The incident last Thursday between a Maserati-driving businessman and a traffic “constable” reminds me of the time when traffic enforcers were truly enforcers. This was during the early ‘80s when the now defunct Metro Manila Commission, forerunner of the Metro Manila Development Authority, formed the Metro Manila Traffic Management Authority (MMTMA) that focused its operations in 10 traffic efficiency zones (TEZ).
The first traffic aides, as they were then called, were former military men who had seen action in Mindanao. Remember that the country was still under martial law then and the government felt the need to hire these former servicemen to help enforce traffic. The MMC, headed by Metro Manila Governor Imelda R. Marcos, and the MMTMA executive director, the late Serafin Cui, had assured the traffic aides of their complete support.
How tough were these veterans of the Mindanao campaign? When the traffic light went green for vehicles, they expected pedestrians not to cross the streets. And when the pedestrians insisted on crossing despite the traffic sign and the barking of the traffic aides? This might not have been the general reaction but I had seen a number of traffic aides push the pedestrians back to the sidewalk. They were taught to obey authority and they had expected the pedestrians to follow their commands also. I was then moonlighting as the information coordinator of the MMTMA and I got to know that some ill-disciplined pedestrians even challenged the TAs to a fistfight and the TAs willingly obliged.
The campaign against jaywalking was then on a high gear and no exceptions were made. Once, I had to intercede for an elderly woman who told me she was about to fetch her grandchild in school when she was caught jaywalking. She was silently allowed to leave the lecture at the Dona Crisanta building in Ermita so she could take her grandchild from the school back to their house.
The MMTMA had already identified the critical intersections where the TAs were to be deployed. They reported at Dona Crisanta first before they were motored to their respective assignments. Their presence was regularly monitored to make sure they weren’t gallivanting around. It might interest present readers to know that then, no busy intersection was ever left unattended by traffic enforcers.
Once, I was riding with Col. Eduardo Maristela, commander of the Constabulary Highway Patrol Group (CHPG) in his official car when a traffic enforcer whistled and signaled stop as we reached an intersection. Maristela smiled and commented that the traffic enforcer was a good one. “He’s so concentrated on his duty that he didn’t’ notice that this is my car,” he told me. I must also stress that he wasn’t using his siren during that ride.
Oh yes, I should also explain that the CHPG was deputized by the MMTMA to enforce the integrated traffic system in Metro Manila. Another deputized agency was the Traffic Control Center of the Department of Public Works and Highways. The TCC’s main contribution was the computerized synchronization of traffic lights along Espana Blvd. The traffic lights all went either green or red at the same time along this stretch. This allowed the smoother and faster flow of traffic with lower stops. Sadly, this did not last long. Some amateurs tinkered with the timing mechanisms of the traffic lights and disrupted the synchronized system that was painstakingly and expensively made.
Last January, the MMDA inaugurated a state-of-the-art Traffic Signalization System (TSS) on Wednesday, meant to reduce traffic and travel time, and make the roads safer for pedestrians and commuters. The TSS covers 400 intersections and is definitely more expensive than that of the MMTMA. It still escapes me, however, that the MMDA hasn’t seen the wisdom of synchronizing traffic lights.
During the first years of the MMTMA, “zebras” were painted on busy intersections. Vehicles caught in them during a “stop” sign were given citations. I must add also that the timing mechanism of the traffic lights was determined after getting data from vehicle counters employed before the MMTMA launched the TEZ. Drivers cutting corners were given traffic violation tickets. Traffic then was much better than today.
Ah, but you might say there were fewer vehicles then than today and you’re correct. Of the 7.6-million registered vehicles in the country, about 2 million are registered in Metro Manila. Sadly, the brains of traffic managers failed to keep up with this increased volume of traffic. Down went also the quality of traffic enforcers who had become more notorious for making motorists their cash cow.