THREE years after the new Duterte administration called for emergency powers in 2016 to solve Metro Manila’s traffic problem, the issue remains undecided and is not likely to be resolved any time soon.
At the latest hearing of the Senate Committee on Public Services last Tuesday, Sen. Grace Poe, committee chairman, said there is no need for emergency powers as the present laws are sufficient. “There are alternative modes of procurement that are allowed under existing laws,” she said. “Our trains do not need emergency powers to acquire.”
Secretary of Transportation Arthur Tugade countered that the procurement could be faster with emergency powers. With them, the government could immediately adopt policy directions that would normally require amendment of existing laws and ordinances.
On the same day that they were arguing in the Senate, President Duterte said he will no longer seek emergency powers to address the traffic problem. Sometime ago, he was also quoted as saying the problem will be solved by December, and it will be possible to travel from Ayala Ave. in Makati to Cubao, Quezon City, in only five minutes, instead of the hour it now takes.
What happens now?
September is here and traffic is known to worsen in these months leading to the Christmas holidays in December. Meanwhile, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) disclosed that the number of vehicles using EDSA as of August this year numbered 405,882 a day – 22,074 more than last year’s 383,828.
The MMDA has tried various means to solve the traffic problem, including a plan to ban provincial buses from city streets, but it appears that it does not have this authority. There are so many other government agencies – the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the Land Transportation Commission (LTC), the various Metro Manila Local Government Units (LGUs) – that have various bits of authority which the MMDA cannot assume.
Perhaps, these could all be set aside in favor of one super-authority that could be set up if there were emergency powers. But there are also fears that emergency powers could be abused. For that is the nature of emergency powers – like martial law. They can be abused when the restrictions provided by a network of laws enacted over the years are lifted.
Senator Poe has suggested that instead of emergency powers, the national government just present a master plan for the traffic problem, a master plan with itemized steps to be taken – instead of an overall authority with emergency powers that could be abused. Each of the items in the master plan could then examined, analyzed, criticized, and perhaps amended in a free discussion in the Senate and other forums.
President Duterte himself appears to have given up on “emergency powers.” Perhaps a “master plan” could be the answer. It would be the same thing – an extraordinary working plan with all the needed funds and powers, but without the feared dangers in anything described as “emergency.”