• ‘Inaccurate’ article could weaken trust between govt and jeepney sector

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    I write to call your attention regarding The Manila Times article titled “A four-part plan to solve Metro Manila’s traffic crisis” (“Fast Times,” June 7), where Mr. Greg Lindsay’s article in Popular Mechanics titled  “Can the World’s Worst Traffic Problem Be Solved?” was prominently quoted.

    Please find attached the letter I sent to Mr. Lindsay and Mr. Ryan D’Agostino, editor of Popular Mechanics, to correct the gross inaccuracies contained in the article. These inaccuracies threaten to undermine the trust that the Philippine government has been fostering for the past two years with the jeepney sector.

    Kindly note that this was not an exit interview; the interview was made under the premise that Mr. Lindsay was writing a research paper on Connected Mobility Initiatives for the New Cities Foundation (Paris) and Toyota Mobility Foundation.

    Attached are the following:
    (i) Mr. Lindsay’s reply
    (ii) My rejoinder to his reply
    (iii) My letter to the chairman of New Cities Foundation

    Yours truly,
    SHERIELYSSE R. BONIFACIO
    Asst. Sec. for Planning and Finance
    Department of Transportation and Communications

    * * *

    May 17, 2016

    Dear Assistant Secretary Bonifacio:
    Thank you for your letter of May 14th addressed to New Cities Foundation Chairman John Rossant and sent to the attention of Executive Director Maxwell Anderson. It is my understanding that Mr. Anderson has already replied to your letter. I am replying to address your specific concerns as to my conduct and alleged inaccuracies in the article. I will address each in turn.

    With regard to my affiliation, you are correct that I was introduced to your office as a senior fellow of the New Cities Foundation by GIZ’s Danielle Guillen in an email sent Feb. 26. However, I made it clear in our meeting that I am a journalist, and that our interview was on the record. I did not promise, nor would I ever promise to make my report for the foundation, my story for Popular Mechanics, nor any other stories generated by my reporting available for prior review by your office. Doing so would violate US journalistic ethics and practices.

    Upon reviewing your letter with my editors at Hearst Magazines, which published Popular Mechanics in the United States, we wished to respond to several of your letter’s points in detail:

    The parenthetical link to the World Bank’s Open Traffic Initiative—which was described to me in detail in a January interview with the World Bank’s senior transportation economist Holly Krambeck—was meant to provide context for the bank’s activity in the Philippines, and not draw a direct link to the BRT corridors. In the interest of clarity, that link has been removed.

    With regard to the 90 percent rationalization of jeepney routes, that figure was taken from the World Bank’s completion report written by Krambeck. I have attached the report for your reference, and we have added an attribution to the World Bank in the interest of
    clarity.

    With regard to this point, my editors and I agree that the story does not imply to the general reader that there is an ongoing plan to buy out jeepney franchises. More broadly, we agree that this entire section conveys to the reader that you are a committed, innovative, unconventional public servant, who was placed in an impossible situation and drafted a comprehensive, serious set of plans for jeepney reform that had little hope of being implemented given the short time frame involved. We have amended the story to clarify these as your personal considerations of the tasks at hand, and not necessarily as “official” plans currently being implemented. As for your “lawyer” comment, you said it at the very end of our interview, after I turned off my voice recorder, but I transcribed it quite clearly in my notes. I stand by it.

    I understand the delicate political considerations around jeepney modernization, but the section concerning lobbying for electric vehicles is attributed wholly to Rommel T. Juan. We feel the article is quite clear that DOTC is transparently creating an open reference standard for modern jeepneys, just as industry interests such as Juan’s would like to see greater consideration given to their technology of choice.

    Again, my editors and I feel the article does not imply DOTC is attempting to steer jeepney modernization in the direction of any particular manufacturer. The names included are taken from my notes made during a discussion with Corina Alcantara shortly before our interview, and were included in the story as representative examples of which manufacturers might decide to produce modernized jeepneys.

    My editors and I agree that the story doesn’t imply jeepney owners with vehicles older than 15 years will lose the rights to their franchises, only that their vehicles would no longer be allowed on the road. Given the lack of current manufacturing capacity—which you acknowledged in a Jan. 1, 2016 story published by Rappler—there is a pressing new for new vehicles, and an opportunity for entrepreneurs like Rommel Juan and Freddie Tinga.

    With regard to your last, unnumbered points, I personally regret your unhappiness with my characterization of you and your efforts. My editors and I agree that the quote you strenuously object to—”I’m gone”—was NEVER meant to imply you were evading accountability, but—as I mentioned above—you were (and are) the opposite of a colorless technocrat. I tried to paint a portrait of someone who voluntarily took on responsibilities that proved impossible to implement in the remainder of President Aquino’s term, and rather than be beaten by the experience, you had emerged with your mordant sense of humor intact. I was very impressed by your work and your candor, and I regret you feel that didn’t come across. I’ve asked my editor to change “cheerfully” to “flippantly.” I readily agree that was a poor word choice, albeit one made with the best intentions.

    While this response is almost certain to leave you unsatisfied, I hope you will agree that we took your concerns seriously and made changes to the story where we felt appropriate. I stand by my work, and look forward to folding your insights into future stories and reports about the transportation challenges facing Metro Manila and other cities around the world.

    Sincerely,
    Greg Lindsay

    * * *
    Republic of the Philippines
    DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATIONS

    l9 May 2016

    Mr. Greg Lindsay
    Research Fellow
    New Cities Foundation, Case postale 8888, succursale Centre-vi l l e
    Bureau R-41 50, Montreal (Quebec) H3C 3P8, Canada

    Dear Mr. Lindsay:
    Thank you for your email response to my letter sent to New Cities Foundation and Popular Mechanics. A couple of rejoinders on points raised in your response:

    To be frank, I have a very different recollection of what transpired. I’ve conferred with my staff. Corina Alcantara, who was present during the interview and what you said was you were a journalist by training and a visiting scholar at the New York University, aside from being a research fellow of New Cities Foundation. We also do not recall being informed that the meeting was on record or alerted that you were using your phone as a recording device.

    I understand the ethics of journalism and would never ask a story to be changed. What I ask is the courtesy to be informed about the publication of a story. You extended this courtesy to Patricia Mariano, a colleague from the DOTC, through an email sent on May 13, informing her of the publication of the Popular Mechanics article. I am puzzled why the same courtesy was not extended to me, the lone government official extensively quoted in your article.

    My staff has a recording of the interview and cannot find the comment you claim I made on being a lawyer and not a transportation planner. You claim I said it in the context of buying out jeepney franchises. For the sake of argument, if I indeed said it, it would be illogical for me to do so as the complexities surrounding the buyout are precisely legal in nature. You need lawyers and finance experts to implement such plan, not transportation planners.

    You claim to understand the political considerations of jeepney modernization and yet write “[m]y editors and I agree that the story doesn’t imply jeepney owners with vehicles older than 15 years will lose the rights to their  franchises, only that their vehicles would no longer be allowed on the road.” If you do understand, you know your words  are enough to inflame the sector to stage concerted action against the DOTC. We have had rallies protesting softer statement made by DOTC officials.  Better contextualization would have shown understanding.

    Your prescience regarding my dissatisfaction with your response is very accurate. While I appreciate your explanation, your choice of words and juxtaposition of data and quotes imply the opposite regarding the franchise buyout, jeepney manufacturers, and choice of vehicle technology. The same observation applies to your intention to describe me positively—the choice of words and juxtaposition of data and quotes achieve the opposite. This observation is shared by a number of individuals who alerted me about the article, including the head of a jeepney organization. Nevertheless, thank you for making the effort to reply and correct portions of the article.

    SHERIELYSSE R. BONIFACIO
    Assistant Secretary for Planning and Finance

    “By her estimates, that would force nearly a third of the Philippines’ fleet off the road.”

    * * *
    May 16, 2016

    MR. JOHN ROSSANT
    Founder and Chairman
    New Cities Foundation
    Case postale 8888, succursale Centre-ville,Bureau R-4150,Montreal (Quebec) HJC
    3 P8,Canada

    ATTN:  MR. MAXWELL ANDERSON
    Executive Director
    New Cities Foundation

    RE: Can the World’s Worst Traffic Problem Be Solved?
    By Greg Lindsay, in Popular Mechanics

    Dear Mr. Rossant:
    I write to call your attention regarding the unprofessional conduct of your research fellow, Mr. Greg Lindsay. Mr. Lindsay wrote an article published in Popular Mechanics titled “Can the World’s Worst Traffic Problem be Solved?’’ The gross inaccuracies contained in the article threaten to undermine the trust that the Philippine government has been cultivating for the past two years with the jeepney sector.

    The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) was not given a copy of this article prior to publication and, thus, lost the opportunity to correct the many (gross) inaccuracies it contained. By publishing this letter, we hope to be given the opportunity to correct the false information and out-of-context statements contained in the article.

    Mr. Lindsay approached the DOTC as a research fellow of the New Cities Foundation (Paris). He wanted to discuss   DOTC’s collaboration with the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer   Inter.nationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on modernizing the jeepney sector under the premise that he was writing a research paper on Connected Mobility Initiatives for New  Cities Foundation (Paris) and Toyota Mobility Foundation.

    The meeting was held last March 2 at the DOTC office and lasted for one hour. Mr. Lindsay requested for a copy of the Road Transit Rationalization Study (RTRS), but was informed it was still being finalized. He did not request for any other material from the DOTC, including the draft department order on the imposition of a jeepney age limit. These materials are not available online.

    He neither shared his research paper with the DOTC nor his intent to have this paper or article published in any newspaper or magazine in circulation prior to its publication.

    The PUJ Modernization Plan is based on a technical assistance by GIZ. The assistance was sought to help DOTC craft policy based on scientific and technical data. Complementary work—piloting of proposed technologies, jeepney financing models—are still being planned through a multi-disciplinary team of experts as the DOTC wanted a comprehensive solution acceptable to all stakeholders.

    The World Bank (WB) study that determined Metro Manila mass transit corridors is the “Road Transit Rationalization Study,” a technical assistance grant by the WB to DOTC. It is not the Open Traffic initiative of the WB as Mr. Lindsay stated.

    RTRS did not recommend slashing the number of jeepney routes by 90 percent. A review of the notes of discussion reveals there was no statement whatsoever regarding the slashing of jeepney routes. How Mr. Lindsay arrived at that conclusion is unclear.

    There is no ongoing government plan to buy out jeepney franchises. That option was shared as one of the solutions that the next administration may consider. It is not an ongoing process being passed on to incoming officials of DOTC. A short discussion was had regarding the complications of buying out franchises—valuation of   franchises, projection of unrealized earnings, alternative livelihoods for drivers—but Mr. Lindsay deemed it best to gloss over all that with the statement “ ‘And anyway, I’m   not a transportation planner, I’m a lawyer,” she says, running her hands through her hair” that I categorically deny making.

    To say that there was lobbying to include electric vehicles   in the modernization plan is irresponsible and malicious.  Electric, hybrid-electric, LPG and CNG are all recognized alternative fueled technologies under a 2010 department   order. The draft department order on jeepney modernization leaves the choice of technology—electric, hybrid-electric, LPG and CNG—to the jeepney owner for as long as the vehicle is brand new and is compliant with the set emission standards.

    The DOTC does not endorse any jeepney manufacturer.  Contrary to what was stated in the article, the draft department order on jeepney modernization allows the owner to choose from different manufacturers as long as it is accredited by the Land Transportation Office’s Manufacturers, Assemblers, Importers and Dealers (MAID) program.

    Mandating an age limit for jeepneys does not “force a third of the fleet off the road.” The owner of a 15-year-old vehicle is allowed to replace his old vehicle with a brand new one. The DOTC is currently working with government financial institutions to provide easily accessible loans with soft terms for jeepney owners.

    |On a more personal note, Mr. Lindsay seems to have confused flippancy with matter-of-factly. The quote “ ‘I’m a political appointee,’ she says cheerfully. ‘I’m gone.’ ” was a response to the question “What will happen to you when the President’s term ends?” as borne out by the notes of discussion. It was not said to evade accountability as Mr. Lindsay implies.

    I am honored and privileged to have served my country through the DOTC. It is a responsibility I take seriously and try to honor with my daily actions. To have toiled tirelessly and not see the fruition of your efforts is heartbreaking. It is not something I “cheerfu1ly” give up: the color of my shirt and sartorial choices do not reflect or affect my work ethic. For Mr. Lindsay to have such a perception reflects, to me, his shallow understanding of the work done in providing mobility to the country—the very subject of his “research paper.” His failure to do rigorous research and probing analysis threatens to unravel the groundwork laid down in the past years and nu11ify the hard work of people involved.

    Yours truly,

    SHERIELYSSE R. BONlFACIO
    Asst. Sec. for Planning and Finance
    Department of Transportation and Communications

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