As expected, the inauguration this past Tuesday of the Metro Manila Development Authority’s (MMDA) Southwest Interim Transit Terminal—or SITT, which as it turns out is a dubiously appropriate acronym from the chaotic commuter logjam created by this dimwit idea—was met with a storm of criticism. The facility, situated at the largely derelict and slightly creepy Coastal Mall at the intersection of Roxas Boulevard and NAIA Road in Parañaque, reportedly cost the MMDA P24 million to develop and was considered such a good idea by President B.S. Aquino III that he included it among his list of random accomplishments in his recent State of the Nation Address.
The stated objective of the SITT—which is to be one of three similar terminals to be opened on the periphery of Metro Manila in the coming months—is to ease metro traffic by stopping provincial buses from entering the city. The idea is that commuters coming from Cavite and Batangas will now only be able to travel as far as the new terminal, where they will transfer to jeepneys, FX taxis, or city buses to go on to their destinations. As a general idea, it’s not a bad plan, but in practice it is—as most ad hoc brainstorms of the MMDA’s embarrassingly incapable Chairman Francis Tolentino have been—an utter disaster.
Having heard horror stories about the new scheme from a dozen or more of my neighbors on Tuesday night, I decided to make a quick trip to the SITT during the morning rush hour to see for myself, and what I found was appalling. If the SITT is any indication of what commuters can expect when similar terminals planned for later this year at Trinoma in Quezon City and Filinvest in Alabang, the public should brace itself for a quantum level of unpleasantness.
The current setup works like this: commuters coming from the south on buses that travel the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road disembark at the SITT, and commuters leaving the city in the opposite direction board the buses heading back to Cavite or Batangas at the terminal. The transfer point to the city transportation network (a term that should be used very loosely, if at all) is on the northeast corner of the Roxas Boulevard-NAIA Road intersection, reachable by the overhead pedestrian walkways.
The two- or three-block stretch of Roxas north of NAIA Road is not really a “transit terminal” in any sense of the word, but rather just a wide spot in the road. As a consequence, it is a random stew of mixed pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and that has, along with the increased traffic into the SITT across the street, turned what was already a busy, traffic-prone intersection into an impassable mess.
Pointing out that this harebrained scheme actually aggravates the problems MMDA Chief Tolentino believed he was solving while creating additional costs for commuters in time, money and their levels of sanity would be to state the obvious. Apart from repainting former MMDA chairman’s Bayani Fernando’s pink overpasses green, Tolentino’s tenure at the MMDA has otherwise produced no discernible results—unless allowing the modicum of traffic discipline that started to appear during Fernando’s term to disintegrate can somehow be considered an achievement. A video clip by TV-5 news being widely circulated on the Internet in the past couple of days (see it here: http://news5.com.ph/Top.aspx?g=7857E1F8B550415&c=1001) of one angry old duffer confronting the MMDA head at the SITT unintentionally summed up three years’ worth of Tolentino’s ham-fisted management: “Mali ang diskarte mo!” (Literally, “Your plan is bad!” although lolo’s [grandfather]body language and the finger he was wagging at Tolentino in the video suggest the comment was verbally a lot milder than the emotion behind it).
The disservice done to the people of Metro Manila—a population that is approximately equal to the number of people who voted him into office—by President Aquino in appointing a person with no obvious qualifications besides being an Aquino family favorite (Tolentino was first appointed mayor of Tagaytay at the age of 28 by then-President Cory Aquino back in 1987) to the MMDA is hard to overstate. Metro Manila’s infrastructure is stretched beyond the breaking point, and the fact that a moderate rainstorm or one traffic accident on a major street can bring a large section of the city to a standstill has apparently not made much of an impression on the man responsible for working toward solutions. Instead, the city is offered window-dressing that often makes the problem worse than it already was, which is something we probably should have expected from a guy whose most significant achievement in Tagaytay was to form a group to celebrate good Filipino character traits.
Metro Manila has been fortunate to have had some reasonably competent MMDA chairmen in the past—Bayani Fernando was an engineer by training—but the agency should never have been allowed to be staffed by political appointees of any sort. It’s time to rid this critical and powerful organization of sloth and incompetence. Instead of an appointed chairman, the MMDA should be reconfigured so that it is directed by a qualified and experienced infrastructure manager—one working for a salary contingent on actual performance rather than taking up valuable three-dimensional space as a mere political patronage beneficiary. Give the Francis Tolentinos of the country jobs where their ambitions to honor themselves cause no real harm, and leave the heavy lifting to the professionals.