Last of two parts
WHILE President Rodrigo Duterte has scored high marks for his anti-crime drive and other significant accomplishments, the three-month-old administration fell short of the expectations of “change” set in some priority agenda items, such as easing traffic and ending contractualization.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade had given assurances that commuters would be able to feel some change in the first 100 days of the administration.
Solutions to the traffic crisis however have yet to be fully ironed out as commuters and motorists continue to suffer and container trucks carrying shipments get stuck in traffic for hours every day.
To solve the country’s transportation woes, the President has asked Congress to grant him emergency powers. In the Senate, Sen. Franklin Drilon has filed a bill giving Duterte such powers for two years.
In July, the Department of Transportation bared plans to address the traffic crisis. These include a more “streamlined” system that involves 10 traffic zones in the metropolis, with dedicated traffic personnel from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the Hghway Patrol Group.
The department also intends to increase the passenger capacity of the metro’s train systems by adding more coaches and building extensions for the LRT-1 and LRT-2 lines over the next three years.
In September, the first phase of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Expressway connecting terminals 1 and 2 was opened. The portion linking terminal 3 is expected to be opened before the year ends. The project is seen decongesting traffic around the airport area.
Ray Junia, chairman of the Road Users Protection Advocates group, expressed disappointment, saying there was no significant improvement in traffic within the first 100 days of the Duterte administration. The traffic situation in the metropolis even got worse, he pointed out.
While his group is in favor of Congress granting Duterte an emergency powers, Junia stressed that such powers “should never be a means to make the rich richer.”
He said the plans to address the traffic situation were “not more of a promise but an order to the Department of Transportation.”
While the government has ordered the elimination of “colorum” or illegal transport vehicles and illegal terminals to unclog roads, Junia said Transport officials have so far failed to follow through.
“The frequency of movement, it’s still there. There’s still a negative effect,” Junia said.
To ease traffic congestion, Junia suggested the transfer of the whole NAIA away from the city, to Sangley Point in Cavite, as proposed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
“On the issue of NAIA, I look at it as a magnet of traffic. NAIA, as where it is now, does not help ease the traffic. For as long the air traffic increases, the volume of vehicles going there increases. Something must be done,” he said.
Junia also suggested strict measures on car ownership, such as requiring car owners to have their own garages or parking spaces.
Aside from the worsening traffic situation, another promise that the administration has so far failed to fulfill during the first 100 days is ending the so-called “endo” or “end of contract,” a process by which companies hire employees for less than six months to avoid regularizing them.
The President, during his previous speeches, warned companies that practice contractualization he would be “unforgiving” if they continued the practice.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd said the government was considering requiring companies to regularize 80 percent of their employees. He counts the abolition of the “end-of-contract” practice as among his priorities.
Bello said they were on track toward reducing contractualization practices by 50 percent by yearend, and abolishing “endo” by 2017.
But labor groups wants the government to totally eliminate the practice by repealing Articles 106 to 109 of the Labor Code, which legally allows subcontracting.
Interviewed by The Manila Times, officials from the Legal Advocacy for Workers Interest (Lawin) said the contractualization practice remains an unresolved issue in both the public and private sectors.
In order to end this practice, Joel Odio, Lawin paralegal officer, said the government must prioritize industrialization, particularly in the in areas of manufacturing and agriculture.
“It is an industry. It will create jobs. There will be many factories,” Odio said.
The labor group however acknowledged that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has been exerting efforts to enforce labor laws. It cited the case of 285 Philippine Pizza, Inc. workers who were terminated, but were later reinstated through the help of the DOLE.
Coco levy, irrigation
The President also promised to release the coco levy fund to the farmers if elected, in his first 100 days in office.
Senator Francis Pangilinan has already refiled the bill converting the coco levy fund into a trust fund.
However, Sonny Domingo, national chairman of the Kapisanan ng Magsasaka, Mangingisda, at Manggagawa ng Pilipinas, Inc. (KaMMMPI) said that farmers need more than a trust fund but “seed money that should be used to guarantee pioneering projects that are integrated.”
Domingo said there has been no solid move by the government to resolve the coco levy fund issue, and suggested that Duterte ask for the coconut excise tax from the US treasury collected during the administration of Ferdinand Marcos, while working on the release of the coco levy fund in the Philippines.
“President Duterte should run after the US treasury for the multi-billion excise tax. It depends on the Philippine government and the Philippine Treasury to ask for it. President Duterte should ask for it while they are working on the coco levy here. They should ask for the excise tax. They can use it for the irrigation system,” he said.
Duterte promised free irrigation for farmers, which, according to Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, won’t be available until 2017.
KaMMMPi’s Domingo said the bills that would fulfill this program remain pending in Congress.
“The free irrigation may not be available now and may not be available by next year because the P2 billion which was presented by Secretary Piñol was not approved in the budget hearing of 2017. The total maintenance cost of the irrigation systems is P2 billion. That’s for the salaries of the personnel, the engineers, the maintenance, the operating systems,” he said.
Domingo nonetheless lauded Duterte’s promise to conduct a nationwide soil analysis, but said there was not enough budget for such a program.
“It is doable, except the funds are not there. It’s not really the fault of President Duterte. Maybe the fault of Congress, representing the people,” he said, adding that the Congress should have slashed other budgets to accommodate the agriculture sector.
“The Congress should have slashed other budgets because that [agriculture budget]is the food budget. That is for the stomach of the people,” Domingo said.