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Ten years of Arroyo, five years of Aquino

FIFTEEN YEARS ago I wrote an article on the traffic situation in Metro Manila. This was how things were.

“At a dinner to welcome balikbayan friends who had not been home in ages, the conversation turned to the incredible traffic situation in Metro Manila. Half of the guests were late, with most of them claiming to be within a few hundred yards from the place only to be bottled up in one huge parking lot that was crawling forward by the inch.

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“One of the local guests noted that the traffic problem must take a terrible toll on the productivity of our workers who have to rely on the public mass transport system to get to work and home. He figured that on a good day it takes the average worker at least three hours to get to his place of work which probably means getting up at four in the morning in preparation for making the trip. When it is time to go home, he is lucky if he is able to get a ride immediately. More often, he must wait for at least one hour before he can get on a crowded bus or jeepney and then the long ride home begins, lasting anywhere from three to four hours, depending on his final destination. During the rainy season, the waiting is made a lot more uncomfortable by the lack of waiting sheds for the commuter, and the trip is a bit longer as the traffic situation turns for the worse. The rains result in the disappearance of traffic aides from the streets, and oftentimes, traffic lights at vital intersections go on the blink.

“By the time the poor fellow gets home he is just too tired for any relaxation or if he is drenched to the skin, he probably is in for a bout with the flu or something even more serious. But whatever, in a few hours, he knows he must gather his weary bones together and start the dreaded routine all over again.

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“Just how much productivity and effectiveness can one expect from a worker who spends almost eight hours on the road? No amount of monetary compensation can make him a better worker and there are few incentives available that can raise his level of efficiency when he lacks sleep, and is bothered by coughing that comes from too much pollution while on the road.

“As if to confirm these observations, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) came out with a study indicating that directly and indirectly, the country was losing some P140 billion annually due to the traffic situation, mainly in Metro Manila. The study showed that the direct economic loss came up to P40 billion and this covered the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, man hours, electricity and salaries for traffic aides. The indirect losses estimated at P100 billion, were for lost business opportunities, depreciated value of real property, and increased cost of healthcare due to pollutants emitted by vehicles.

“The JICA paper identified three mains culprits for the traffic jams that we have come to expect every day. They were: bad driving habits, poor enforcement of traffic rules and regulations, and unregulated street diggings and related construction activities. The paper also indicated that about P822 billion would be needed in the next 15 years just to address the issue of new road construction.”

* * *

Fifteen years have gone by. Nothing has changed. In fact, the situation has gotten worse.

Part of the heavy burden for any individual running as the administration candidate would be explaining to the public what happened to our transport system during P-Noy’s administration. The introduction of mass transport systems has not resulted in any improvement in the traffic situation.

Unless Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya can pull off a miracle and get the trains running again safely and regularly, there is no way his Liberal Party can make it to Malacañang regardless of any presidential anointment.

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Sen. Grace Poe is well aware of this albatross around the neck of any administration candidate. That is probably the reason why after a number of meetings with P-Noy, she has seen it prudent to distance herself from any political party, preferring to maintain an independent stance. She knows from personal experience the difficulties and travails of the Filipino commuter, and she is not going to be an apologist for what many see as one of the biggest failures of the Aquino administration.

* * *

Next year we shall be electing a new president and commander in chief. We cannot afford another six years of doing nothing about an issue so vital to Juan dela Cruz. Let us be careful in choosing the next team of leaders.

The Poe-Escudero tandem has been moving around the country lately, perhaps trying to get some kind of reading of the public pulse as to their acceptability.

There is no doubt that the lady is high on the list of our people. In the case of Escudero, he remains a question mark among undecided voters. One might say that he is better known as the husband of Heart Evangelista, and as the man who gave us “Noy-Bi” during the 2010 elections. Perhaps he should slow down when he talks as he tends to be aggressively self-assertive almost to the point of arrogance. Some people call it brashness.

It remains to be seen if Escudero provides the right balance for a Grace Poe candidacy.

* * *

Our congratulations to the new Philippine National Police chief, Director General Ricardo Marquez. Seven months after former chief Alan Purisima was suspended from office, the PNP now has a permanent head, complete with four stars on his shoulders. Makes you wonder why it took P-Noy so long to appoint a PNP chief considering that in the end, his choice was all this time serving in Camp Crame. Marquez was the director for operations, sporting only two stars when he was appointed PNP chief.

Incidentally, the new PNP chief’s classmate, Director Getulio Napeñas, former chief of the Special Action Force, retired last Saturday upon reaching mandatory retirement age. So far, no charges have been filed against any official for the bloody Mamasapano incident which led to the death of 44 SAF troopers during operations aimed at arresting the Malaysian bomb-maker Marwan and Filipino terrorist Basit Usman.

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TAGS: Alan Purisima, Mass transport system, nation, news, traffic congestion, Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya
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