The season of killer roads
It’s the time of the year when our own government transforms our roads into instruments of murder. It’s the season of killer roads.
Summer is the time when roads leading to the provinces are extraordinarily busy. It is the season of travel, with many Filipinos trooping to the provinces for a vacation. It is also the time when the government embarks on a frenzy of road repair and expansion as it takes advantage of the dry season.
From as far back as I can remember, the government has always undertaken road projects with reckless disregard for the lives of travelers and with brazen indifference to the reprehensible damage caused on vehicles. The recklessness and indifference are criminal in nature.
Road projects by the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Metro Manila Development Authority, the local government units, and delegated private contractors blatantly disregard the responsibility to put up safety warning devices that should give reasonable notice to motorists of roadwork ahead. Almost always, the warning sign is merely placed right on the construction site, making it utterly useless in alerting motorists of the looming danger.
The DPWH must also stop its practice of prematurely drilling jackhammer holes on still usable roads many months before road repairs are undertaken. It causes blood-curdling suffering to commuters, and makes motorists justifiably suspect that roads are intentionally destroyed to generate road contracts.
Every year, there are fatal and near-fatal accidents, and appalling damage to vehicles, resulting from the lack of effective warning devices that alert motorists of the impending danger of roadworks. Will it be a surprise if the yearly death toll from road hazards equals or even exceeds the number of fatalities in the administration’s “Tokhang” operations?
Every time such a road accident happens, the motorist involved is completely blamed for violating traffic rules because of speeding or disregarding the onsite warning sign. Putting the blame entirely on motorists is the height of self-righteous arrogance. Worse, it is equivalent to giving the government the license to put up death traps on the roads as a scheme to punish motorists with death or injury for mere violation of traffic rules. Instead of a fine of a few hundred pesos, traffic violators are penalized with exposure to death or injury.
Besides, the penalty of risk of death or injury is imposed not only on erring drivers but even on their unsuspecting passengers. The government should instead ensure that the lives of innocent passengers are safe from road hazards, regardless of the liability of their drivers for traffic violations.
In countries that are exemplars in ensuring road safety, warning signs are in place as early as a few kilometers before the roadwork site, and the alert is repeated as motorists approach the site. There are also temporary plastic conical barriers that shepherd motorists to the safe lane.
Public Works Secretary Mark Villar must correct his department’s mortal sin of allowing the roads to become instruments of murder every summer. He must henceforth direct that all road projects incorporate a mandatory obligation to install warning devices at abundant intervals, and that failure to do so will merit criminal and administrative charges, and also result in contract cancellation.
If the DPWH refuses to make these changes, public interest lawyers should force the government to comply by filing cases of mandamus and mandatory injunction. Lawyers should also file criminal charges against public officials and private contractors for deaths and injuries caused by failure to ensure road safety.
If the Civil Code allows pedestrians to sue the government for death or injury caused by defective walkways, motorists must also be able to sue the government for unsafe roads.
The season of killer roads has run its deathly course for far too long. It must be given its end-of-the-road conclusion.
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