POSTSCRIPT / November 14, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Actress in ASEAN lane is in trouble

SOME similarly harassed motorists may understand why movie-TV actress Maria Isabel Lopez broke into the exclusive ASEAN lane on traffic-choked EDSA last Saturday, but rules are rules and she will have to pay for her transgression.

Embarrassed officials of the Metro Manila Development Authority and the Department of Transportation who were caught off guard by the caper said Lopez may have her driver’s license suspended or even revoked despite her apology.

Lopez’s antic dramatized, inadvertently, the irritation of many motorists stuck in traffic, at times for as long as six hours, as Manila hosted the 50th anniversary celebration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the related summit meeting of leaders of some 20 nations.

With her hazard lights blinking like those of convoys ferrying ASEAN dignitaries from the Clark international airport in Pampanga some 80 kilometers north of Manila, Lopez’s breaking into the lanes declared off-limits to ordinary mortals may have escaped notice by traffic officers.

She could have gotten away with it had she not bragged on Facebook: “Driving with hazards ‘on’ at the #aseanlane I removed the divider cones!! Then all the other motorists behind me followed! MMDA thinks I’m an official ASEAN delegate! If u can’t beat ‘em, join them!#nosticker #leadership #belikemaria #pasaway #selfpreservation”

With the gravity of her offense apparently dawning on her, a remorseful Lopez was reported in the news as now saying: “The end doesn’t justify the means, but I had to answer the call of nature because was stuck in traffic for three hours. Sorry but I’m just human.”

The 55-year-old actress did not say what she meant by “call of nature,” but many Filipinos use that expression to refer to an urge to urinate. Many motorists expecting solid state traffic wear adult diapers or bring plastic bottles or urinals in case they have to “answer” nature’s emergency call.

• Actress’ caper bares gaps in traffic plan

THE MMDA, which oversees the traffic management in the national capital region, saw Lopez’s brazenness as a “serious breach of security.” Its spokesperson Celine Pialago said that an apology was not enough to get the actress off the hook.

Officials chorused that “bragging (about) an illegal act on social media is a no-no for a person of her stature.” They may have been referring to her having been Binibining Pilipinas Universe 1982, representing the country in the Miss Universe pageant in Lima, Peru, that year.

Police Regional Director Oscar Albayalde of the National Capital Region and task group commander for ASEAN route security, agreed that Lopez’s license should be suspended or revoked. He said:

“May this incident serve as a stern warning and reminder to the public that all agencies are communicating and are all working hard to provide security and order for the ASEAN Summit. Any violations of the protocols and rules set forth by the ASEAN Task Forces shall not be tolerated.”

Catalino Cuy, officer-in-charge of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, said Lopez’s violation should not be condoned nor tolerated as “it can halt and derail traffic management and can put at risk both the summit delegates and the traffic violators themselves.”

No official has explained, however, why their best laid out traffic plan was breached by an ordinary motorist acting on impulse. It took her mentioning it on Facebook for them to note the violation. Reports were skimpy on other motorists who followed Lopez into the breached ASEAN lane.

Without intending it, Lopez’s “call of nature” may have shown up the inadequacies of the government’s approach to long-festering problems whose parameters have been more or less already established. Are we ready to learn from the unfortunate incident?

• Traffic bosses can borrow from Japan

DURING the one-year advance notice, what was done to plan for the expected transporting of x-number of people, including dignitaries, in connection with the ASEAN events that the Philippines had been pre-determined to host in 2017?

How we eventually fared can be seen in scattered reports, some of them in media — including anecdotes of motorists peeing in their pants, of vehicles overheating or running out of fuel while stuck in stalled traffic, of ambulances with relatives of dying patients crying for deliverance, etc.

One unanswered question is why thousands of vehicles, with engines running, have to wait three to five hours beside ASEAN lanes that are empty. Did not the elaborate plans include possibly using the idle lanes for regular traffic during the long wait for the VIP convoys?

Obviously, the time-and-motion study for ASEAN traffic management was inadequate. Could not planners have calculated the escorted VIP convoys’ length/volume, their speed on what routes, their travel time between pre-marked points — so their entering the special lanes could be anticipated to the nearest 10 minutes?

While the convoys are still hours away, the empty ASEAN lanes could have been opened to other traffic, and reverted to VIP use at calculated intervals.

With modern communication equipment and computers – coupled with competent captains and efficient personnel on the ground — this degree of precision could have been approximated. Confusion, irritation and damage could have been minimized.

If ASEAN traffic planners and managers did not know how to do it, one easy way out would have been for the administration to ask the Japanese how it is done.

We presume that Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a good friend of President Rodrigo Duterte, would have been glad to send his boys to help.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 14, 2017)

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