Emergency Powers

Desperate times call for desperate measures. This is where Metro Manila and its suburbs are into with the worsening transport-related problems that they are facing. It is time for the Filipino people to support President Duterte in this uphill battle to relieve the metropolis from its traffic jam problems and build a real public transport system that everybody can use.

President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration have been requesting Congress for emergency powers to help resolve Metro Manila's worsening traffic and public transport problems since June 30, 2016. Backed by a master plan that was developed by a team of government agencies led by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) that was already submitted to both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the goal was to come up with an efficient and effective means of resolving vehicular traffic congestion on Metro Manila's streets. The building of necessary mass transport and road infrastructure crisscrossing the metropolis and its suburbs as part of the "Build! Build! Build!" program is also a critical part of the master plan.

The House of Representatives has been more accommodating of the President’s request for emergency powers. The Philippine Star reported last September 8, 2019 that House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and Batangas Congressman Raneo Abu said they were endorsing the request of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade for the grant of special traffic-related authority to the President. Abu filed House Bill 2091, which would require a car buyer to present a notarized affidavit of a permanent parking space or facility before he is allowed to purchase a vehicle since many vehicle owners do not have parking spaces and just leave their vehicles on roads near their homes. Samar Congressman Edgar Sarmiento suggested the need for a synchronized and centralized bus dispatch system along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) to Secretary Tugade as one of the solutions since having such will help field sufficient buses during peak hours and fewer units during non-peak hours to lessen road congestion.

However, the Senate, in particular Senator Grace Poe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Services, does not seem to be cooperating with the Duterte administration on the need for emergency powers. Senator Francis Tolentino, a former chairperson of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), filed Senate Bill 213, which will authorize President Duterte, for a limited period and subject to certain restrictions, to exercise emergency powers to effectively address the worsening traffic congestion. Unfortunately, the Tolentino bill seems to be only sleeping on Poe's committee, as Poe keeps on insisting that "there is no need for emergency powers" for a variety of reasons that she issued through statements to the media.

Traffic congestion and a virtually non-existent effective and efficient public transport system in Metro Manila are, indeed, a serious problem that is in dire need of a short- to long-term solution. According to a "Follow Up Survey on the Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Greater Capital Region (2017)," a study that was conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), with a resulting roadmap submitted to the government, the Philippines is set to lose P5.4 billion to traffic daily by 2035 if no interventions are made in Metro Manila. The said amount is higher than the previous estimate of P3.5 billion that was established by JICA through a previous study.

In a press statement issued by JICA Chief Representative to the Philippines Yoshio Wada, aside from investing on the building of infrastructure, a program to relieve traffic congestion must be implemented to make Metro Manila and adjacent areas more livable and to make Philippines more attractive to investments since transportation is one of the elements needed to help the country sustain its economic growth and maintain its economic gains.

With the JICA study and the master plan already submitted to Congress, plus commuters already complaining about the bad traffic situation and millions of pesos being lost every day due to traffic jams, one would wonder why Senator Poe still do not see things as an actual emergency. Maybe because she and other politicians ride on SUVs and luxury cars that are being escorted by the police whenever they travel through Metro Manila's traffic jam-plagued roads? Or maybe because they never took public transport at all, making them completely detached from the daily realities that ordinary commuters in Metro Manila and its suburbs have to go through on a daily basis?

I honestly prefer President Duterte to go around the obstructionists and opportunists in the legislature and the courts, which tend to issue Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) to block the construction of badly needed infrastructure and execution of traffic rules upon the request of certain interest groups or individuals, and just do they have to do to relieve Metro Manila and its adjacent communities from the worsening traffic problem and build real public transport systems. He should show the legislators and the courts that they are not needed at all because he is more accountable to the people who overwhelmingly support him in his bid to relieve the city from traffic problems, crime, etc. He has proven himself that he can beat the obstructionists and opportunists when he ordered the closure and rehabilitation of Boracay, resulting to a much better resort island unlike in previous years. If he successfully pulled off the Boracay project without the help from the legislators and the intervention of the courts, he can do the same in Metro Manila with or without the emergency powers coming from Congress.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. This is where Metro Manila and its suburbs are into with the worsening transport-related problems that they are facing. It is time for the Filipino people to support President Duterte in this uphill battle to relieve the metropolis from its traffic jam problems and build a real public transport system that everybody can use.

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About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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