EDITORIAL

Traffic crisis bill takes a back seat

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GRANTED, the government’s plate is full right now, given the fighting in Marawi, the cancellation of peace talks with the communists, and the West Philippine Sea dispute, among other pressing matters of state. It’s unfortunate, however, that a daily crisis from the point of view of commuters—the traffic and transportation gridlock in urban Philippines—is no longer a priority.

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Sen. Grace Poe, the head of the Senate committee on public services, announced on Wednesday that a bill granting emergency powers to the President to solve the traffic crisis is no longer on the to-do list, after weeks of public hearings.

The bill even reached the floor of the Senate, ready to be debated, when Poe sponsored it before the plenary last December. The reason: the Department of Transportation seems to have lost interest.

It’s a curious development, especially after transport officials practically begged Congress to grant emergency powers to the Executive at the beginning of the Duterte administration.

Solving the traffic crisis in Metro Manila was one of the President’s campaign promises, and indeed officials led by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade promised palpable change in the first 100 days. It’s been nearly a year and traffic is only getting worse.

At this point, it’s time to call a spade a spade. Transport bureaucrats exaggerated their capabilities in bringing about “change” on the road, and overestimated the patience of legislators.

Tugade et al. thought emergency powers would be given to them on a silver platter, even without concrete proposals or projects. They sought, for instance, shortcuts to the bidding process, but couldn’t satisfactorily explain what sort of projects would be rolled out.

Even in the absence of a plan, the Senate came up with Senate Bill 1284, or “An Act Compelling the Government to Address the Transportation and Congestion Crisis through the Grant of Emergency Powers to the President.”

The plan was to harmonize traffic laws of the local and national governments, the use of alternative methods of procurement under the existing procurement law, and “compel, empower, and capacitate the executive branch” to implement existing traffic plans and craft a “Traffic Crisis Action and Decongestion Plan.”

The bill provides for a “Traffic Crisis Manager,” a ban on temporary restraining orders to prevent nuisance lawsuits, expedited right-of-way acquisition, and the rationalization of transport routes.

It’s a sound bill, from all indications, even as many solutions to the country’s traffic woes do not really require legislation.

Secretary Tugade, meanwhile, is known to be an action man and a straight shooter. It is thus disappointing to hear him complain about people nagging the administration on things that needed to be done, during the groundbreaking ceremonies of a light rail transit extension project last Tuesday.

Tugade should instead take the criticisms positively and as a chance to prove the critics wrong. He cannot keep on over-promising and under-delivering. The traffic crisis bill will give him the tools to deal with the daily crisis on the roads. He only needs to pick up from where he left off and help Poe move the traffic crisis bill from a standstill.

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