(Second of two parts)
The hosting of the 2017 Asean summit culminated the Philippines’ chairmanship of the regional bloc and the idea of using another former US military base – Clark – had its merits.
Clark International Airport would be able to take the capacity strain and prevent disruptions to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) schedules. Alas, Clark’s lodgings and convention facilities were insufficient and even if nearby Subic – with its own airport – were to deploy all its new lodging facilities and prepped older disused hotels, everything would still not be good enough for country delegations, many of whom preferred Manila.
Logistical and security nightmare
This resulted in a security nightmare, requiring the transport of VIP convoys 90 kilometers from Clark to the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) venue along Manila Bay. Measures such as sufficient security “headroom” and “tail-room” had to be maintained on the Subic-Clark-Tarlac (SCTEX) and North Luzon (NLEX) expressways, and on EDSA with its exclusive Asean lanes using the stop-go technique implemented in 2015.
This meant preventing all civilian traffic from joining the roadway five minutes before the passage of the VIP convoy and up to five minutes after – a must and a non-negotiable for the security officials managing traffic on the two Asean lanes on EDSA that were again cordoned off by bollards and cones.
Alternative routes like Mindanao/Luzon Avenue-Katipunan-C-5 and MacArthur, Monumento-Rizal Avenue to Roxas Boulevard are narrower than EDSA and have areas surrounded by buildings where terrorists can hide. The risk of parallel moving traffic with hostile intent, whether on two or four wheels, needed be avoided along with the risk of blockades, truck bombs and parked cars laden with explosives and mines.
EDSA with two median lanes cordoned off was the best that could be had and this strategy will most likely be carried through for the next summit even when the Skyway Stage 3 and NLEX-South Luzon expressway connector take the place of EDSA as the next VIP-exclusive highway.
Many entries, one exit
With all the givens above, there is one thing that the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group and the Transportation department should pay attention to: going back to allowing private car use of the VIP lanes whenever there are no VIP convoys expected. This despite the main complaint of traffic authorities in 2015, which was the difficulty in clearing the non-VIP vehicles that were allowed to use the APEC lanes in between VIP convoys.
It is still the most viable solution. To prevent private cars from choosing to exit the Asean lanes in the vicinity of the EDSA flyovers and underpasses, traffic authorities should have restricted them to entering the Asean lanes at select points and only exit at Balintawak northbound. For those southbound, the only exits that should have been allowed would be in Makati and Mall of Asia in Pasay City – the same exits used by VIP convoys.
If private vehicles had been intermittently allowed access on Saturday (November 11) Merville to NLEX wouldn’t have taken five hours and the former beauty queen who claimed to have needed a bathroom break wouldn’t have taken matters into her own hands.
We can understand why the traffic manager on the ground just totally closed the Asean lanes because he feared having to negotiate with every motorist who had to be quickly expelled as VIP convoys approached. In order to implement the stop/go strategy with full through road access to the VIP lanes at certain times, enforcers would have needed some kind of “eye-in-the-sky” surveillance linked to the video wall at the MMDA traffic control headquarters. The “eye-in-the-sky” must have a panoramic view of the VIP lanes end-to-end so that enforcers on the ground can be told when to stop the entry of non-summit private traffic.
Something like this can be accomplished using the NLEX traffic monitoring “video wall” which, if the authorities are reading this, would have prevented the day one “carmageddon” of November 11. Lastly, if the government is intent on closing VIP lanes to private traffic, announcements should be made a full 36 hours before the first VIP convoy passes instead of just a four-hour notice. This should give the undecided enough time to settle plans to exit the metropolis.
Think now of alternatives
There are many other solutions and suggestions but almost none will adequately satisfy the all-important requirement of ensuring VIP security. Exclusive lanes as walled by bollards are it, for now, so we should manage the resulting traffic by allowing private vehicles in only if they go “all-the-way or no way.”
But for the not-so-distant future, the government should already decide if another convention center of PICC size and stature is needed, either in Subic or Clark or even both. This should be coupled with a program to enhance and expand all lodging facilities to world-class quality in both former US military bases.
The Subic airport has plenty of life left in it and it should play a primary or intermediate role in hosting international guests, with the SCTEX used a scenic shuttle route for the VIP convoys. All future summits should be held in Subic and/or Clark the way Vietnam hosted APEC in Danang, also a giant ex-US base.
Tito F. HERMOSO is Autoindustriya’s INSIDE MAN
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