HOW many patients in ambulances caught in traffic must die and how many more billions of man-hours be wasted in the Metro Manila gridlock before lawmakers give President Duterte the emergency powers he wants to solve the problem?
It cannot be that the perceived authoritarian bent of Duterte is making even his supermajority in the Congress hesitate to grant him the legal short-cuts he seeks to make good his three-year-old promise to solve the Metro Manila traffic crisis.
Emergency powers must be granted with extreme care, especially to a forceful Chief Executive to whom the notion of checks and balances and the need for due process appear at times to be more of an obstacle than an aid to good governance.
Exercising emergency powers on May 23, 2017, Duterte issued Proclamation No. 216 imposing martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao initially for 60 days on the basis of an “invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it”.
The Congress not only gave him the benefit of the doubt, but also approved on Dec. 12, 2018, Duterte’s request to extend the emergency measure until the end of 2019, as an “invasion or rebellion” reportedly persists in Mindanao and public safety requires it.
It is a matter of opinion if the resort to emergency powers has improved substantially the security situation in Mindanao or if the supposed invasion or rebellion threatening public safety has been quelled, assuming it has existed all along.
We are mentioning martial law in Mindanao only as guide for guessing how Duterte might use emergency powers, even if in another area of concern, such as the traffic congestion threatening to strangle such urban centers as Metro Manila and Metro Cebu.
Based on the presentation Tuesday of transportation officials in the Senate, the focus of the emergency powers being sought is on infrastructure-building, which has been slowed down by legal requirements that Duterte wants to bypass.
It would help if the administration enumerates clearly the emergency powers the President wants, citing their factual and legal bases, so there could at least be intelligent discussion.
The consolidated bill should also outline an action plan. We understand that although the emergency powers pertain to the President, he intends to appoint a traffic czar to carry out his wishes and orchestrate government moves.
Responsibility and accountability should be clear. At present, everybody’s finger is into traffic — including the Metro Manila Development Authority, 17 local governments, the transportation department and its agencies, the PNP highway patrol group, et al.
This week, MMDA asked the public for “research-backed” ideas. If only MMDA were awake, it could have gathered more than enough suggestions – from the sublime to the paralytic — simply by listening to radio-TV commentaries and reading print opinion pieces.
Reacting to the call, @tomatomatis said on Twitter that the UP National Center for Transportation Studies alone has been giving MMDA “thousands of suggestions not just for EDSA but the whole Metro, backed by researches and simulations for decades — yet those suggestions fell on deaf ears, since they cannot and will not benefit politicians?”
Mention of Metro Manila reminds us that the emergency powers that the Congress may grant must be area/project-specific, and possibly time-bound, to maximize control and minimize abuse.
The emergency powers should not over-reach to other projects and places outside those specified in the bill as the traffic crisis is not nationwide. Steps shown to have worked in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu could later on be adapted to similar situations elsewhere.
• Tugade asks for 2 years to rush things
TRANSPORTATION Secretary Arthur Tugade asked Congress for two years of emergency powers as he spoke Tuesday of opportunity lost while the administration’s hands have been tied in addressing transportation and traffic problems.
Addressing the Senate committee on public services, Tugade and other transport officials explained that if only the emergency powers had been granted in previous years, more projects and programs would have been completed by now.
He said that despite its many completed projects, his department could have done more with emergency powers: “Wala ‘ho kaming sinasabi na wala ‘ho kaming nagawa kasi walang emergency power. Ang sinasabi ko ‘ho, mas marami ‘ho sana kaming nagawa kung meron ‘hong emergency power.”
The grant of emergency powers would only last for one to two years, he said, and the oversight functions of the Congress would remain.
During the hearing, transport officials reported on the status of projects and future plans to help relieve traffic congestion in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu.
Pending in the chamber is Senate Bill No. 213, or the Special Emergency Power Act, which aims to give President Duterte full authority to “initiate measures to solve the country’s traffic problem.” A traffic czar would exercise the options given to the President.
The House of Representatives approved on Dec. 3, 2018, its counterpart bill HB 6425, or the “Traffic Crisis Act of 2017”.
Transport officials explained that the grant of emergency powers would allow the adoption of policies that would avoid the time-consuming amendment of existing laws and ordinances.
They said the grant would also fast-track procurement, right-of-way acquisition, and relocation of communities, while enabling the faster launching of priority projects and partial start of operations.
Undersecretary for Railways Timothy Batan said: “With emergency powers, we can finish our railway projects ahead of the original schedule and implement partial operability so that the riding public need not wait for full completion.”
Undersecretary for Road Transport and Infrastructure Mark de Leon added: “One problem that the emergency powers can resolve is the consolidation of franchises so that all buses will coordinate as one unit.”
Assistant Secretary for Procurement and Project Implementation Giovanni Lopez said: “Procurement can be done faster with no issues through emergency powers. That is what we need right now to avoid delays in our infrastructure projects.”