Starting Thursday, 96 troops from the police Highway Patrol Group (HPG) will man vehicular traffic along Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) in line with President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s directive that the unit take the lead in enforcing traffic laws along the 23.8-kilometer beltway.
Aside from being known as the historic site of mass uprisings that led to the ouster of two of the nation’s Presidents, EDSA is also infamously known for being the most congested road in the country and serves as a reflection of Metro Manila’s chaotic vehicular traffic system.
The President on Tuesday approved the deployment of the HPG to serve as the lead traffic law enforcement agency on EDSA.
Malacanang spokesman Edwin Lacierda clarified that the President’s decision to make the HPG take over EDSA does not mean that he was dissatisfied with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
“I think the President emphasized the need for more hands on deck… as Highway Patrol Group, they have the means and the resources to go after traffic violators,” he said, adding that HPG troops are equipped with motorcycles and they can immediately run after violators or respond to situations.
Chief Supt. Arnold Gunnacao, director of the HPG, said his unit has a history of enforcing traffic on EDSA.
“History says that when the HPG was still manning the traffic along EDSA, they were feared by the drivers… so they [drivers]follow the rules and regulations as far as traffic management is concerned,” Gunnacao told reporters in Camp Crame in Quezon City.
“Erring drivers could not run away from the HPG because our troops are ready to give chase,” he said.
MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino on Wednesday met with Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras together with police and transport agencies officials to fine-tune the operational details of the President’s directive.
Tolentino said the meeting was held to complete implementing guidelines of the impending takeover of the HPG on traffic management along EDSA.
Supt. Oliver Tanseco, spokesman for the HPG, said they would not yet issue traffic citation tickets against rule violators during the duration of the dry run that will last until Sunday.
The dry run is meant to familiarize the HPG with the traffic situation.
But on Monday, the HPG troops would start issuing traffic citations tickets against the violators.
The traffic violation receipts that would be used under the single ticketing system would come from the MMDA.
Apprehended violators will have to go to the MMDA to pay their fines and redeem their driving licenses.
Tanseco said the HPG troops would still be assisted by constables and enforcers from the MMDA, the Land Transportation Office, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board and local government units as well.
Tanseco said priority action would be taken to clear six major intersections that have been identified as “choke points” along EDSA such as Balintawak, Cubao, Ortigas, Shaw Boulevard, Guadalupe and Taft Avenue.
He added that the MMDA enforcers would assist the HPG members, particularly in manning traffic and responding to accidents and stalled vehicles.
A daily average of 25 to 30 accidents along EDSA are recorded.
At least 500 MMDA traffic constables are deployed on EDSA alone.
When the HPG takes over next week, the MMDA constables will be redeployed to C-5 road, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon Avenue and other major thoroughfares.
Tolentino noted that the MMDA was getting all the blame for the worsening traffic in Metro Manila, and in turn blamed the increasing number of vehicles as major cause of congestion.
Of the eight million registered vehicles in the country, about 2.4 million are in Metro Manila or National Capital Region.
Tolentino said car companies sell 22,000 cars per month but no new roads are being added.
Almendras, meanwhile, told GMA News that there may be no need to further restrict vehicle use to ease congestion in Metro Manila if only motorists and commuters follow the rules.
“We hope we don’t have to reach that point wherein there will be congestion fee and restriction on the use of vehicles,” he said.
Almendras added that the government is yet to consider other measures such as higher taxes for a second car but reiterated the President’s earlier statement that they were considering the implementation of an odd-even scheme meant to cut the number of cars on the road by half.
He said solving the congestion on EDSA would have a domino effect on other areas.
“We’ll fix EDSA first because it is the spine road of Metro Manila. Experts have said if we manage to make the traffic flow more efficiently on EDSA, all the other streets will move better,” Almendras added.
Malacañang also on Wednesday enjoined the public to report abusive traffic policemen who will take bribes on EDSA.
“If a policeman asks for bribes, don’t hesitate to tell us. Certainly, we will not tolerate corruption,” Lacierda said.
He added that motorists and commuters may take pictures or videos of the abusive policeman and send them to the authorities.
The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay also on Wednesday alleged that the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) was responsible for the “horrendous” traffic situation in Metro Manila because it did not release some P322 million for road and traffic management to at least 43 local governments units.
Joey Salgado, head of media affairs of the Office of the Vice President, said traffic would not have been such a “punishment” for commuters and motorists in Metro Manila and other urban centers if Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd released some P322 million for the Special Local Road Fund (SLRF) for 43 local government units (LGUs) as early as 2013.
Roxas, who was endorsed for the presidency by President Benigno Aquino 3rd and who will run under the ruling Liberal Party, is Binay’s perceived main opponent in the 2016 elections.
Salgado said a 2013 Commission on Audit (COA) report showed Roxas held back SLRF funds from 43 local governments, including 10 in Metro Manila.
The 10 local governments were Las Piñas City (P4.3 million), Mandaluyong City (P3.5 million), Manila (P19.5 million), Muntinlupa City (P3.4 million), Parañaque City (P6.6 million), Pasay City (P3.3 million), Quezon City (P46 million), San Juan City (P3.4 million), Taguig City (P5.8 million) and Valenzuela City (P2.8 million).
Salgado noted that traffic congestion in Metro Manila costs the country P2.4 billion in lost potential income daily and P962 million in hospitalization expenses.
“We lose 20,000 work hours daily due to traffic and yet we find out the Department of Interior and Local Government could have helped LGUs do something about road maintenance if only the SLRF meant to augment their budget for this was released,” he noted.
Citing the COA report, Salgado said Roxas did not release the SLRF because the 43 local governments fell short of the Seal of Good Housekeeping (SGH) criterion, an internal DILG standard for releasing SLRF that is not supported by any law.
Salgado agreed with the COA observation that the SGH can be “perceived as a punishment to the constituents and not just for the few who mishandled/mismanaged the financial resources of the 43 LGUs.”
“The non-release due to a DILG internal criterion is even contrary to the law. Under the existing law or Republic Act [RA] 8974, the SLRF should be distributed to provincial and city governments exclusively for maintenance and improvement of local roads,” he said.
Based on RA 8974, LGUs can tap the SLRF or 5 per cent of the Motor Vehicle Users’ Charge (MVUC) “for road maintenance and the improvement of road drainage, for the installation of adequate and efficient road safety devices and traffic management.”
The law stipulates that SLRF is collected from motorists to fund maintenance projects for national and provincial roads.
COA said exempting local governments from access to SLRF because they did not pass the SGH requirement is contrary to the Road Board Policy and MVUC Law.
Salgado said Roxas should not have disallowed access to SLRF based on the SGH grading since COA said passing the SGH is not a requirement for the LGUs to avail of the SLRF.
“It is DILG’s internal criterion for determining which LGUs are to be prioritized,” it added.
Salgado scored Roxas and the DILG for using the SGH as an excuse to withhold funds from certain LGUs.
“It should be released as intended by the law. The law is above criteria DILG has set,” he said.
“If the funds were released then, roads could have been maintained and traffic management measures could have been put in place to ease traffic in Metro Manila and other urban centers,” Salgado added.