Law allows armed constables to use force against violators
The law allows armed traffic authorities to “use force” in carrying out their traffic management duties.
“Guns are part of their [police]uniform in the first place so they can use [them]if the situation calls for it,” Alberto Suansing, former chairman of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) told senators on Monday in a hearing called to assess implications of vehicular traffic in the country’s economy.
Suansing, a stalwart in the trucking industry prior to his stint in government during the Arroyo administration, was one of the resource persons invited to the Senate hearing.
Traffic jams in the capital of over 13 million people have become a major issue, with a growing number of commuters blaming the government of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
“Hopefully, it will change things but traffic is a complex problem,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. “There are short-term solutions but we also need long-term solutions.”
A study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, released in 2014, found that traffic jams in Metro Manila cost the country P2.4 billion ($53 million) a day and were responsible for most of the air pollution.
Metro Manila has long struggled with a deteriorating road and railway system, too many vehicles on the streets, undisciplined drivers and lack of urban planning that forces long commutes.
Suansing said the President’s decision to tap the Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG) in carrying out traffic management functions along Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) is a good decision.
Aquino earlier ordered the HPG to manage traffic in six major chokepoints on EDSA, including Balintawak, Cubao, Ortigas, Shaw Boulevard, Guadalupe and Taft Avenue.
Suansing said Republic Act 4136 or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code authorizes the state police, which was called the Philippine Constabulary (PC) when the law was enacted in 1964, to prevent violation of the traffic code.
He referred to a provision of the law, which states that “the Philippine Constabulary and the city and municipal police forces are hereby given the authority and the primary responsibility and duty to prevent violations of this Act, and to carry out the police provisions hereof within their respective jurisdictions.”
Suansing’s statement dovetailed with a Malacañang spokesman’s pronouncement early in the day.
Coloma said HPG personnel manning busy intersections along the stretch of EDSA are allowed to “use force” but only in extreme situations such as when they are attacked by an irate motorist and need to protect themselves.
“That may be in extreme cases because they are authorized to use force when needed. However, they [HPG officers] should still use reason in performing their duties,” said the official.
Coloma was reacting to reports attributed to HPG officials that their people will not hesitate to shoot the tires of traffic violators in extreme situations.
According to him, such remark was borne out of presentation of possible scenarios as the HPG takes the lead in enforcing traffic rules.
Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) traffic enforcers and local government units’ traffic aides had previously been asking for authorization that they be allowed to carry guns while manning traffic, citing previous incidents where some of their colleagues had been beaten up by traffic violators.
“We know that there were traffic enforcers who were hurt, run over or mauled while some experienced being threatened with guns,” Coloma said.
“They [police officials]only explained what can be expected in extreme scenarios. We do not expect the people to argue [with armed HPG men]or disobey the rules,” he added.
Coloma said “use of force” is considered a “contingent measure.”
“Through peaceful and reasonable discussion, we can assure that the public will be cooperative. [The HPG] may only be saying that it is a contingent measure if ever there will be hard-headed violators or who might fight it out [with the HPG men],” the Palace official explained.
Coloma said traffic policemen will particularly be strict in enforcing the “no parking” rule along busy major and smaller roads and in adhering to the 30-second rule on loading and unloading by public utility buses.
The PNP on Monday deployed over a hundred HPG policemen to EDSA to try to ease a mammoth traffic problem said to be costing the country about $53 million a day.
Police said 150 officers were assigned to six “chokepoints” on the 24-kilometer byway.
The head of the police highway patrol group, Chief Supt. Arnold Gunnacao, told a
congressional hearing also on Monday that his men were making progress, getting illegally parked vehicles off the road and forcing drivers to be more disciplined.
A congressman noted some improvement, saying his 37-km trip to the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City only took him two hours instead of the usual two and a half.
Travel time along EDSA was reportedly cut by at least 10 minutes as HPG policemen started taking the lead in managing the traffic, Gunnacao claimed.
“There has been some improvements in the traffic. At least 10 minutes [of]travel time [are saved]. That’s just a conservative estimate. We’ll try to improve [on]that,” Gunnacao told reporters at the sidelines of the hearing of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development.
He said while traffic along Balintawak going to Quezon Boulevard has become lighter since the HPG took charge, vehicular congestion still happened along Cubao, Ortigas and Shaw Boulevard.
“There’s an influx of vehicles going out of EDSA and using single-artery roads like Ortigas Avenue or Meralco Avenue. Almost all of the vehicles are using those roads,” Gunnacao added.
He earned the ire of former Justice secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd who now represents the 1-BAP party-list when he said the HPG was better than the MMDA in managing traffic.
“Takot na takot ang mga tao sa inyo lalo na sa probinsya, kapag nakita kayo sinasabi kailangan natin ng pangkape [People fear you especially in the provinces. When they see you, they automatically say, they need to cough up coffee money],” Bello said.
Gunnacao then replied, “I’m just new in my position” which further infuriated Bello.
“Bago ka lang pala eh tapos sasabihin mo mas magaling ka sa MMDA [You’re new and yet you ay that you are better than the MMDA]? You have to be fair also to MMDA people, [they have their shortcomings]but never claim that you are better than them,” the lawmaker said.
PNP Director-General Marquez said expectations are high for the PNP to solve EDSA’s traffic congestion as he called on the public not to expect magic to happen.
“Even if you put the HPG on EDSA, the high volume of traffic is still there. We cannot expect magic to happen. Our objective is to make traffic flow better by decongesting those six choke points,” Marquez told reporters after sending off the HPG personnel to EDSA at the crack of dawn on Monday.
He said the HPG was ordered to make traffic flow by getting rid of colorum (illegal) buses and illegal transport terminals, and removing all obstructions on the road particularly in the six choke points.
“The volume of traffic in EDSA will remain. Let’s not expect that once the HPG starts manning the traffic, it would lessen. Of course not, we will just improve the traffic flow,” Marquez added.
HPG chief Gunnacao echoed Marquez’s statements but added that managing traffic in EDSA would get better if the HPG were assisted by local government units (LGUs).
“We cannot do miracles in one day. We cannot weave some magic just like that. The limit I can give is to have a 10-minute improvement. It will gradually improve, with the cooperation of the LGUs, commuters and the drivers,” he said.
Immediately after they were sent off, the HPG cleared the EDSA-Balintawak area in Quezon City of illegal vendors and illegally parked vehicles.
HPG officers sternly directed truckers and vendors to get out of the 1.5-meter road easement to pave the way for the smooth flow of traffic.
The sidewalk has been the usual parking space of trucks and vehicles for delivering and picking up goods from the Balintawak market.
Before, it is usual for commuters to wait and walk along the streets of Balintawak instead of the sidewalks because vendors and trucks surrounding the market have been occupying the two lanes of the sroad and was the reason why traffic there has been very heavy everyday.
On Monday morning, motorists were able to use all four lanes.
Vice President Jejomar C. Binay called on the members of the Alliance of Concerned Transport Operators (ACTO) during the organization’s general assembly in Quezon City on Sunday night to obey traffic rules as he called for their active participation in finding solutions to Metro Manila’s transportation problems.
Binay, who headed the MMDA during the Estrada administration, said if drivers and operators obeyed traffic regulations, there would be no reason to fall victim to unscrupulous enforcers demanding bribes.
Binay said “in situations and issues requiring immediate action, like the traffic crisis in Metro Manila, the President as Chief Executive and head of the bureaucracy should personally exercise full supervision over all the concerned agencies of government.”
“He should personally monitor and supervise the coordination among these agencies, set targets and deadlines and ensure they meet their targets and deadlines. The President can exercise this until the situation stabilizes,” he added.
The MMDA is merely a coordinating agency for all Metro Manila LGUs and has no power over elected officials and heads of agencies, Binay said.
“The MMDA cannot issue instructions to LGUs headed by elected officials and other national government agencies headed by secretaries who are alter egos of the President,” he said.
“However, the President can exercise such an authority and it should be exercised in addressing the traffic issue which has reached crisis proportions,” Binay added.
WITH IZA IGLESIA AND LLANESCA PANTI