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Solving traffic mess and eradicating corruption

opinion / Columnists
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With Due Respect

Solving traffic mess and eradicating corruption

Former President and current Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is sponsoring a bill in Congress to grant President-elect Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to solve the horrendous traffic mess in Metro Manila.

Declaring emergency. Her bill is clearly the legislative measure needed to support the plan of incoming Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade to address the “crisis” that “bastardized our lives” and that costs our people, per a 2013 study of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, P2.4 billion daily. Repeat, daily.

Weeks ago, Eduardo Yap, the traffic czar of the Management Association of the Philippines, asked me whether the incoming President is clothed with emergency powers to solve this worsening traffic gridlock.

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I replied, “Yes, under the Constitution, the President has the authority to declare a national emergency and Congress can grant him extraordinary powers, under reasonable terms prescribed by it, to solve abnormal conditions that endanger lives or wellbeing, like economic crisis, pestilence, epidemic, typhoon, earthquake and similar catastrophes.”

However, Congress must clearly define the specific powers given, which should not breach the fundamental rights of our people, like the right to due process, just compensation, free expression and, of course, the rule of law, as stressed recently by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno. To be properly guided, I advised him to read and reread David vs Arroyo (May 3, 2006).

Legislating extra powers. In this landmark decision penned by Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, the Court discussed three extraordinary powers of the president: (1) calling-out power to suppress lawless violence, invasion and rebellion, (2) executive power to ensure faithful obedience to laws, and (3) emergency powers. These extraordinary prerogatives should not be confused with the more stringent power to declare martial law or emergency rule.

As reported in the Inquirer’s front page, the Arroyo bill prudently restricts the use of the emergency powers to two years, unless sooner withdrawn by Congress. While it gives the President authority to enter into negotiated contracts for the construction, repair, or improvement of needed infrastructures, it subjects them to strict conditions to make the processes transparent and to hold concerned public official accountable.

A “de campanilla” lawyer in his own right (class salutatorian at the San Beda College of Law),

Tugade assured that abuses in the exercise of emergency powers would be checked by the oversight and review prerogatives of Congress and the Supreme Court.

Tugade has been one of the outspoken new Cabinet members, and rightly so, because he has been given one of the toughest jobs in the country. As the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.”

During the incoming Cabinet’s recent powwow in Davao City, he admonished the country’s top business leaders, “You expect us not to be corrupt? Can we expect you not to corrupt us?”—to the thunderous delight of the audience.

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Eradicating corruption. Tugade’s quip reminds me of the Integrity Summit held on Sept. 19, 2014, where I prefaced my speech on how to eradicate corruption in the judiciary with two jokes:

“May I tell you the tale of a judge who thought he had a reputation for fairness and transparency? Before the trial in a case began, he summoned the lawyers of the parties to his chambers.

“He calmly told them, ‘Compañeros, both of you surreptitiously bribed me. You, counsel for the plaintiff, gave me P250,000 while you, counsel for the defendant, sent me P200,000. As an evenhanded and transparent judge, I will not allow anyone of you to unduly influence me. So, I am returning P50,000 to you counsel for the plaintiff. Now, after I have leveled the playing field, both of you can expect equal treatment from me.’

“Let me also tell you of the tale of another judge known for his strictness. One day, he was visited at his home by a practicing lawyer. ‘Compañero,’ the magistrate boomed. ‘Why are you here? Don’t you know it is unethical for a lawyer to speak with a judge outside the courtroom?’

‘Yes, Your Honor, I am aware of that. But I did not come here to speak with you about my pending case. I came here to sell you a brand-new Mercedes-Benz that is now parked on your driveway,’ meekly explained the lawyer.

“After peeping at a window to view the car, the judge retorted, ‘Ah, you came as a car salesman, not as a lawyer. How much is the car?’ To which the enterprising lawyer whispered, ‘P1,000, Your Honor.’ The judge smiled and said, ‘In that case, I’ll buy two, one for me and one for my wife.’

“These stories are of course anecdotal and meant to be jokes to cheer you up. Laughable these jokes may be; nonetheless, they demonstrate some of the devilish games and witchcraft that may have impelled the Makati Business Club and the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines to sponsor this ‘Integrity Initiative’ today. The first joke shows the wrong way to level the playing field and the second shows the wrong way to legalize a bribe.

“Ladies and gentlemen, judges will not be bribed unless clients inveigle their lawyers to go beyond the outer limits of advocacy and soar to the stratosphere of corruption and malevolence. At times, lawyers are told by unscrupulous clients, ‘I do not care whether you know the law. My question is: Do you know the judge?’

“Remember, there are no bribe-takers, when there are no bribe-givers.”

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Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@hotmail.com

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TAGS: Arthur Tugade, corruption, emergency powers, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Rodrigo Duterte, traffic
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