The Philippine Star

Jeepset­ter

- ANA MARIE PAM­INTUAN Justice · Law Enforcement · Law · Congress of the United States · Metro Manila · Manila · Quezon City · Quezon · Marikina City · Philippines · Samar · Pasig · Isko Moreno · United States Department of the Interior · Philippines Department of the Interior and Local Government · Makati · Aklan · Boracay

Look what the pres­i­den­tial spokesman has started.

Af­ter Sal­vador Panelo left his air-con­di­tioned car at home to be­come a jeepset­ter last Fri­day morn­ing, there is now a pro­posal to make top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials com­mute ev­ery Mon­day.

There’s some logic in the pro­posal. But there’s also logic in the re­sponse, ex­pressed by Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Me­nardo Gue­varra, that mak­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials com­mute could only com­pound pub­lic woes.

See­ing the me­dia cir­cus that ac­com­pa­nied Panelo’s foray into jeepset­ting last Fri­day, a reg­u­lar com­muter wouldn’t want to be in the same pub­lic util­ity ve­hi­cle as any gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial ac­cept­ing the com­mute chal­lenge.

Also, as­sum­ing that all mem­bers of Congress plus Cabi­net mem­bers, jus­tices, judges, may­ors and vice may­ors plus rank­ing law en­force­ment of­fi­cials would com­mute ev­ery Mon­day, it could mean up to 10,000 ad­di­tional com­muters com­pet­ing for acutely limited mass trans­porta­tion – since most of the gov­ern­ment VIPs would likely be trav­el­ing (dis­creetly, of course) with a ret­inue of se­cu­rity es­corts. So yes, the jus­tice sec­re­tary has a point.

* * * The weekly com­mut­ing pro­posal is meant to con­tinue un­til, I guess, Panelo ad­mits that Metro Manila faces a trans­port cri­sis, and not just a trans­port prob­lem.

I’m not sure if they can make Panelo cry un­cle. Panelo, also chief pres­i­den­tial le­gal coun­sel, is ar­tic­u­late, has an ex­ten­sive vo­cab­u­lary and is well versed in legalese. You will never catch him grop­ing for words.

In the en­su­ing firestorm over his “no cri­sis” re­mark, Panelo ac­cepted a dare to take pub­lic trans­port from home to work.

The man de­scribed by Pres­i­dent Duterte as a “model of sar­to­rial con­fu­sion” com­muted in low-key, ca­sual at­tire. Panelo urged the me­dia to leave him alone. Of course we couldn’t.

Af­ter his com­mute of nearly four hours, he stood firm on his as­sess­ment that there is no trans­port cri­sis. Panelo first is­sued this state­ment in re­sponse to Bayan sec­re­tary-gen­eral Re­nato Reyes’ pro­nounce­ment about a mass trans­port cri­sis in Metro Manila.

On the eve of Panelo’s com­mute, Reyes told us on Cig­nal TV / One News’ “The Chiefs” that by cri­sis, he meant some­thing that called for an ur­gent re­sponse.

Reyes had of­fered to ac­com­pany Panelo in his com­mute. There was no re­sponse. So Bayan mem­bers staked out Panelo and man­aged to join him in one of the jeep­neys he took on his round­about trip to his of­fice from his son’s home in New Manila, Que­zon City, on to his Marik­ina home and then to Mala­cañang.

* * * Reyes and our other guest, Samar 1st Dis­trict Rep. Edgar Sarmiento, are in agree­ment on sev­eral as­pects of the prob­lem.

“If you want to bring this coun­try for­ward, you have to plan 50 years ahead,” Sarmiento, who chairs the House trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee, told us.

In­stead, he and Reyes pointed out, plans cover mainly the six years of a pres­i­dent’s sin­gle term. When there’s a lead­er­ship change, the plans are set aside and new ones drawn up; projects are re­viewed, amended or can­celed and awarded to cronies of the new rul­ing class.

Reyes noted that each ad­min­is­tra­tion typ­i­cally fo­cuses on one flag­ship pro­ject, as a show­case of ac­com­plish­ment at the end of the six years.

Prob­lems also arise, he said, from treat­ing mass trans­porta­tion mainly as a busi­ness that must turn a sig­nif­i­cant profit rather than as a ser­vice vested with pub­lic in­ter­est.

While the global trend is to cre­ate in­ter­modal trans­port hubs, this is made dif­fi­cult in Metro Manila be­cause the light rail­way ser­vices are op­er­ated by dif­fer­ent en­ti­ties. Merely de­cid­ing on lo­ca­tions for com­mon light rail sta­tions can take years. The nu­mer­ous bus com­pa­nies have also re­sisted gov­ern­ment su­per­vi­sion for or­derly de­ploy­ment of their units.

To re­duce the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of mass trans­port projects, in­clud­ing rail­ways and air­ports, to po­lit­i­cal whims and lead­er­ship changes, Sarmiento is push­ing for such projects to be cov­ered by leg­is­la­tion.

“Com­monly, (it’s) new pres­i­dent, dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion,” he told us.

With­out a re­li­able mass trans­port sys­tem, peo­ple will con­tinue to use pri­vate ve­hi­cles and traf­fic grid­locks will per­sist.

* * * While there is no quick fix to the dis­as­trous mass trans­port sys­tem, there have been some sound ac­tions and sug­ges­tions on eas­ing traf­fic. The Pasig River, for ex­am­ple, is un­der­uti­lized for mass trans­port and its ferry ser­vice de­serves to be re­vived.

The road clear­ing op­er­a­tions, in­spired by Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and ex­panded by the Depart­ment of the In­te­rior and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment, has helped. The DILG has never wielded such power over lo­cal ex­ec­u­tives, es­pe­cially among the in­de­pen­dent republics of Metro Manila. Now peo­ple are say­ing, “puede na­man pala.” So it can be done.

Metro may­ors used to balk at ef­forts by non-elected of­fi­cials, such as the chair­man of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Manila Devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (MMDA), to ex­er­cise su­per­vi­sion over cer­tain ba­sic ser­vices in their turfs.

But now the DILG is flex­ing its mus­cles, by in­vok­ing a di­rec­tive from the coun­try’s high­est rank­ing elected of­fi­cial. The pres­i­dent of the repub­lic isn’t chief ex­ec­u­tive for noth­ing. And lo­cal ex­ec­u­tives have seen what has hap­pened to their col­leagues in Ak­lan who in­curred the Pres­i­dent’s ire for turn­ing Bo­ra­cay into a “cesspool.”

See­ing what is hap­pen­ing, former MMDA chair­man and ex-Marik­ina mayor Bayani Fer­nando says the MMDA should be placed un­der the Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent. The chief ex­ec­u­tive need not be a mi­cro man­ager, but it helps to have the top elected of­fi­cial fully be­hind the MMDA. This would be sim­pler and bet­ter than hav­ing an elected gover­nor for Metro Manila, Fer­nando told “The Chiefs” last week.

Fer­nando, now a Marik­ina con­gress­man, also started a bus rapid transit sys­tem on EDSA, which fiz­zled out when a new ad­min­is­tra­tion came in.

He is now push­ing leg­is­la­tion to open all roads in gated sub­di­vi­sions for pub­lic use. This has al­ready been done in his city and, to a limited ex­tent but with pos­i­tive re­sults, in Las Piñas and Makati. Fer­nando won­ders why the gov­ern­ment has to ask pri­vate home­own­ers for per­mis­sion to let the pub­lic use sub­di­vi­sion roads, when pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als are the ones who must ask gov­ern­ment for the priv­i­lege of clos­ing off roads for their ex­clu­sive use.

With the trans­port cri­sis, now ag­gra­vated by the LRT 2 break­down, ev­ery road avail­able must be fully uti­lized. Per­haps the DILG, backed by the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, can also step in.

Peo­ple would leave cars at home if there is an ef­fi­cient mass trans­port al­ter­na­tive. But the rail­way sys­tem is in a cri­sis sit­u­a­tion, and we saw what hap­pened when Sal Panelo took the com­mute chal­lenge.

The mea­sure of a pro­gres­sive so­ci­ety is when even VIPs take mass trans­port reg­u­larly, and the sight of the pres­i­den­tial spokesman com­mut­ing is no big deal.

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