On the Christmas 'carmaggedon' | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

On the Christmas ‘carmaggedon’

/ 06:47 AM December 21, 2014

“Carmageddon” last Friday had been predicted by no less than Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino.

It being a payday and precursor of the last weekend before Christmas (and one of the last shopping days before the feast), Tolentino had been warning motorists to either stay home or plan their trips carefully on that day, warning of horrendous traffic jams and delays of up to two-three hours on the road.


I happened to have a board meeting scheduled at the Mall of Asia that day, so it was with some trepidation that the hubby and I left our home in Antipolo at 9 a.m. for my 11 a.m. appointment. We have this running joke about “not jinxing” the traffic situation whenever we encounter smooth traffic conditions on the road, so neither of us said anything when we found, to our pleasant surprise, practically empty roads on C-5 and Makati.

Indeed, we encountered traffic only in the Baclaran area—but that’s a regular occurrence, anyway. We arrived at MOA by 10 a.m., only to find most shops and restaurants still closed, since the MMDA, we heard on the radio, had reached an agreement with mall owners to ìopen late and close lateî during these last desperate days before Christmas to decongest city streets during the heaviest hours of the day.


* * *

On our way to MOA, we also discovered another reason for the smooth commute: there were traffic enforcers everywhere, some of them private security guards of subdivisions, directing traffic and keeping everyone in order.

Perhaps Tolentino had warned about “carmaggedon” only to forestall any severe criticisms in case Friday lived up to his worst fears. But the good thing is that he didn’t just warn us about it, he pulled out all stops to prevent it. You don’t have to take my word for it. On FB and other social media networks, netizens were nearly unanimous in their praise for the MMDA’s traffic management.

I’m writing this on an early Saturday afternoon, and on our way to our lunch in—yes—Makati, we found the same wide open road conditions as we did on Friday.

I don’t know if the roads will remain clear for the rest of the countdown to Christmas, and I’m inclined not to push our luck any further. But still—Congratulations to Chair Tolentino and to the harried and harassed traffic enforcers. It can’t have been easy being the target of sarcastic and cynical commentators in the previous weeks. But the best revenge, they say, is doing your job, and doing it well!

* * *

Ever since the late President Cory Aquino called them the country’s “new heroes,” overseas Filipino workers have been hailed and honored year in and year out. Their “heroism” is no lie. By sending home the greater part of their earnings to their families, OFWs have kept our economy viable, kept our balance of payments on the positive side and have been a source of funds in emergencies.


Indeed, commentators have noted the “counter-intuitive” behavior of our overseas workers and migrants. When times are tough not just in the Philippines but around the world, one would think remittances would slow down, reduce to a trickle, if not dry up completely. But perhaps they know that if times are hard for them, their relatives back home would be going through a much harder time. So even at a time of severe recession in the United States, Europe and other OFW destinations, remittances increased rather than decreased, keeping the Philippine economy afloat.

Despite the praises heaped on them and expressions of gratitude from the countryís officials, though, OFWs don’t seem to get any priority in terms of services from the government.

* * *

Take the issue of passports. Despite being aware of the absolute need for passports, which ordinary citizens but especially OFWs need to be able to travel, the Department of Foreign Affairs is taking its sweet time before acting to meet the projected passport shortage.

With a service agreement to print data information on passports expiring this Dec. 31, the DFA has yet to decide on whether to start bidding for a new supplier. If no supplier is decided upon before or soon after the contract expires, the DFA will soon be unable to deliver passports to travelers who have an urgent need for them.

As it is, an outdated IT system in use by the current supplier for production planning and printing of passports has been breaking down, causing users to resort to manual “intervention,” and causing delays in passport production. Observers also note that such manual override could lead to security breaches, putting the integrity of Philippine passports in question.

Now people are asking: Why the delay within the DFA to bid out passport production? Is it because, given the looming deadlines, the old supplier—whose performance has been found wanting—is hoping to automatically extend its contract?

Note that long before the issue of the expiring service agreement came up, the DFA was already facing unacceptable delays in the delivery of passports. Among the explanations offered is that out of 18 printers delivered in 2009 when the present supplier won the contract, only two are still in working condition. Some 10 new machines have been ordered, we are told, but they can be used only if a new bidder is recognized.

Nobody can tell for sure why the DFA is dragging its feet on the passport issue. An aspiring bidder, we are told, has been waiting six months since it submitted its bid, but the DFA Bids and Awards Committee doesn’t seem inclined to act with dispatch. Is it because the ones most in need—our “heroic” OFWs—don’t have much by way of political capital or influence?

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TAGS: DFA, MMDA, MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino, Overseas Filipino Workers
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