THE popular consensus across multiple sectors is this. Easing the Metro Manila traffic jams requires draconian solutions and, right now, there are no solutions in sight unless the Department of Transportation (now minus the C part) gets emergency powers to deliver urgent results. On the surface, the DOT, indeed, needs emergency powers to deal with the monster jams once and for all.
A meeting of the country’s top business people in Davao City focused more on the traffic jams than on the discussion of bold and radical solutions to unleash all the unexploited economic potentials of the country. That is how grave the traffic crisis is.
But after a hard, in-depth look, this is what we see about the traffic-centered emergency powers. Let us start with the positive side.
The pesky right-of-way (ROW) problems that have been truly slowing down the pursuit of the major infrastructure projects will cease to be problems. ROW claimants, mostly profiteers leveraging their important land to the hilt, will just have to cease on their greed-driven leveraging and settle for the government-mandated compensation based on a combination of market value and zonal value. Otherwise, the state power of expropriation will be duly and forcefully applied.
Connector roads with a five-year construction timetable will probably be completed in four years. And so with the other skyways/overpasses that aim to link major city roads and the major ports with Balintawak/NLEX. Or the SLEX.
Strict construction deadlines with no allowance for slippages can be imposed on the contractors with the ROW issues solved. The conglomerates that have been undertaking the major projects always resort to the ROW reasoning when questioned on slippages.
After these two, we go into murky territory.
The emergency powers of government cannot be applied on slowing down the ownership of cars and SUVs because car and SUC ownership is a basic, constitutional right that no emergency power declaration can impair. What is available to government is the moderation of car use—the coding scheme based on the ending of the plate number is one—but such issuances can be covered by administrative orders; just routine measures that do not fall within the hard concept of emergency powers.
Issue such orders today and they would be in effect tomorrow.
If the government cannot radically restrain and restrict the use of private vehicles, there is really no reason to go into the deep end and invoke emergency powers. Because it is such vehicles that choke EDSA and the other major metropolitan roads. Private vehicles and no other. The deployment of the HPG on EDSA just validated the sad truth that private cars are at the root of the monster jams.
Car sales are in the 300,000 a year territory and fast increasing. The bulk of the yearly sales goes to Metro Manila. The fact is some 200,000 new cars are deployed into our deplorable road network a year and no one has paid attention. The Aquino administration has shrugged such tragedy off and called it “part of progress.” The punditry and most of broadcast commentary have been peddling for years the false narrative—the brazen lie—that cars are not to be blamed for the traffic jams when evidence, science and math say so because they are themselves car riders.
The ironic thing is the government can only exercise full powers over all forms of public utility vehicles and trucks in cargo hauling. The LTFRB grants the franchises of all PUVs and cargo haulers, and the government can invoke emergency powers to cancel franchises left and right and indiscriminately.
That, however, is the stupidest thing that our government can do.
Cargo haulers are part of the economy’s lifeblood. As the trucks negotiate Del Pan Bridge, they look like ugly, toxic creatures. The cargo truck crews look ill-mannered and undisciplined. Without them, however, the supply chain for manufacturing and food supply would be broken, a situation worse than Zika and Ebola. Do you still remember the horrible impact of the truck ban imposed in the port areas several months back? It almost put manufacturing and other vital sectors of the economy on the brink of collapse.
The PUVs are our de facto mass transport system and any PUV restriction is as stupid and economically disastrous as restricting cargo trucks. They carry and ferry the bulk of the metropolitan work force. The provincial operators move the commuters from the provinces that trade goods, that seek overseas jobs, that work at BPOs and do the daily commute between Metro Manila and adjoining areas in Central and Southern Luzon. Imagine a scenario that restricts the de facto mode of mass transport in the provinces and the cities. Every sub-sector of the service industry would collapse. Ordinary government workers cannot report for work. OFWs from the provinces cannot move in and out of the POEA and the recruiting agencies to get new overseas contracts.
And right now, at this stage of the 21st century, no country that operates within the bound of sanity and math curtails modes of mass transport and cargo haulers to give priority to car use.
Remember the “huddled masses” that take the mass transport systems, from the buses to the urban railway systems, were the dedicated D30 supporters. How can the government turn to elitist policies and discriminate against mass transport?
Mr. Duterte has vowed to serve the mass transport-riding marginal citizens who now form his enthusiastic political base. His government should not repeat the policy mistakes of the elite-loving and masa-hating Aquino government, and adopt the media-promoted false narrative that mass transport forms and cargo haulers are what choke the metropolitan roads.
Just deal with the private vehicles, even those bearing plates from “1” to “8.”