POSTSCRIPT / August 7, 2014 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Can Aquino admin pass EDSA acid test?

P876-B LOSS: A recent study has concluded that the daily fight for road space in Metro Manila of some 2.3 million vehicles carrying millions of motorists and commuters through sluggish traffic costs P876 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted energy.

Emerging from that horrendous traffic gridlock last Monday, somebody is wont to demand: Let us spend at least half of that loss – or P400 billion – to restore sanity and reduce the traffic aggravation to a tolerable level. Why not, indeed?

But given that pile of money, assuming it is not taken from the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program, will the authorities know how to use it for optimum effect?

Traffic on Epifanio delos Santos Ave. (EDSA), the main circumferential road through which 330,000 vehicles pass each day, has been described by exasperated commuters as the acid test of the administration. If it cannot solve EDSA, what problem can it solve?

The chaos on that 21-kilometer artery contributes to the continuing drop in the approval rating of President Noynoy Aquino in the national capital.

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FINAL SOLUTION?: So now we are being told that after four years of hit and miss experiments, the traffic problem is being taken from the fumbling Metro Manila Development Authority and tossed to a top-level cluster for a final solution.

We would like to see if the meeting this week presided over by no less than Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras is not another one of those huddles hurriedly called when some catastrophic problem hits the administration between the eyes.

The meeting reportedly will integrate the inputs of agencies having to do with Metro Manila traffic, including the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board in light of Monday’s seven-hour bottleneck on C-5 Road resulting from a vehicular accident.

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YOUTH ASSEMBLY: In New York today (Aug. 7), 24-year-old Filipina travel executive April Cuenca will keynote The Youth Assembly at the United Nations with a speech on “Using travel as a tool for development and the role of the youth.”

The assembly brings together 550 global youth leaders to wrap up the UN Millennium Development Goals and discuss the transition to a post-2015 agenda using the soft powers of arts, culture, sports and travel.

Cuenca is the chief executive of Makati-based FlipTrip, an online platform that simplifies travel planning and booking for less travelled destinations in the Philippines. The client accesses information on his destination, picks his accommodations, activities and transportation, then books them all in one go.

Fond of exploring places off the beaten path, Cuenca herself is comfortable and confident traveling with just her blanket, backpack and camera.

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20 STARTUPS: FlipTrip was one of this year’s 20 early-stage startups chosen to vie for at least P1 million worth of seed funding, training and services from IdeaSpace Foundation Inc., the technology incubator and accelerator of the First Pacific Group of Companies for emerging markets.

The other semi-finalists chosen by IdeaSpace from 600 submissions were: BlueLemons, a Filipino theme mobile gaming studio; BusFinder, a GPS-powered real-time tracking system that minimizes commuting time; CholesteLOW, natural anti-cholesterol rice that lowers blood cholesterol; iHarvest, a paddy grain dryer powered by solar energy; iTravelPH, a GPS-based mobile solution that provides transit routes; MyChild, an online and mobile platform for parents and schools to work together to make a child succeed; Nyfti, a three-fold bicycle; R-TAP, a real-time pump controller for efficient water distribution; SALt, sustainable alternative lighting solutions powered by water and salt; SmartFleet, technology platform enabling transport fleets with operations automation, booking, and analytics solutions; SupplyHub, online business platform that connects buyers with suppliers nationwide; Tactiles, hardware kit for basic electronics education; Tambio, all raffles in one app; Taxinoy, taxi-booking app with zero data charges; ToGocery, an intuitive mobile solution for quicker and simpler grocery shopping; Unlock & Load, mobile advertising platform; WattSmart, online energy audit solution to help monitor electricity use in real time; Wheelcare, a wheelchair designed to prevent pressure sores using eye sensors; Zander, a robotic fishpond monitoring and regulating system that eliminates fish kills.

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BUSINESS MODELS: The startups, coming from all corners of the country, received an initial grant worth P100,000 including P50,000 outright cash to work on their minimum viable product, and will have to undergo a six-week incubation program.

“We’ve received a very diverse pool of startup ideas this year, and the ones that emerged in the top 20 are a clear reflection of that,” said Earl Martin Valencia, president and co-founder of IdeaSpace.

After incubation, the teams will present their prototype and business model before a high-level board of judges, including officers from the First Pacific Group of Companies led by business executive Manuel V. Pangilinan. Up to 10 startups will be chosen for the next phase of the program.

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SHARING BENEFITS: Cuenca said in an interview in New York that FlipTrip launched its website focusing first on Manila as a culture and heritage hub then added destinations periodically having in mind spreading tourism benefits to places other than the top five spots. 

“Through promotion of information and booking accessibility,” she said, “we hope that FlipTrip will draw travellers, both international and local, to more far-flung communities so they can share in the trickle-down benefits.”

She seeks closer coordination with local officials, especially in places ravaged by natural disasters like typhoons and earthquakes to help them rebuild and profit from tourism.

Although hit by some 20 typhoons annually, the country generated 44 million local tourists last year, Cuenca said.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 7, 2014)

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