The Philippines is said to fall behind when it comes to adopting digital technologies and urged to catch up with its regional neighbors.  But most major Philippine cities have active smart-city projects especially in Manila. The focus of this study are New Clark City and Safe Philippines.

In Manila, proponents of smart urbanism offer solutions to daunting urban problems in the form of remote sensing, artificial intelligence, and digital mass communication. This article puts these proposals into theoretical and historical context and asks what it means to be a “smart city” amid a resurgence of authoritarianism in the Philippines and around the world. By putting the principles of science and technology studies in dialogue with those of critical urban geography, the analysis foregrounds the tensions between the generative potentials of “patuloy na pag-unlad” (continuous development) and the panoptic impulses of authoritarian capitalism.

According to Theriault and Saguin, these smart-city projects will not “reduce inequality, hold policymakers accountable, or otherwise address the root causes of Manila’s problems”. More likely, they will be beneficial to private, often foreign, interests while “enclosing spaces of privilege for the elite, increasing public debt, concentrating power in the hands of tech corporations, and expanding the state’s surveillance capacities”. They conclude that “smart urbanism, with its techno-utopian visions, fits all too comfortably into the mold of authoritarian futurism, a progressivist mask for the ongoing depredations of the past and the spiraling crises of the present”.

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