POSTSCRIPT / March 12, 2015 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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No need to resign. Just go on vacation

BIG RELIEF: Here’s another unsolicited advice for President Noynoy Aquino: Sir, you might want to go on a Holy Retreat on Palm Sunday, followed by an open-ended vacation leave.

The tired President does not have to explain. We will understand. He, as well as the country, needs a break. Badly.

He might even find the retreat and vacation so blissfully liberating that he might decide to extend it till his replacement is elected in May 2016. That long vacation will be one big relief for everybody all around.

Since his going on vacation will not create a vacancy, Vice President Jojo Binay, anxiously waiting in the wings, need not jump up to assume the presidency.

The Cabinet and the bureaucracy will run (or run down) things. Everybody might be surprised to discover that the government will continue to function normally without the President fumbling with the switches.

One problem here is that we might get used to moving on without Noynoy Aquino. Not to worry. We will cross that bridge after we build it across the River Styx.

* * *

NO SOLUTION: In the House yesterday, while Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya was regaling congressmen with a story about another light rail line (MRT-7) to be built from the Tala area to North Avenue in Quezon City, another of his MRT-3 trains still crawling stalled in QC.

Again, the train stopped when it approached another dangerously worn-out section of the track. Such frequent stalling is no longer news to stressed passengers who have to get off and hike back to the station where they had lined up earlier.

Instead of saying how he intended to restore quickly the safety and reliability of MRT-3, Abaya distracted the congressmen – many of them his Liberal party mates — about a grand MRT-7 line to be rushed before President Aquino steps down in 2016.

* * *

CANNIBALIZATION: The private owners of MRT-3 have been complaining to the DoTC, which operates the line, about the cannibalization of the system. Since there is no inventory of critical parts, the DoTC has resorted to “borrowing” needed parts from some of the idle coaches.

In a letter to DoTC Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo M. Lotilla, the MRT Corp. expressed its “utmost reservation on this … action unilaterally taken by DoTC which effectively cannibalizes the MRT-3 System.”

The MRT started out 15 years ago with 24 trains, each composed of three coaches or cars. Last year only 16 of them were running, partly because of cannibalization. Sources said only 12 to 14 trains are now running on the 16-kilometer line.

Unless a complete rehabilitation of the system is made quickly the number of trains running is expected to dwindle. This is apart from other urgent safety problems, among them involving worn out rails requiring replacement.

* * *

BAND AID: While the MRTC as the owner of MRT-3 supports efforts to ensure the safety and integrity of the system in the interest of the riding public, it told the DoTC:

“We take exception to the DoTC (deciding) to use the stabling rails in the (main line and depot) as a replacement for the defective and worn-out rails in the main line without the prior consent or prior approval of the MRTC.

“(This) is a band aid solution or short-run palliative to the fundamental issue on the proper maintenance of the MRT-3 system and does not permanently address the various problems. What is needed is a full rehabilitation of the system under one single point of responsibility.”

Under this concept, the previous maintenance provider, Sumitomo Corp., handled everything related to maintaining the operational integrity of the system – all for a fixed contract price – including the buying and stockpiling of all parts needed. No cannibalizing was done.

Under APT Global, the current maintenance provider, much of the contractor’s work has been largely repairs. It does not maintain a stock of spare parts.

* * *

HOT-AIR BALLOONS: Another safety question was settled finally, in our mind and in the field: Why hold a hot-air balloon festival right beside a busy international airport? How will planes navigate among the giant balloons drifting into their path?

Last year, as it was in previous years, Clark Freeport in Pampanga where the Clark International Airport is located was the site of the annual balloon festival and competition.

But this month, the Department of Tourism announced that the 19thevent will be held far enough south of Clark in barangay Prado Siongco in Lubao town.

Ronnie Tiotuico, DoT director for Central Luzon and one of the founders of the hot air balloon festival in 1994, said 45 balloonists from various countries are expected to participate in the Lubao edition March 26-29.

* * *

REGIONAL HUB: In a forum with Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) in Clark, Tiotuico said this month’s event could launch Prado Siongco as the hot-air balloon capital of Southeast Asia.

Blessed with predictable air current, Lubao at 33 kilometers from Clark International Airport is well outside what is considered safe by the world standard of a minimum 25-kilometer radius from an airport.

Tiotuico recalled a two-hour delay in the flight of a commercial airline during the balloon fiesta in Clark on Feb. 12 to 15 last year. He said that an inbound passenger flight was delayed to give way to the launching of hot-air balloons.

A multi-sectoral group called Pinoy Gumising Ka Movement (PGKM) batting for the transformation of Clark into a premiere international gateway since the Ramos administration criticized the holding of the balloon festival within Clark.

PGKM chair Ruperto Cruz said holding it in Clark would torpedo moves to promote the idea of twin international gateways in Luzon, one in Pasay City and another in Pampanga at most 40 minutes away via a proposed dedicated express train.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 12, 2015)

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