By Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco

TRAFFIC gridlock in Metro Manila is so bad that for many Filipinos the daily commute is “hell on earth.”

The Japan International Cooperation Agency estimates that Carmageddon is costing the Philippine economy about P3.5 billion pesos a day in potential income lost. Needless to say, the mental and emotional toll on citizens is utterly beyond measure.

Recent Senate hearings have been occasions for political grandstanding and, so far, they have not led to actual solutions. Even Malacañang is about to throw in the towel, willing to condemn a third of the Philippine population to just suffer and endure Metro Manila traffic everyday.

But there is an absolute abundance of proposed solutions out there. Some are conventional such as constructing more roads, decreasing the number of private cars on our streets, stricter enforcement of traffic rules, incentivizing carpooling, and fast-tracking current public works projects.

Others are bolder, such as overhauling the bus system, building a comprehensive railway network, massive reconfiguration of work schedules, and de-populating Metro Manila.

Carmageddon is a tragedy that cripples everyone in Metro Manila. Hence, the business sector has consistently expressed its willingness to cooperate with government. Even civil society has not manifested any disdain to do its part to address this catastrophe.

So, what is the problem really?

Metro Manila resident and regular commentator on the traffic mayhem, Michael Brown, articulates the answer to this question very well, to wit:

“Metro Manila traffic is congested and chaotic, not because it’s unmanageable, but rather because it is unmanaged.”

Brown points here to the absence of coherence in efforts to address Carmageddon. Ostensibly, this horrible problem will not be solved if our political leaders are more interested in badmouthing each other.

The reality is that the chaos in our roads can only be remedied by a meeting of rational minds. And the administration can achieve this by resorting to the principle of Intergovernmental Relations or IGR.

IGR is explained in academic literature as fundamentally the coming together of different orders of governments within a political system, through formal or informal processes, to work towards the achievement of common goals.

IGR mechanisms are utilized to facilitate cooperation and collaboration in both the policymaking process and in the delivery of public services. Thus avoiding redundancies, duplication, unreasonable fragmentation and ineffective amalgamation. For this reason, IGR is now considered an integral component of good governance.

The concept of IGR is traditionally associated with federal systems. IGR processes have been described as the “lifeblood of federalism in practice.” But many scholars maintain that IGR mechanisms can and do play a key function in unitary systems with embedded decentralization arrangements such as the Philippines.

Notably, for an IGR mechanism to work, the following elements must be present:

1. There should be mutual respect between the different levels of government. There must be an unequivocal recognition of each side’s authority and accountability.

2. There must be an ethos of interdependence. Each side must see the need to cooperate and collaborate to achieve the intended goal.

3. The IGR mechanism must be a platform for civic participation. Hence, there must be space for civil society organizations to engage in the policy-making process as well as in the implementation phase of any development program.

Pertinently, these are governance prescriptions that exemplify coherence in an approach to solve Metro Manila’s traffic calamity. Indeed, rational thinking dictates that the driving force behind the effort can only be the need for collective action. Pining for a singular savior to dictate on the community is clearly misplaced.

The fact is the growing complexity of public mandates means that different levels of government are now mutually dependent in many regards. And as the demands of modern governance intensify, having a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of IGR has become extremely important for a state with a multilevel system of government.

Such a caveat is particularly urgent for the Philippines because cooperation and collaboration by and between the central government and local government have yet to be instinctively and consistently practiced — as evidenced by how the traffic situation in Metro Manila regressed to such a horrific level under the noses of different political leaders.

The task ahead requires a new way of defining “managing” traffic, or, more precisely, mobility in Metro Manila. A willingness to dialogue instead of debating and criticizing one another is the first step.

Local chief executives in Metro Manila, pertinent members of the Cabinet, business groups and civil society organizations can then get together to deliberate and devise a comprehensive action plan as well as find alignment and cohesion in implementing that plan.

This is exactly the moment where common goals can be agreed upon, a timeline with milestones can be set, respective commitments can be pencilled in, and sacrifices for the greater good can be equitably shared.

Illusions of needing a powerful hero to save us all will have to be set aside. And there should be no tolerance for credit-grabbing and blame-shifting. It will just be the coming together of citizens primed for honest-to-goodness collective action in the tradition of bayanihan.

Carmageddon is one of the most difficult disasters our nation has ever faced. The need of the hour are political leaders who can inspire and mobilize Filipinos. So far, only the petty, vindictive and indifferent ones are making the headlines.

Hopefully, this administration gives IGR serious consideration. For an approach anchored on consensus-building will not only provide some immediate relief for commuters, but it can also significantly increase the chances of resolving this huge problem for good.

 

Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M is a non-resident research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government.