The Heart of Metro Manila, and all other NCR's "Sub-Regions"

"Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things." - Waldo Tobler, First Law of Geography

It is making rounds on social media nowadays. There is this talk on where "North" people can meet "South" people halfway? With the traffic jams and the sub-par conditions of metropolitan public transport system nowadays, saving time and energy is of utmost importance. Pupunta ka at makikipagmeet sa friends mo na mukha ka nang Haggardo Verzosa?

Now, people are arguing where at National Capital Region, or Metropolitan Manila, is really the center of it all? There is no one answer, except perhaps if it is the "geographical center" center itself--which is a small point in the middle of the city of 11 million (20 million if we include the rest of Greater Manila area). So, here we go. Let's just try to answer, but we are not guaranteeing 101% assurance that it is. Your discretion still.

I have longed to write about the "regionalization" of Metropolitan Manila, as I myself experience such. I find the North different from the South that I am used to. It felt that it is a league of its own, a world of its own. "Ang layo ng CUBAO sa Cavite, nak'nang!"

Geographical Centroid

The nerd in me kicked in when I read this fuzz on social media. If we look on the map of Metro Manila, the centermost cities that we can discern would be San Juan City and Mandaluyong City. If getting there is like flying on a straight line, these cities are right at the heart of the metropolis.

I was not contended with it. We run through a process in QGIS in determining the Centroid of Metropolitan Manila using data from PhilGIS (WGS 84) with the polygons (cities) merged as one shape. Run through Vector > Geometry Tools > Centroid, and it gave out the "geographical center of Metro Manila":

14° 36' 3.85" North, 121° 2' 0.78" East

The lucky winner for this "sino ang nasa pusod ng Kamaynilaan" goes to The Historic City of San Juan. The lucky barangay is Santa Lucia.

That's near Little Baguio and Onse--kung saan maraming naliligaw kapag tumatakas sa trapik ng EDSA pag rush hour through those Mabuhay Lanes because of those winding roads!

Of course, I cannot say I am 100% correct as there may be discrepancies such as the borders, shape, etc. (GIS mavens and folks, please do correct me if I'm wrong and how we can improve the data). However, let us put up a margin of error of around 200-300 meters for the sake of this argument alone-- San Juan City area is the heart of Metro Manila.

Yehey! We have the answer, but wait...there's more! Before you conclude your meet up somewhere in Wilson Street on in Greenhills para mamakyaw ng cellphone, we need to consider several factors as to why people tried to look for "the most central" in Metro Manila.

Going here will take several rides if you are coming either from the sprawls of the north, south, or even Makati. Since it is so deep inside San Juan, taxis, habal-habal (through Angkas), jeepney through Kalentong Mandaluyong or TNVS (like Grab) are the best possible transport that you can get when you decide to go to Wilson in Greenhills. Good restaurants there, but not really the best when it comes to meeting up if you do not have a car, or geographically-challenged with all those winding roads there.

If we make this as a serious study, JICA or whatever grant-giving body should start funding researchers and make a study of it. Because, the borders and the geographical center is not the sole factor of its "centerness."

The Districts of Metropolitan Manila

There are Metro Manila "Districts" that divide the National Capital Region into 4 areas: 
  1. First District (Manila); 
  2. Second District (Quezon City/QC, Pasig, Marikina, San Juan, and Mandaluyong); 
  3. Third District or popularly called "Camanava": (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela), and 
  4. Fourth District (Pasay, Makati, Taguig, Pateros, Muntinlupa, Paranaque, and Las Pinas). 
The district "capitals" are the four original cities of NCR: Manila, QC, Caloocan, and Pasay. These do not have administrative powers, just clustering the cities and a town.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) in the Metro divides its jurisdictions as "police districts." While there are four districts, PNP has five (5) namely:
  1. Eastern Police District: Second District minus Quezon City
  2. Manila Police District: First District
  3. Northern Police District: Camanava/Third District
  4. Southern Police District: Fourth District
  5. Quezon City Police District
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-NCR) also has similar divisions in these districts.

These districts facilitate a more efficient coordination between the areas.

However, the expansion and changes in the urban areas have somehow affected this "regionalization." Just a few months ago, it has become a hotly contested discussion on the internet on where the Northerners and Southerners should meet. The South is said to be characterized by laidback suburban charms with heavy traffic gridlock, while the North is mostly industrialized and have wider roads. The East...known for the river that runs through it and the seasonal flooding. EDSA CBDs (Makati, BGC, Ortigas) has become the new "Central Manila," while Manila is just being herself--Manila.

The Greater Manila Area "Regions"

The expansion of urban areas beyond NCR has added new "regions." Formerly called "Mga Lalawigan," it has become part of the Greater Manila Area (GMA) and has included the neighboring provinces of Cavite and Laguna of the "Far South," Rizal of the "Far East," and Bulacan of the "Far-view and beyond the North."

The urban conglomeration has expanded beyond NCR's borders and spilled over to the "suburbs." 

City of Manila WAS the Center

Before they created what we know now as Metro Manila, or National Capital Region, the City of Manila, or Lungsod ng Maynila was THE center of it all--political administration, economy, and urban Philippines.

If we notice, roads radiate away from the City of Manila from Intramuros, Ermita, Binondo, Santa Cruz, and Quiapo. Back at the Spanish Colonial Times, the economy, the religious prowess, and the colonial power was centered in Intramuros--particularly in that small space we call now as Plaza Roma. In compliance with Ley de las Indias, edifices of authority such as the town hall, the church and the convent should be the center of the city. In the case of Manila, Plaza Roma was not at the geographic center of Intramuros--it is placed a bit north. The heart of Intramuros might have been somewhere near San Agustin Church and Casa Manila area.

Metropolitan Manila radiates away from Manila. Historic Manila refers to Intramuros alone during the Spanish colonial era. However, the suburbs called arabales (such as Malate, Binondo, Santa Cruz, Ermita, Tondo, etc.), have been integrated with Manila in the early days of the American colonial era and became City of Manila as we know now. In 1970's, the rapid urbanization of towns surrounding Manila made up what we now know as the National Capital Region, or NCR.

As urbanization turned a rapid pace when the American Colonial administration laid out plans of the city beyond the Walls--with wide avenues, promenades, and civic buildings reminiscent of the "City Beautiful Movement" in the West. Then came the War.

The War was not enough to keep Manila from expanding. The urban area grew out from its borders and into the once suburbs like Pasay, Caloocan, and San Juan. The Government was laying plans to have a new capital city up north, which would become Quezon City, or Kyusi.

In 1975, Metro Manila was established, which gobbled up most towns of Western Rizal Province and a bit from Bulacan (Valenzuela), creating the 16 cities and 1 town that we know today. Manila no longer is the geographic center, but the roads emanate and surround it, and so is its urbanization.

Back then, Manila was the place to meet up, like Luneta or Escolta. The LRT that was constructed back in the 1980's sees Plaza Lawton area as the center of it all--the hub, since Padre Burgos branches out to virtually almost any other place in the metro, hence Central Terminal was constructed there.

It remained as such until newer central business districts and hang out places were established outside of it. Ngayon, ang effort-effort pumunta ng Maynila. Makati, Ortigas, and Bonifacio Global City (BGC) takes precedence as the "new centers" of the metropolis, while Manila became its own distinct CBD.


Now, let's just say one jowa is from Fairview (specifically SM Fairview area) and the other came from Alabang (Festival Mall-Starmall area). Where is the midpoint of these star-crossed lovers?

The distance between SM Fairview and Starmall Alabang is around 43 kilometers (via Commonwealth-East Ave-EDSA-SLEX). Assuming that the traffic is light and these two have their own cars, where is their halfway and where would they meet up? The half of 43 kilometers is 21.5 kilometers, but let us give some 1 kilometer margin for both.

21-22 kilometers from SM Fairview is SM Megamall, Shangrila, Robinsons, and Ortigas

21-22 kilometers from Starmall Alabang is SM Megamall, Shangrila, Robinsons, and Ortigas;

Therefore, huwag na kayong magtaka why the Ortigas Area of EDSA gets this congested. It is so strategically located between the two distant "planets," and since there is an existing Fairview-Alabang bus lines and they all meet up in EDSA--Ortigas Area it is! 

The middle-point. In these two samples, we used Alabang-Fairview and Quiapo-Masinag Antipolo as parameters. Both have existing public utility vehicle lines with only one ride.


Another case of two friends meeting each other. One is from Quiapo in Manila, the other is from...let's say Maysinag in Antipolo, just a bit from the Metro Manila border in Pasig-Marikina. Now, that is around 17 kilometers and the halfway point is around 8.5 kilometers, where will they meet?

8 kilometers from Quiapo is Cubao
8 kilometers from Maysinag is Cubao

Therefore, Araneta Center and Gateway in Cubao gets this round.

So, Saan nga Magkikita?

Again, there are several factors affecting the "centrality" of meet up, and accessibility is by far the biggest, then followed by travel time and convenience too. Traveling in Metro Manila is not a simple straight line, but how accessible the place is.

Going back to our answer earlier, there is no one answer for it. It still depends on where are you coming from and how accessible is to your place and how far are you for each other. The middle-point is relative based on either spatial (kilome-kilometrong layo) or temporal (tagal ng biyahe) distances.

For example, while Bonifacio Global City in Taguig may be near Cavite, but going there is tedious due to its limited accessibility and a struggling public transportation system. It's around 2-3 rides from Aguinaldo Highway corridor, and the traffic at Kalayaan Avenue or McKinley makes going to BGC very time consuming. Good thing BGC Buses are not like the EDSA Buses.

Makati is more accessible to us Cavite residents since there is a main bus line that serves Ayala and the EDSA Corridor, where the Central Business District runs through it. If we are to choose where to meet up, personally, I vouch for Makati for accessibility and traffic congestion reasons.

Another example is if we choose Makati over Manila on travel time. While Makati (around 20km) is closer to Cavite, but the travel time from Manila (around 25km) to Cavite is a bit shorter than Makati's especially on rush hour comparison.

This debate on social media on where is the central part of Manila has raised questions on why such? For some, it may think it is too mundane to think about it. Maliit na bagay lang naman daw. However, the angst, the reklamo of people going to MOA, going to Ortigas, is a clear manifestation that traveling in Metropolitan Manila is one challenging feat that may take up patience, stamina, and perhaps sanity.

I am still hoping that one day, going to Fairview or Alabang will no longer be considered a "long distance relationship."