By Charmaine A. Tadalan

SENATE leaders remain unconvinced that the Executive branch needs emergency powers to solve worsening traffic in Metro Manila and other key urban centers, citing in a public hearing on Tuesday the Department of Transportation’s (DoTr) lack of a master plan.

Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade asked Congress to grant the Executive emergency powers in order to hasten procurement, acquisition of right-of-way and implementation of priority projects. “Kung nagkaroon sana ng emergency powers noon, dapat ngayon nirerepaso na natin ‘yung nagawa (Had we been granted emergency powers before, we should now be reviewing what had been accomplished),” Mr. Tugade told the Senate Public Services committee.

The committee was tackling Senate Resolution No. 81, filed by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto, which sought an inquiry on the government’s transportation master plan, and Senate Bill No. 213, or the proposed “Special Emergency Powers Act,” authored by Senator Francis N. Tolentino.

Mr. Recto, however, learned during the hearing that the government did not have a comprehensive plan. “I was hoping that there would be a presentation from DoTr kung ano talaga itong planong ito (on such a plan). Did we adopt this plan? Is it feasible, viable? Magkano ba? (How much would it cost us?)” he said. “Kung pinagkasunduan natin na ito ang gagawin natin, makikita natin kung kailangan ng additional power, emergency powers (Had we agreed on what needs to be done, we would have seen if we need additional power, emergency powers).”

Mr. Recto recalled that, in 2014, the National Economic and Development Authority and the Japan International Cooperation Agency drew up a “Dream Plan” to eventually ease traffic, but it was not adopted in full.

Ang istraktura ba natin, ang (Are structures) institutions in place ay capable ba to implement this plan? Ang MMDA (Metropolitan Manila Development Authority), DoTr, DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) dahil lahat kayo ay nakatuon sa problema ng (because all of you are involved in) infra(structure), transport operations at traffic management,” he added, recalling that DoTR did not present any plan to the 17th Congress that ended in June.

Transport expert Rene S. Santiago, who was among those who formulated the “Dream Plan,” volunteered to submit a master plan for the panel’s consideration. He noted that the government has been implementing select segments of the plan as well as other projects, and that these will have to be considered in any master plan.

“The construction of subway, the Mega Manila subway, the North-South commuter railway are part of that plan. The BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) is not,” he said. “Adjustments are acceptable, but if they change the whole behavior of the network, they change the integrity of the plan.”

Senator Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares, committee chairman, for her part, said the committee is still not convinced the government needs emergency powers.

Kung naipresenta lamang nila na emergency powers lang ang makakapagbigay ng solusyon, mabilis pa sa alas quatro, lahat ng Senador papayag, kaso walang nakumbinsi sa mga kasama namin (If DoTr officials explain that it will take no less than emergency powers to solve traffic, all senators will agree to grant them, but none of us are convinced,” she told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday.

Sa ngayon ang (For now, my) stand ko, marami silang nagawa dapat na kahit walang (is that DoTr should have achieved much even without) emergency powers.”

Technical working group meetings starting next week will finalize the committee report on the traffic crisis bill “within a month,” she added.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Aug. 21 hit an unnamed “lady” public official for preventing government from addressing traffic.

“Members of the Senate should consider the grant of emergency powers given that particular situation wherein even patients are dying because the ambulance carrying them could not reach the hospital on time,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a briefing in Malacañang on Tuesday.

“Well, I think the position of the President remains: from the very start he wanted emergency powers to solve the traffic problem/mess but when some senators issued statements against it and insinuated that there might be some abuse of power, he said, “O sige, ‘di kayo na lang,(it’s up to you) at let EDSA rot’,” he added.

“In other words, the President wants to solve that and he really needs emergency powers. Now Secretary [Tugade] is pursuing it. But I understand some of the senators are for it, so let’s see how it goes.”

The proposed “National Traffic and Congestion Crisis Act” is among the proposals which 14 local and foreign business groups pitched to Malacañang and Congress in July.

In the 17th Congress, the measure bagged final reading at the House of Representatives, but remained unacted on in the Senate up to the June 3 adjournment. — with Arjay L. Balinbin