POSTSCRIPT / October 8, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Grant Du30 traffic emergency powers

WITH the mass transport crisis threatening to choke the national capital, we are under pressure to grant quickly to President Duterte emergency powers for a specific period to solve Metro Manila traffic problems.

It may be fatal for the capital region if the Congress tarried in concluding public hearings on questions whose answers are already known or accessible to it. The Senate, for one, may want to rush action on SB 213, or the Special Emergency Power Act, and catch up.

Anyway, all parties questioning the President’ s assuming emergency powers to address this specific crisis still have a recourse to court action.

Last week’s total standstill at the South Luzon Expressway, paralyzing vehicular traffic for more than 20 kilometers between Laguna and Alabang and causing thousands to miss work, classes, appointments and flights, gave an idea of what “carmageddon” could be like.

On EDSA, the main artery of the metropolis, patients in ambulances rushing them to hospitals have been reported to have died while stuck in solid state traffic. To such deaths, add the billions lost daily in man-hours.

All sorts of solutions have been suggested by experts and amateurs – the authorities will not run out of unsolicited advice. But we still have to see a Master Plan, plus a table assigning responsibilities. Provision for that can be inserted in the proposed law.

Also last week, all light rail systems in the metropolis – LRT-1, LRT-2 and LRT-3 – experienced technical glitches that stranded thousands of commuters. Even on trouble-free days, it is obvious that the systems are under severe stress.

Service on LRT-2, the only train system in Manila running east to west, stopped Thursday after electrical fire broke out between two stations. The line serving 200,000 commuters daily will be closed for repairs for nine months, a period long enough for a baby to be conceived and born!

We are not suggesting that a blank check be issued to the President, who must present to the Congress a ready plan. Armed with emergency powers, within reasonable limits and safeguards, he should deliver in, he said, two years.

Consideration of SB 213 was suspended last month after Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the committee on public services, tangled with Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, the proposed “traffic czar” to act for the President in addressing the crisis.

Poe described Tugade as underperforming, hinting that his department has been using the lack of emergency powers as an excuse for falling on its job.

Tugade, one of the most industrious Cabinet members, shot back with something like the lady senator being so full of herself and warning that he would not allow himself to be used as a prop for political theatrics.

President Duterte himself, apparently exasperated with the slow drag in the legislature, was reported to have remarked that if the lawmakers do not want to grant him emergency powers to solve the traffic crisis, “huwag na lang” (never mind).

 Senate bill provides legal shortcuts

THE PROPOSED Special Emergency Power Act authorizes the President to use all necessary government resources, exercise police power, and employ executive actions and measures, among other things, to solve the traffic problem.

That sounds all-encompassing, but it says also that “the exercise of emergency powers shall be limited to acts that would resolve the traffic and congestion crisis.”

The emergency referred to includes land, air, and sea traffic in Metro Manila, Metropolitan Cebu, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro, and other highly urbanized cities. We suggest, however, that the crisis action be tried first in Metro Manila and possibly Metro Cebu.

The bill designates the Secretary of Transportation as the traffic czar during the emergency, adding: “The czar is hereby authorized to exercise all powers granted to the President.”

The bill allows the traffic czar, when necessary, to “take over or direct the operation of any kind of PUVs” to implement the law. But “the ownership of the franchise shall not be transferred to the government and shall remain with the owner.”

It adds: “The takeover shall cease when, in the discretion of the czar, the takeover is no longer necessary or upon the expiration of this Act or until the emergency power is withdrawn by the Congress.”

The bill also says that private roads, including those in villages and subdivisions, may be opened to public use “subject to security and limitations” to be agreed upon among the czar, the local government unit, and the affected residential association or be the subject of expropriation.”

It adds: “In case of refusal by the residential association, or failure to agree within 15 calendar days, the government may proceed to acquire the same in accordance with Section 8 of this Act.”

The traffic czar will be allowed to resolve immediately issues and bottlenecks in transport, infrastructure, and the acquisition of right-of-way – which is among the costly and time-consuming stages in many infrastructure projects.

Legal shortcuts in the existing procedures are proposed: “Negotiated sale shall be the primary mode of acquisition and must be concluded within 10 days from notice to the property owner. After a failed negotiation, the czar shall authorize the immediate filing of a case for expropriation.”

The czar shall be authorized also to enter into “direct contracting, repeat order, direct negotiation of contract, and other alternative modes of procurement under the RA 9184 for priority projects for the construction, repair, restoration, rehabilitation, improvement or maintenance of infrastructure, projects, and facilities, subject to auditing rules and regulations.”

That will suspend the protest mechanism under Article XVII of RA 9184, and is likely to be challenged in court.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 8, 2019)

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