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No Free Lunch

Incompetence and insensitivity

/ 04:20 AM November 29, 2019

After spending a total of eight hours on the road the other day to attend a three-hour meeting in Pasig City, I’m finally provoked to write on the extreme stress we are lately subjected to because of severe traffic congestion at the SLEx (South Luzon Expressway). While the problem only directly affects those who live in Metro Manila and adjacent provinces, increasingly unbearable traffic congestion is no longer unique to this part of our country, and I know non-Metro Manila readers could relate to the topic as well.

Friends and readers have actually been asking if I will write on this daily “carmageddon” that the ongoing work at the SLEx has led to. Having to travel between my home in Los Baños, Laguna, and Metro Manila nearly every weekday, I know firsthand what it’s all like, and I’ve been stretching my patience all this time. After all, we could all look forward to much smoother traffic flows when the work is all done—but at the cost of much higher toll fees as well.

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It feels like ages since the roadwork began in September. Since then, I (along with everyone else traveling that route) have had to drastically change my daily travel routine, and start out from home at 5 a.m., which means struggling out of bed by 4 a.m. On Mondays, that’s not good enough and I must start out an hour earlier. This is the only way to keep the trip to about two hours, as leaving later than that would mean spending three to four hours on that road trip that used to take me only 90 minutes on average before.

But it has gotten worse. Nowadays, delays in the southbound direction have become as bad, not just because of the Skyway extension work, but because they’ve decided to block off and repair southbound lanes much further south of Alabang as well. The timing seems to have been deliberately planned by a sadist, with everyone knowing that traffic flows in and out of the city get especially heavy in the approach to Christmas season. On top of that, athletes competing at the Southeast Asian Games must now endure the same suffering.

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What pains most of us enduring this daily ordeal is that it probably could have been avoided if only the concerned people did the right thinking, right planning and right actions beforehand. Hours of idling in stalled traffic can lead one’s mind to reflect on and analyze the situation, and as temperatures rise both figuratively and literally in the stalled traffic (I’ve had three aircon failures already in the past few weeks), one’s mind is led to find someone to pin blame on.

Should it be Ramon Ang, the principal of the firm constructing the extension of the SLEx Skyway? With an open letter to motorists promising that things will get “back to normal” soon, he seems to be owning up to it—even as he rejects the heavy penalty that government is threatening them with for subjecting the public to this undeserved punishment.

But the concerned government authorities must take part of the blame for this whole mess as well, as there’s been an obvious failure in proactive planning at the least, and likely, a failure in correct and timely action as well. All told, we see signs of plain incompetence and lack of common sense in the picture, and coupled with seeming insensitivity to the public welfare, the general public end up, yet again, the worst losers.

I understand that the Skyway extension is a longer-term project, but why, for example, are we doing the southbound road repairs at this worst possible time? My own guess is that the authorities are in a mad rush to spend the unused part of their budget before the year ends. It’s a problem that we’ve seen since at least my government days in the 1990s, when I learned that the big-budget departments usually would have spent only 60-70 percent of their annual budgets by November. They would thus be in a rush to spend the rest quickly before the year ends, and at the time, the easiest way was to grant special allowances and bonuses to their staff, apart from rushing short-term projects they could still do, even at the worst timing.

Surely, there are enough competent and caring people around who can put a stop to this perennial penalty on the Filipino public. Will they please step up?

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TAGS: carmageddon, South Luzon Expressway, traffic
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