TRANSPORTATION Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya is one rare specimen, even in a country where the natural population of hilariously unqualified public officials is quite large and diverse.
Responding to a question during a recent TV news broadcast about the traffic congestion the impending construction of the eastward extension of the LRT-2 commuter line will cause, Abaya breezily dismissed any suggestion that it would be a problem, with the sarcastic observation, “Hindi naman siguro fatal yan,” (“That’s [traffic gridlock]not likely to be fatal.”).
To eliminate any ambiguity about whether he has even the slightest understanding of the topic at hand—because, as we know, “transparency” and “keeping the public fully-informed” are cherished ideals in this Administration—Abaya went on to add that “not fatal” in his context means “not burdensome to the daily lives of the people.”
On any given day Abaya could win a prize for being incoherent, but he set a personal record with these latest nuggets of non-wisdom.
Abaya’s attitude toward traffic congestion—which is an attitude he shares with his immediate predecessor, outgoing Interior Secretary and Liberal Party cannon fodder Mar Roxas, and their common boss President BS Aquino 3rd—is infuriating. His response to the traffic question is the same smirking, self-satisfied reaction one would encounter when confronting the bachelor neighbor whose noisy energetic sexual conquest kept everyone else in the building awake last night: Sorry to have disturbed you, but not really, because you should actually be impressed that I’m getting all kinds of laid over here.
If the popularity of the subject among the public and local pundits is not already a huge clue as to the true sentiment of the country and its collective lack of appreciation for self-congratulatory dismissal of the congestion issue, Secretary Abaya and his barkada need to be reminded (again, for the nth time) of the hard facts.
The daily cost to the economy of traffic congestion in the greater Manila area has been reliably estimated at P2.4 billion, but even that figure may be too low: Just this week, the PNP Highway Patrol Group released periodic statistics that show that the incidence of traffic accidents has increased one-and-a-half times from just last year. In the first half of 2015, according to the PNP, there were 11,000 traffic accidents; in all 12 months of 2014, there were 15,572. On average, there is a vehicle ‘incident’ resulting in injury or damage somewhere in the country every 22 minutes. The toll so far for 2015: 567 killed, 5,220 injured. Some allowance for the economic impact of traffic accidents is included in the P2.4 billion ‘congestion cost’ estimate (which was generated by a study supervised by the Japan International Cooperation Agency), but using prior years’ data; thus, the cost is likely higher than we realize.
Traffic IS fatal, Secretary Abaya; it has been literally fatal to more than 500 of your “bosses,” and it is killing the economy. Traffic density is technically a reasonable proxy for economic activity, but presents far more risk than reward. It is almost axiomatic among stakeholders in the tourism sector that growth is being strangled by traffic congestion, and there is anecdotal evidence that the lagging performance of the local casino industry this year is at least partly attributable to traffic gridlock keeping customers away.
Just last week, an epic eight-hour traffic jam that virtually cut off all ground access to the airport created such chaos that the story was picked up by at least three international wire services.
Traffic congestion is not an achievement; it is a crisis which is costing this country an unreasonable amount of money and lives. But like the annoying recent college grad next door who finally convinced that waitress to sleep with him, the perception of the manifestation of positive results among Messrs. Abaya, Roxas, Aquino, et al. is strictly personal, and actually detrimental to everyone else. We need to get up and go to work in the morning; if you can’t help make that easier, the least you could do is not make it harder with all the thumping and yelling.