April Fool’s Day in December
It is December, and it is time to check on the promise made by President Duterte six months ago that by this month this year, “You don’t have to worry about traffic. Cubao to Makati will be just about five minutes na lang.” We did not mind it at that time, but we should have taken this with a grain of salt, since he made his traffic prognosis with a caveat — “God willing” — and in a television interview on Pastor Apollo Quiboloy’s Sonshine Media Network. Well, miracles can still happen; there are two more weeks before the end of the year.
But another person in authority is offering to take us for another ride. Sen. Manny Pacquiao addresses the same traffic congestion problem in Metro Manila in a two-minute video on his Facebook page. He starts with the oft-repeated statistics: Metro Manila traffic congestion wastes 3-4 hours of commuters’ time on Edsa and P3.5 billion daily. Then he proposes a solution which he says he has worked out together with the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works and Highways: to designate the middle lane of Edsa from Monumento to the Mall of Asia (and vice versa) for express buses only, which will load and unload commuters briefly at designated stops. He says this solution will cater to 300,000 commuters daily, enough to make travel on Edsa fast, convenient and comfortable.
Pacquiao does not provide an answer to the obvious question: How will the buses load and unload passengers without shifting from the middle lane to the designated bus stops at the side of the road, and thereafter going back to the dedicated middle lane? If this solution will work, why hasn’t it been done decades ago?
We may have to wait in vain for an answer. Presidents and senators do not bother with the details. That is for the agencies concerned to work out. These agencies receive “ballpark” mandates because they fail to provide studies and completed staff work to beleaguered policymakers. They make things worse by making the politicians’ ridiculous promises sound credible, going along with these outlandish solutions. For instance, in the wake of Mr. Duterte’s “CubMa” pronouncement, PNP-HPG Brig. Gen. Roberto Fajardo said the five-minute target could be achieved even earlier than the end of the year. For his part, MMDA Edsa traffic chief Edison Nebrija announced the creation of a Task Force Cubao-Makati (CubMa) to make good on the President’s commitment.
This year, traffic congestion has worsened. The LRT-2 that is the backbone of travel from Manila to the east suffered damage to its electrical equipment in October, sidelining the Cubao to Santolan stretch for an estimated nine months. These disasters happen in the flash of an eye, but take months and years to recover from. The solutions offered to major issues are not responsive to all stakeholders. In September, jeepney drivers went on strike to protest the jeepney modernization program because of unrealistic financing terms.
The transport crisis has induced every Tom, Dick and Harry to offer solutions to the traffic congestion and poor mobility in Metro Manila. The situation has become so confusing that even sarcastic solutions, like shifting from a number to a car brand-coding scheme, could not be distinguished from serious proposals.
But presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo denies there is a transport crisis, arguing that people still manage to get to their destinations. In October, he took the “commute challenge,” succeeding only to prove the opposite of his point by making his Marikina to Malacañang journey in four hours. The administration strategy apparently is, if you cannot manage the reality, manage the public perception of it.
The real sign of the transport crisis is the silent surrender displayed by the Duterte administration. The capacity and motivation to find a real solution to the transport and traffic crisis are gone. This is best demonstrated by the way the MMDA keeps flagellating buses and jeepneys as the primary culprits, yet is unwilling to regulate car ownership and behavior when, in fact, private cars share more of the responsibility.
The only workable scheme left to reduce traffic congestion, idiotic as it may be, is to keep everybody at home by declaring a suspension of work and classes at all levels. This is how the 30th Southeast Asian Games became viable, mobility-wise.
The traffic crisis, nonetheless, is a good political fitness test. Now that Pacquiao has weighed in on the traffic problem in Metro Manila, he has revealed to us what many of us have suspected all along — he is a flyweight when it comes to national issues. Luckily, he does not look too bad alongside Mr. Duterte’s mystic 5-minute CubMa prognosis, which makes the President no more than a paperweight.
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