush in line to be given a cupful of porridge and some candies. As the Daily Vacation Bible School neared the end of its season, I felt like my little immersion was indeed a fulfillment. By imparting them a little of my available time, talent and teaching skills, they felt joy.

During our breaks, I would talk to some malnourished children and ask about their experiences while living in poor communities. One kid told me that he goes to school wearing slippers instead of shoes; he wears his third grade shorts when at his level, they’re supposed to wear pants. He just told me, “Kuya, kailangan pumasok eh” (older brother, I have to study). I understand that these young kids prefer playing than studying but I also see how their parents give value to education that despite their poverty, they push on to their dream of finishing their studies. Other stories from the kids tell of their parents’ sickness in bed so they have to sell plastics or man in the market stalls to earn a paltry sum of P50 per day, on average. They would then use the money to buy a pack of noodles or a can of sardines to be shared by about 10 members of the family. These simple stories testify of the most challenging giants people face, living as urban poor: health, education, livelihood, shelter, and security. Of course, they wish to ride on nice bicycles (not even cars) along smooth roads in their village; to buy new clothes and at least a pair of shoes to be used for three years; to live in comfortable houses with ceilings that do not seem showerheads when it rains; tanaw ng mga musmos mula sa mga baitangto see parents who do not have tuberculosis because of non-stop work and an older sibling who is employed in a good company even as a clerk or messenger; and other dreams they cherished in their hearts before they moved to the city. Their malnourished bodies mirror the poverty they face everyday. These young bodies are witnesses to the sad reality that is Manila. Painful but they endure it. They’re tired of it but they persevere. But how long shall they wait to see the city of their dreams?

I have thought of Manila’s five major interconnected problems that are manifested in the children’s tale of poverty in their young lives. These challenges need efficient management in order to pave the road towards city progress. These are not enumerated and detailed by order of significance and prioritization as each deserves equal attention from those concerned and sincere in facing these challenges.



The Challenges

Pollution, Health, and Sanitation

I ride a jeep (Manila’s main public transport vehicle) almost everyday when I go to school and to my part-time work. Unlike buses, jeeps do not have air-conditioners so smoke gets into the open windows. Passengers like me have no option but to just cover our noses so we could not breathe carbon emissions. Environmental pollution has put the city at its own health risks.

Manila’s less privileged citizens are at the axis of environmental perils as they are the ones who are extremely exposed to air, water and land pollutions. Destitute families and neighborhoods, living in the periphery of the metropolis where many factories operate, inhale large measure of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. Because their shanties are placed along public highways, they directly absorb carbon dirt from public vehicles. Low quality fuel and inefficient methods of energy production and others all add to the aggravation of air pollution in urban areas especially in manufacturing and industrial clusters.

The World Resources Institute reports that millions of children living in the world’s largest cities, particularly in developing countries, are exposed to life-threatening air pollution two to eight times above the maximum WHO guidelines.[i] In mega-cities like Manila, approximately 20 to 30 percent of respiratory sicknesses are caused by air pollution. The damage to human health caused not only by air emissions but also solid waste, is the highest among all the costs of urban environmental degradation. Health costs in major Asian cities now reach 15 to 18 percent of urban income.[ii] Manila,definitely, is an unhealthy place to live.

Payatas is a small community that may be considered one of the most uncomfortable places in the metropolis. It used to be the dumpsite of all kinds of trashes – from mere plastics and bottles to discarded medical and chemical products – all from Metro Manila. Worse, the materials are mixed all together without any form of segregation and separation schemes. In the absence of proper solid waste management, hazardous chemicals spill and leak into groundwater and water pipes which then causes families to suffer from water-related diseases diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, and malaria.

Besides groundwater pollution, water quality in four major rivers in Metro Manila region has also deteriorated over time, with increasing biological oxygen demand and decreasing dissolved oxygen levels. Indiscriminate dumping of raw sewage has been identified as the main cause of degradation.[iii]


Education and Employment

My parents always tell us, their beloved children, that the only inheritance that they can give to us is education. Filipino families, rich and poor alike, put great value to this privilege. For the poor, education is a means to get a good job and thus escape poverty and deprivation, so many poor families work hard to get at least one child through high school and some college. But educational gaps between poor and non-poor families persist, in terms of children’s access to schools of good quality and other inputs, as well as in terms of outcomes.[iv]

Manila is dubbed as the educational capital of the Philippines. But how could a center of education represent a country with low proficiency test results in international tests and whose institutions of learning and scholarship lag behind other Asian cities’ top profile universities and colleges. In short, from primary to tertiary levels, there is low competence when it comes to education, even in the “educational center” of the Philippines.

Low budget allocations by the government may be one of the major reasons. In recent years, the national government appropriated minimal allocations and funds for education. In my university, the heavy burden is placed upon the shoulders of students who now have to pay 300% higher tuition and miscellaneous fees compared to what I used to spend two years ago. This is the setting in a supposedly “public university.” Thank God, I have a part-time job so I don’t need to ask for allowances from my parents anymore. But if this has been bearable for me, then it must be a heavy burden for other less-privileged students and youths. And if this is the case of tertiary students like me, how worse could it be in the primary and secondary levels – the quality of education, teaching facilities, laboratories, classrooms, teaching materials, and daily allowances? And if this is the case of students enrolled in “good” Manila schools, how worse could it be in the countryside?

In spite of having a city college diploma (which implies better education as Manila is the country’s center of excellence), many Manila graduates are either underemployed or unemployed. It’s hard for an engineering graduate to land a job as a waiter or mechanic. If jobs are getting scarce because of lesser companies (due to low-investment trends and deficits) and employment sectors with very high standards, then it is expectable to see declining lines in the city’s economy graph since labor is its base.

Housing and Infrastructure Development

Since I was born, our family has always moved from the closest Manila suburb to the farthest district in uptown Manila as rental fees increase after certain periods. As real and rental prices of central districts soar, urban families have no choice but to find cheaper and hopefully safer shelters in the periphery. Thank God, just recently, my mother has availed of affordable housing loans by staggered payment and by this year, we expect to transfer into our new class-B townhouse unit. Unfortunately, our co-tenants still have to pay monthly for renting in a house which can never be theirs.

In spite of the government’s housing and loan projects, many Filipino families in Manila can still not afford of the average housing payments which are already subsidized by the government with foreign and local institutions as lenders. But the burgeoning population in the urban center makes it hard for the lending actors to provide more low cost housing programs. For now, dense townhouses, apartments, and small residential blocks as well as slums and improvised shelters under the fly-over bridges and street corners remain to be the homes of less-privileged urban dwellers.

Besides housing deficiencies, infrastructure development is another challenge that Manila faces. Power supply, water and sanitation, transport networks and telecommunications are all important especially in a city setting where there is supposedly larger development. As the country’s nest of development, it is essential that Manila would be given proper if not equally fine infrastructures as that of neighboring countries.



Manila has already reached the status of megacity defined as a recognized metropolitan area with a total population in excess of 10 million people. As of present, Metro Manila has approximately 11 million people, making it one of the 30 most populous urban centers in the world. It may be something to be glad about considering the possibilities of large GDP and economic growth for the country. But in spite this promising vision, population proliferation and congestion have consequent challenges: the difficulty of living in a dense area, the inconvenience of residing in an increasingly polluted environment, and the limit of resources. The metropolis has at least 17,000 souls per square kilometer. In addition, about 13 to 16 percent of the country’s total population are congested in only about 0.2 percent of the country’s land area.[v] Its density becomes a problem considering the over-crowded population especially in slum communities. Since migrants from the rural countryside move Manila at large numbers every year despite the already congested areas, they resort to just residing in squatter communities. As a result, health risks would definitely become another problem. As in most cases, denser communities suffer constant disease break out because virus spread quickly in these tight communities living in an unhealthy environment. They also have to limit themselves and share proportionally in utilizing public land and availing adequate water supply. There is great insufficiency in a very large population.

In “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” Malthus proposed that while resources tend to grow linearly, population grows exponentially. He argued that, if left unrestricted, human populations continue to grow until they would become too large to be supported by the food grown on available agricultural land, causing starvation which then controls population growth.[vi] In the case of Manila, its population has grown too much that resources seem not enough at all for everyone.

Actually, all of the major problem categories discussed above may be rooted from the population problem. Without population explosion, then there might be less pollution as there would be less carbon emissions from vehicles; healthier people with clean sanitation facilities and enough resources; more supplies and materials for educational learning; less pressure on urban housing, less transportation problems, and infrastructure problems. But migration to urban centers has become an inevitable trend. In fact, it may reasonable for rural folks to migrate because there are fewer opportunities in their local places. The missing link lies on the fact that social inequity is still prevalent in the Philippine society as opportunities are disproportionately distributed to citizens in the countryside.


Facing the Giants

I can say that indeed, Manila is facing the usual challenges that thriving megacities also face. In countries like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, annual rates of urban growth are running at more than double the rate of national growth.[vii] This includes the larger geographical scope of growing urbanized regions (urban agglomerates or megalopolis). The Manila-centered region is seen as an area reaching from Dagupan (north) to Batangas (south) at a very extensive reach, encompassing the urbanized regions of Luzon. With such expansive urban area, great challenges must also be expected. A larger territory needs stronger and more efficient governance anchored in the virtues of responsibility and equality. But considering the already existing perennial problems that urban Manila faces, how could its people manage to handle the responsibility of “building more extensive walls”? However, I believe that rather than viewing it in a macroscopic way, it would be better to deal with it in an “area per area” approach.

Rather than being downhearted, one should be compelled to indeed build the city walls. Now, more than ever, working together as a team is the best thing to do in order to pick up the city’s scattered and fallen blocks in an aim to one day see the unfolding of a city of dreams founded in part by the people’s courage to face the noble task of ushering the next generation into a brighter and fresher society. And it all starts with you and me.

As for me, I believe that simple but very essential steps should be done cordially to transform Manila into a city of dreams.

It starts with knowing the problem. Given the above-mentioned challenges, the next important step is to have a bright aspiration. Looking at kids searching for edible goods on heaps of garbage just outside a condominium in a well-off village where I work hits my heart so deeply. It simply strikes me hard. I WANT SOME CHANGE FOR THEM. So I aspire for changes. To make that aspiration possible, one must act sincerely together with his team. Based on my personal experience as a youth, together with my family and friends, getting involved in socio-civic activities sponsored by a church ministry, community youth bodies, school councils, club outreach and other community welfare projects may contribute to the development of a small community. As a city is composed of clusters of communities, then efforts must begin in such areas. Manila’s multi-angular problem is too big when seen at first glance yet as one zooms into the city’s society, he sees that the big rock is only made of tiny dense materials that look hard to break, but surely, possible.

The next step is to set concrete programs and shoot them onto goals. Understanding that Manila is an enormous urban region with great challenges, pertinent measures must be laid down and should also be parallel to the challenges. City and municipal governments within Metro Manila have to construct appropriate and well-designed policies, programs and plans which would be implemented efficiently. Such programs must incorporate all urban development projects and ideas solicited from the national government, civil society and private sectors i.e., from church ministries, business organizations, educators, environment-savers, health representatives, livelihood development clubs, cooperatives, and other sectors – big and small – because they deserve a voice for change, and play significant roles in contributing to urban development and social participation. I and my friends surely belong to at least two or three of these groups and we recognize that working together as one body and fighting against urban poverty can produce good yields for the society at large. Business groups and livelihood development clubs can hold seminars, forums and hands-on activities to draw out hidden skills from people in the communities who are not given enough opportunities to show their capabilities. It would also be helpful to conduct entrepreneurial programs for people with potential business skills and job fairs for the unemployed and underemployed. Environment-protectors may also conduct seminars and activities that educate the public about the importance of environmental sustainability in having a resource-rich and healthy environment. Health representatives may hold medical and dental services as well as seminars informing the public how to protect themselves from common illnesses caused by pollution. Possibilities are always attainable.

Indeed, to sustain the governments’ efforts, citizen participation would be essential and integral in framing new structures. A city, first and foremost is not just a political unit but a social unit as well. A society that works together as one attains political stability and economic growth.

Apparently, three avenues of urban development should be fixed and paved with concrete solutions: politico-administrative, economic and socio-cultural aspects. mga batang grasaIt is politico-administrative in that the goals, policies and programs concerning urban development are the ones followed and implemented by city executive officials in maneuvering the engine of urban growth. This however needs suave implementation and large support from all the sectors of the city. Economically speaking, city resources are concentrated in the business and already well-developed centers leaving the poor in desperate squalor deficient of adequate services and resources. There is an enormous inequality problem in the socio-cultural aspect. Many migrants to the city who are unequipped, unskilled and untrained for available jobs face employment discrimination. Even in the lowest ranks of the labor supply, they suffer from unequal treatment by their employers who highly favor those who graduated in the city. If they’re not given the chances, how can they improve their potential competence in the labor segment of the city’s economic force?


With these hands

Recently, our church, worked together as one strong body to push through a reach-out project in San Jose, a thriving urban community on Manila’s periphery, aiming to render dental and medical services free of charge. Health practitioners and other church volunteers worked cheerfully. Although counseling and evangelism are the main agenda, the villagers especially the children benefited largely from the program. I believe that God truly heard our prayers for them. I felt overwhelmed to belong in a body of concerned and sincere “missionaries” who live up one of the golden rules “Love your neighbor as yourself” manifested in the members’ willingness to give anything they can – be it time, expertise, talents, and finances for the less-privileged. This picture also displays active partnership by the church, health workers and community youth as they, in one accord, worked together to accomplish the mission.

Together with my peers, another feasible action that we can do and impart to our fellow city neighbors is in line with education. Educating young minds may be one of the keys to open up bright new ideas that will shape the city of their dreams. We have been living in Manila for over two decades; yet instead of seeing rapid development, we see how slow the latter has come to transpire in our city through the years. Perhaps, by educating the youth who follow our footsteps, we can take part in rolling a new and grand avenue of fresher ideas, more liberal and more radical perspectives in shaping an urban society. In a way, we serve as facilitators and escorts to the youth and encouraging them to continue whatever efforts have been done already in the past. As for the present, we are here, willing to provide them with our books, educational materials and most of all, time to teach them through tutorial sessions and follow-up activities. The harvest may be less likely seen or incompletely enjoyed by the present generations but will benefit and hopefully be enriched by the succeeding ones.

Two years ago, we had tons of books in our mini-library at home. Last year, they were reduced to less than half when my mom distributed them to our less privileged neighbors. At first, I was a bit disappointed because I highly valued those books. I used them since I was in the first grade and they have great sentimental value. But those materials may be turned into more precious jewels if used by children who really need them. They can hardly buy two notebooks and at least one pen; so wouldn’t it be of their great joy if they get those books for free? After that, I learned to be more open-handed. The joy of giving lightens one’s heart.

About three years ago, I was appointed as a Kagawad (council member) in our community’s Sanguniang Kabataan (village youth organization) which also entitled me of scholarship in a “public” university. I was of course excited to avail of free education. But after some time, when I noticed corruption and mismanagement in this socio-political organization, I decided to leave the position. It slightly discouraged me to see that a supposedly model organization for youths was not performing well in extending assistance and implementing programs spearheaded by the Senior Council. Even the senior officials in the village were inefficient leaders insofar as program implementation is concerned. Instead of pursuing for scholarship via involvement in such organization, I immersed myself in other socio-civic activities sponsored by our church and school. I suppose that’s the real essence of being a scholar – finding means for more sensible involvement for the benefit of the majority. Instead of solely enjoying the privilege of getting educated free of expense, I’d rather share it to more deserving students – the less-privileged.

As “neighbors of our neighbors,” living in the same society, we are indeed responsible for the welfare of each other. Despite the intense pressures tied with the challenges of living in an urban setting, the vision and desire in taking part in the unfolding of a dream must continue to light the torch that will be used to light the way as urban folks walk hand in hand into their new and fresher Manila, a city of their dreams. Perhaps, I should now replace the pronoun their to my as I join this challenging journey so one day, I can also call Manila as the “city of my dreams.”

With these hands, I have decided to continually work with my peers and co-workers in shaping a city where dreams seem not distant at all.


[i] Abhat, Divya, et al. “Cities of the Future” in Green Living (

[ii] World Bank Report 2000

[iii] Department of Environment and Natural Resources – National Capital region Water Quality Management System, 1998 Annual.

[iv] Raising educational outcomes among poor and disadvantaged youths, Education Policy Notes by World Bank Philippines, 2005

[v] Manila Times Special Report, November 11, 2002.

[vi] Malthus, An Essay On The Principle Of Population (1798 1st edition) with A Summary View (1830), and Introduction by Professor Anthony Flew. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-043206-X.

[vii] Laquian. Metropolitan Region Governance: The Global Search for an Area-Wide Solution, 1995




Laylo, Aaron. “Ang Balanse sa Lipunan” in Panibagong Paraan, 2006

Educational Policy Notes from World Bank Phils.

Asian Development Bank Review, 2006

Development Outreach, 2006

Empowering the Poor, 2005

Environment Monitor, 2000

Bautista, Victoria. A Decade of Governance Innovations and Gaps in Poverty Alleviation. UP NCPAG, 2002




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