THE unfinished debate in Congress over whether to grant President Rodrigo Duterte “emergency powers” to address the traffic congestion problem that has become a regular feature of daily life in Metro Manila is pointless and counterproductive, and the members of the House and Senate pushing for such a measure ought to stop wasting our time.
Congestion around Metro Manila is a serious problem. Those of us who contend with it on a daily basis represent about 15 percent of the nation’s population, and the metropolis and its immediate surroundings account for about 40 percent of the nation’s GDP. According to a study a couple years ago by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which has, over the years, presented no fewer than three comprehensive studies and sets of recommendations to address congestion, the Philippines is losing about P2 billion per day because of the traffic mess. Other studies have come to a similar conclusion.
If not addressed in a serious, sustained way, the traffic congestion will eventually worsen to the point that Metro Manila will become practically unlivable, so clogged that it will be impossible to move around or conduct any sort of business, some experts have said.
A look beyond our local horizons tends to suggest that view might be a bit alarmist. A review of various surveys and indexes of congested cities published just this year alone reveals that traffic congestion is less a crisis than it is a common characteristic of big cities. Manila is tagged as having the world’s worst traffic in a survey conducted by Popular Mechanics, but doesn’t even make the list in other surveys.
These include such surveys as the INRIX Traffic Scorecard, which determined Brussels, Belgium is the world’s most congested city; IBM and weather.com, which both tagged Mexico City as number one; a survey reported by CNN and conducted by a GPS manufacturer declared Bangkok traffic the worst on the planet; and that which was commissioned by motor oil maker Castrol found that Jakarta’s roads are the most crowded.
Traffic congestion in Metro Manila is not a crisis, it is an unavoidable feature of a big city. That is something to be managed through consistent, regular policy, not “emergency powers,” which are, by definition, limited and temporary.
And our own fairly recent experience should remind us of the limited long-term value of “emergency powers.” Last year, in response to strident calls for him to “do something” about Manila’s traffic mess, then-President BS Aquino 3rd deployed the PNP’s Highway Patrol Group to manage traffic on some of the city’s major thoroughfares for a period of six months. Almost immediately, there were signs of improvement, largely due to the HPG’s aggressive enforcement of basic traffic regulations against inconsiderate motorists. For the entire time the HPG was on the job, the traffic situation was “better;” it was by no means solved, but congestion did ease a bit in the worst areas. As soon as the HPG returned to their regular duties, however, the situation immediately returned to what it was before they appeared.
The solution to a chronic problem is not a temporary measure, and those among our legislators who are calling for “emergency powers” for the President – he has not made the request or suggestion himself – are doing little more than attempting to attract positive public attention to themselves by capitalizing on Mr. Duterte’s popularity.
Instead of debating “emergency powers,” if our lawmakers were at all sincere about improving Metro Manila’s traffic situation, they would be spending their time debating improvements to the nation’s infrastructure, some of which are already a feature of the national budget for next year, and be debating ways to improve the monitoring and enforcement of the many laws and regulations relating to transportation and the flow of traffic that already exists.