Numbers Don’t Lie

In my hands is a copy of the “Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila and its Surrounding Areas.” Formulated by the Philippine government in cooperation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), this roadmap outlines the ways in which Metro Manila traffic can be properly addressed today, all the way to the year 2030.

Within this 160 page roadmap is a plan to maximize existing roads and railways; a rationalization plan for public utility vehicles (PUVs); the infrastructure plan to absorb future growth; a relocation plan for illegal settlers; and a plan for traffic during floods and earthquakes, among others. It even touches upon airports and sea ports as they also affect traffic.

With emergency powers, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) says it can put in place a sufficient number of solutions (all prescribed by this roadmap) to solve the traffic imbroglio in two years. Without it, it could take a decade. The DOTr has been asking the legislature for emergency powers since 2016.

The Lower House had already approved on third reading the bill to give government emergency powers. However, the bill has been in limbo in the Senate. Senator Grace Poe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Services, believes that there are already enough laws that allow the DOTr to solve the traffic crisis even without emergency powers. In particular, laws that expedite the acquisition of right of ways (ROWs) and procurement of good and services.

She further asserts that emergency powers should not be take lightly as it can be abused for wanton corruption and to forward Malacañang’s political agenda. According to her, “For you to give something as immense as emergency powers, you have to be sniper accurate, it cannot be a shotgun approach. It’s like giving a loaded gun to a child if they don’t have a plan.” She further opined that “It is not the lack of powers, but the lack of a master plan and more aggressive action from the DOTr that bears emphasizing.”

For its part, the DOTr says it had already submitted its plan to the Senate, both the comprehensive version and the specific projects in which emergency powers will be used. It also submitted a comparative report that highlights how fast certain projects can move with emergency powers and how long it will take without it.

Here are the other reasons why emergency powers are needed, according to the DOTr:

On traffic rules, the local government code empowers Metro Manila’s 17 local government units to implement its own traffic ordinances. These includes how many franchises it awards to jeep and tricycle operators, their routes and pick up points, which roads are restricted to one-way traffic, etc. These traffic ordinances are not coordinated among cities. This is why the traffic system in Metro Manila is disjointed and inconsistent. Exacerbating the situation is that the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (better known as the MMDA), the Land Transportation Office, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, and Highway Patrol each have their mandates which are neither synchronized nor conform to a homogenized masterplan.

Among the provision of emergency powers is to appoint a “traffic czar,” in this case, DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade. His role is to rationalize the city’s traffic laws, its PUV system, its infrastructure and all other factors that affect traffic. Not only will this eliminate redundancies and disconnections, it will also do away with the bureaucratic delays arising from cross-coordinating between government agencies and LGUs.

The sheer number of buses, their disrespect for traffic rules and the bus depots located on EDSA are major contributors to traffic. As we all know, the LTFRB awards bus franchises to political personalities and members of the military as political favors with little regard on their numbers on the road.

Emergency powers are needed to calibrate the supply and demand of buses in the city. This cannot be done today, not without a flurry of injunctions and temporary restraining orders that bus operators can slap government with. These legal maneuvers are intended to paralyze whatever rationalization program government may have.

On the acquisition of right of ways (ROW), it is said that by virtue of Republic Act 10752, negotiated sales of private property should not take longer than 30 days. If negotiations fail, an expropriation case can follow for which the Writ of Possession of the property will be issued by the courts to government no later than seven days from deposit of 100% of zonal valuation. In principal, it would seem that RA 10752 solves the lengthy delays in the acquisition of ROWs. It is not the case, says the DOTr

See, using the mode of negotiated sale, the law requires that government pay a down-payment of 50% for real property and 75% for improvements before it facilitates a takeover. The balance will only be paid once the title had been transferred to the government. Because of such terms, no property owner is ever willing to transfer their titles without securing full payment. Without fail, the transactions break down and government has no recourse but to invoke the legal process of eminent domain. This could take years. Emergency powers expedites the ROW process to a matter of months, opening the way for the speedy construction of roads, railways, bridges, and depots.

On procurement. The law mandates government agencies to conduct public biddings if it purchases goods or services worth more one million pesos or more. This usually takes a year to do.

Now, its been said that the process can be shortened to three to six months if alternative modes of procurement such as direct contracting, repeat order, or negotiated procurement are utilized. These modes of procurement are permitted by virtue of Republic Act 9184 and Executive Order 34. Again, the DOTr says this is not the case.

While parts of the process can be shortened, negotiated procurement still requires public bidding. Moreover, there are only three situations wherein negotiated procurement under emergency cases may be used. The first two requires a state of calamity, while the third is when immediate action is needed to prevent damage or loss to lives and properties. In short, the DOTr will have to wait for a disaster to happen before it can procure using this mode. Emergency powers solves this.

Further, emergency powers will allow government to relocate informal settlers faster so as to expedite priority infrastructure projects.

The lack of alternative routes causes clogging of major arteries like EDSA. Emergency powers allow government to open roads in private subdivisions for public use. Again, this cannot be done without emergency powers as private subdivisions can take one legal recourse after another to prevent government from appropriating its property.

The DOTr has both the roadmap and political will to solve the traffic crisis. Unfortunately, it is stymied by the many laws and bureaucratic processes that make carrying-out these solutions a grueling task. The DOTr is asking emergency powers because the traffic situation has reached crisis proportions. It can only provide immediate relief if it will be given the powers to do what has to be done. Otherwise, relief will not be immediate.

As always, there are sectors who oppose granting emergency powers to government. Who are they?

The residents of posh villages and subdivisions. The bus operators and the politicians/military men behind them — many of them stand to lose their franchises. Long time government suppliers. Relaxing procurement laws will allow new suppliers to penetrate. They will now have to contend with competition. Corrupt judges. With emergency powers, only the Supreme Court can issue TROs and injunctions. Corrupt judges of lower courts who “sell” their TROs stand to lose their source of creative income.

The DOTr and even the President himself are so exasperated with the delays of the Senate that they are no longer keen on emergency powers. So much time has been wasted that even if the legislature awards government emergency powers today, there will be barely enough time to get the entire package of traffic solutions done. As Mr. Tugade said, his department will simply do the best they can with the existing framework of the law. But with this, the public cannot expect a swift solution to the traffic mess.

One wonders why the Senate will not accede to giving government emergency powers. After all, it has oversight functions and can rescind the powers at the slightest instance of abuse.

When stuck in traffic, lets not forget that we once had the chance to solve it — but the Senate stood in the way.


Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.