The combined wealth of the 50 richest Filipino families, placed at $65.8 billion, is roughly one fourth of the 2012 GDP, which was at $267 billion. As these families control every money making machine, from banks to the ultra profitable utilities, the combined wealth-to- GDP share will further increase in the years to come.
The stats on the immense riches of the top 50 families, and the support of hard metrics as evidence on the juiciest chunks they own in this sad sack of a country, often precedes or comes after, other revelations on poverty and deprivation. Perhaps to magnify that immense wealth exists amid so much inequity. Lawyer Antonio Oposa, arguing for a radical overhaul of the conventional wisdom and bankrupt transport policies, revealed one such fact: more than 80 percent of Filipinos are commuters and don’t own private vehicles.
Oposa, in pushing for a pro-people Metro Manila transport policy that is focused on biking, walking and mass transport (from buses to MRT and LRT), said that mass transport is the mode of transport of nations with modern transport policies and with a concern for the environment. The said policy hews closely with the ideals of democracy—a policy decided on what makes greater good.
Indeed, the suffering/struggling poor from the provinces with work and with business to transact in Metro Manila have one comfort in their wretched lives: A point to point bus ride from their home provinces to the cities. That the buses can pick them up at convenient points in the provinces, then unload the same at areas very near their destinations (POEA for OFWs, the call center hubs for BPO workers) frees them from the inconvenience of double, or triple rides.
Small mercies to the poor that would be perfectly tolerated in a society
with so much inequity.
And what has been the reaction of the MMDA, in the person of Francis Tolentino, the chairman, to that proposal from Oposa?
No way, he said. Provincial buses should not have first lien on the metropolitan roads, as is the practice in countries with modern transport planning. Modern transport planning does not apply to us. The changed paradigms of the modern world—look at the example of Singapore—should not work on the Philippine setting. In a sense, this is the sum of what Tolentino is saying: We are, proudly and unabashedly, a banana republic still stuck to 20th century transport planning of bus terminals outside of the city.
And Tolentino is now operating ramshackle areas which he call integrated terminals to ban provincial buses from Metro manila roads.
And we are doing this because we can, that is his hard stand. We have the authority. We can bludgeon the poor, the suffering and struggling masses of the poor anytime we want because we have the power to brutalize them. Road space should be for the private vehicles , the 80 percent of Filipinos be damned. We can impound buses left and right even those with minor franchise deficiencies at will and look good on TV.
The short version of Tolentino’s transport planning is this: And where will the sons of the rich—and the daughter of Napoles—rev up their Porsches and Ferraris if the pesky buses are at operating at EDSA?
Tolentino, who is supposed to know his law, is probably unaware that the bus companies built up terminals in the city because the LTFRB does not grant franchises to provincial buses without city terminals.
There is no attempt at levity here because this is all true. Tolentino just wants to clear the major metropolitan roads of pesky buses, the 80 percent of Filipinos (the real salt of the earth) be damned. and to give the Porsche of Napoles’s daughter plenty of revving up room in the metropolis. Tolentino is right now the public face of a brutal, uncaring government. In his transport policy, the concern of the commuters is the last factor up for consideration, if commuter sentiment is ever considered at all.
Ban the bus. Damn the commuting poor. Beat up the poor even more. In a society with an unbridgeable rich-poor divide and the poor are left to Consuelo de Bobos like straight bus rides, these tender mercies should end. In Tolentino’s mind set what can better serve the private vehicle owners than banning the buses.
Tolentino’s home province, Cavite, which is the take-off point of tens of thousands of daily commuters between the province and Metro Manila, has asked Tolentino, through its Sangguniang Panlalawigan to reconsider the planned relocation of the bus terminals. More than 90 percent of the commuters moving between Metro Manila and Southern Tagalog on a daily basis want a stay of the terminals as they cited the additional fares and additional hassles that would result from double or triple rides.
This is the same sentiment among Central Luzon commuters. Or those from North Luzon and the Bicol Region.
As the sentiments poured in, Tolentino took the hardline approach. No way.
Oposa is moving to counter the hardline approach of Tolentino by invoking public good and general welfare. In a developed economy where planning is modern and transport policies have evolved to favor mass transport, he will surely succeed.
But arguing for modernity and the general good in a milieu where transport planning remains frozen in a time warp, in the ban-the-bus paradigm, Oposa needs to press harder and shift gears. He has to bring his case to the courts and file a class suit on behalf of the burdened commuters.
He will have to point out that the world of transport planning has changed across the universe and only banana republics still cling to 20th century paradigms. The new norms have passed by and the person in charge of metropolitan traffic still thinks and acts like the caudillo of EDSA.