Apply traffic laws to all
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) implemented a new policy this week on the use of the Edsa Busway, including imposing stiffer fines and limiting vehicles allowed to pass through the lane meant for public utility buses. Aside from buses, emergency vehicles i.e., on-duty ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars, as well as service vehicles under the Edsa Busway project are the only ones that can use the lane to ensure that traffic flow will not be impeded and the travel time of bus commuters along Metro Manila’s major thoroughfare notorious for its traffic jams will be significantly reduced.
The first day of implementation on Nov. 13 netted more than 500 violators who, under the new policy, will pay higher fines ranging from P5,000 to P30,000. On the third day, a vehicle using a “7” protocol plate was apprehended. Per news reports, a traffic enforcer reported to MMDA Task Force Special Operations Unit Head Bong Nebrija that the vehicle’s passenger was Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. Nebrija said he made a “judgment call’’ not to issue a violation ticket and to allow the convoy to pass through the busway as a “courtesy.” Revilla, who vehemently denied it was his convoy, made a spectacle of publicly scolding Nebrija, who was then promptly suspended for violating data privacy, announcing false information, and allowing the convoy to use the bus lane even if it was against MMDA policy.Right then and there, the MMDA should have issued a violation ticket against the driver and the convoy should not have been allowed to pass even if it carried a senator, or worse namedropped a public official. If MMDA wants the public to take its policies seriously, it should carry its duties with professionalism and apply the law to everyone regardless.
The public uproar following the incident was expected, with people on social media and news sites criticizing politicians in general for acting entitled on the road while regular commuters stew in traffic for hours daily. The temporary closure last month of a portion of Commonwealth Avenue because a “VIP” was passing through remains fresh in the Filipino commuting public’s mind. The police officer who was recorded on video explaining to motorists about the traffic interruption has been sacked, despite the fact that, as Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said, he was just doing his job.
Transport and anything related to it—from the notorious traffic jams to the arbitrary rules that motorists are often subjected to—is always a touchy subject for Filipinos who are the ones who suffer the indignities of using the country’s broken and inefficient public transportation. Most criticisms online were directed at the government’s inability to find solutions to the country’s transportation problems simply because public officials are detached from the inconveniences that regular commuters experience. The question commonly asked: Is their time more important than that of ordinary taxpayers? A survey by the transport advocacy network The Passenger Forum last year showed that 79 percent of the respondents agreed that their waiting time to get a ride was too long, while 96 percent disagreed that the number of public utility vehicles on the road, including buses and jeepneys, was enough to service commuters.The revision of MMDA’s bus lane policy to exempt the country’s top officials and their convoys, a policy that starts tomorrow, Nov. 20, has added to the public’s displeasure. MMDA reasoned that the president, vice president, Senate president, speaker, and chief justice, and their convoys, are allowed to use the bus lane to “provide assistance in the performance of their duties.” This courtesy however does not extend to Cabinet secretaries, senators, and congressmen using special plates with numbers “6,” “7,” and “8.” The House of Representatives has also issued a statement that it “has not released, or authorized the use of, official plates for vehicles of House Members.” House secretary general Reginald Velasco also sought the cooperation of MMDA and the Land Transportation Office to “apprehend the drivers of vehicles bearing ‘8’ plates and confiscate the expired or spurious plates.” The Senate and the different departments should follow suit.
Aside from the unauthorized use of special plates, it was discovered last year that Chinese bosses of Philippine offshore gaming operator firms or Pogos have been illegally employing policemen to act as security escorts.
Driving in Metro Manila has been labeled as a nightmare, where traffic laws, it seems, do not exist. Imposing hefty fines on ordinary commuters while exempting the high and mighty only encourages the desperate to break the rules. If law enforcers themselves are enablers of this “VIP mindset” and the “wang-wang” mentality, self-important and entitled behavior will continue to exist on the road despite laws that discourage it. Public officials, if they want to be taken seriously, should lead the way by making sure, as the late Manila mayor Alfredo Lim popularized during his term, that “The law applies to all, otherwise none at all.”