It’s a crisis
My sympathies to the innocent victims of the dastardly bombing in Davao City. It’s a horror no family should suffer. May the bastards that did it be quickly caught, and incarcerated forever. They have no place in this society.
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Frustration: “A feeling of anger or annoyance caused by being unable to do something. The act of preventing the success of something.” The first sentence says what I, we all, feel. The second involves government bureaucrats and excessive systems bolstered by some losers and ambulance-chasing lawyers.
What am I talking about? What frustrates us all: traffic.
The horrendous traffic situation is caused by an understandable (I suppose) lack of foresight by our forefathers to design a true city of the future. Not true, by the way, of the Fort or Filinvest, which are new cities where it was already well-known that moving millions of people needed a vastly different city design. Instead, we have these “new” cities with the ancient concept of intersections, too narrow roads, no off-street stopping areas. And (this truly gets me): no great parks. As my friend Eddie Yap said: “Rockwell is the only CBD with a well-designed road network and with pleasant landscaped surroundings. The setbacks are adequate for trees to grow and spread their branches. All other CBDs are traffic traps with everyday gridlock the rule.”
Over the past three decades there’s been almost no construction of the infrastructure needed by a city of about 12 million people. The NLEx and SLEx are just about it. Unbelievable. The connection between them, an obvious urgent need, got nowhere under the six years of the past administration. Yet it is much-needed infrastructure.
President Duterte has rightly realized that a crisis needs a crisis solution. Fidel V. Ramos did, too. When he came to power we had no power; there were 8-12-hour blackouts almost daily because infrastructure (power plants) wasn’t built under Cory Aquino. FVR asked for emergency powers, and Congress delivered. He had enough power plants built within 18 months. We had power 24/7.
Mr. Duterte wants emergency powers, to address a traffic crisis this time. Congress should readily grant his request—within the next three months, please—but define what these powers cover very specifically.
What would the emergency powers (EP) cover? The first, and most important, is to be able to bypass the cumbersome procurement processes of the bureaucracy. Contracts for infrastructure and services should be directly negotiated with experienced suppliers, not publicly bid. Executive Order No. 1 granting freedom of information in the executive branch should be enough to ensure the honesty and transparency of the deals. No one should be able to call for a temporary restraining order. And those hateful TROs must not be allowed in the EP law. We have to get moving, not be endlessly stalled in court. The bill seeks to allow only the Supreme Court to issue the TROs. I don’t agree, but if it must, then the high court should agree to issue any TRO with extreme reluctance. Err on the side of NO.
Another is right of way. This is where the EP can really help. The years of delay while landowners refuse to vacate must be stopped for the national good—BUT they must be adequately recompensed. I’ve suggested, not the current appraised value, but 1.5 times the market value. That’s fair, and the proposed EP law should provide it.
The traffic czar to be appointed needs overriding powers over all departments, agencies and local government units on issues related to traffic. Seventeen LGU officials cannot, for now, have authority over traffic and all the facilities tied to it. It’s a power they have a right to in normal circumstances, but these are not normal circumstances. It would probably be done through expanded powers for the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. Those powers must include how roads are used, which ones can be allowed for parking, which ones can’t, etc. Malls, office blocks, schools must have off-street drop-off, pick-up, etc. The convenience of individuals must be replaced by the convenience of the majority. What’s best for the majority must be the guiding principle.
The law must allow the cancellation of erroneous contracts and questionable (or even not questionable) franchises. For instance, the MRT3 maintenance contract must be canceled; reimbursement, if appropriate, must be made. The job must be given back to Sumitomo, which did it competently. The contract with the private owners must be restored until the end of the concession period. The administration must end the previous one’s bad habit of breaking contracts or changing rules after an investor has invested.
Bus franchises must be canceled—there are just too many—and the 42 so-called bus terminals relocated to where they don’t disrupt traffic. There must be a single bus lane on Edsa, for example, composed of a cooperative of a few legitimate franchise owners, who will agree to pay drivers a fixed, decent salary and to dictate to them that they must stay only in that lane, and no overtaking for passengers. In more enlightened cities, buses travel on a fixed schedule, stop only at bus stops, and are only as many as needed. Pretty common sense, you’d think. That’s needed on Edsa—and elsewhere.
The proposed one-year period for emergency powers is too short; there’s just too much to accomplish. Two years would be far more practical. Mind you, I’d like it to be forever. It’s time to no longer be intimidated by an absurdly complex and restrictive procurement law, and the need to accept the lowest public bidder even if there may be a more competent, but slightly more expensive, one.
It’s time for emergency powers to address a real crisis. Time to get moving so we can move.
E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com
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