By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The seemingly bold solutions that the national government has been implementing to solve the traffic problem have not only failed, it even gave rise to more, bigger problems. On the surface, it seems as an effective solution: reduce the number of vehicles using the streets through an enhanced number coding scheme and limit the number of buses plying Edsa, and Metro Manila streets.
The enhanced number coding scheme has not yet been implemented because of the uproar it caused among the middle class, who normally own just one car. However, the ban on provincial buses plying Metro Manila streets has just been implemented. The result: a traffic jam of commuters scrambling for public utility vehicles that would take them from the provincial bus terminal to their places of work or school. Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino was seen on television asking the public to be patient and promising that things would get better in the coming days and weeks as solutions are gradually being implemented.
The opinion article “The insanity of government’s traffic and transportation strategies” written by Benjamin de la Pena and published by Interaksyon hit the nail on the head. “Instead of focusing on the needs of 80-percent of the population – the 80-percent who already suffer rickety buses and jeepneys, dangerous PUV drivers, not to mention the missing sidewalks and misplaced bus and LRT/MRT stations designed to benefit the mall owners rather than the commuters; the 80-percent who must now pay more in fares and spend more time on traveling – they focus on clearing roads for private cars.”
The government is not addressing the needs of the overwhelming majority. This is why the ban on buses was implemented first even before the enhanced number coding scheme. However, even if the government implements the enhanced number coding scheme, still, the problem would not be solved but rather, would get worse. Those who have only one car would add to the mass of commuters competing, nay fighting, for the limited public transport available.
The solution is already staring us in the face: invest in an efficient, sufficient public transportation system. But the Aquino government refuses to do it. Why? First, it goes against the Aquino government’s neoliberal agenda. The government has been privatizing essential services, and investing in a public transportation system is out of the question. And in order to entice corporations to invest in public transport, the government must show that it is a viable venture by raising transport fares and guaranteeing their profits, much like what it is intending to do with the MRT/LRT train systems.
Second, the solution is long-term and would not immediately give the impression that the government is doing something about the problem. In other words, it has no immediate, visible political impact.
Third, too much is at stake for the government. It would send a signal to the IMF-WB, the ADB and to foreign investors that the government is deviating from the neoliberal agenda, thereby losing its much sought after foreign investments and sources of loans.
This exemplifies the major considerations of the Aquino government in deciding what to do.
Another example is the case of the pork barrel scam amounting to P10 billion in funds channeled to fake NGOs, which involved five senators and 23 House representatives. One would think that the most obvious solution is to scrap all pork barrel, discretionary and intelligence fund allocations to all government officials, whether from the legislative or the executive, and investigate not only the masterminds behind the fake NGOs – since they only acted as conduits, even if they profited from it – but the implicated lawmakers first and foremost.
What is the solution of the Aquino government? ‘Strictly’ screen and accredit NGOs that are made beneficiaries of pork barrel funds. It would not investigate the lawmakers involved and scrap the pork barrel allocations because it is how politics is being conducted in this country. “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.”
Second, investigating lawmakers and scrapping the pork barrel would not, in its mind, have an immediate, visible political impact. Investigating lawmakers would mean going through long, tedious legal processes, involving the courts or the Ombudsman. If it scrapped the pork barrel, the government would have to find other means to get, nay buy, the support of lawmakers and besides, the executive would likewise be affected because it has its own pork barrel allocation, plus discretionary and intelligence funds.
Third, it would create too many enemies for the Aquino government and the ruling Liberal Party. That is not a ‘wise’ move as the 2016 presidential election is fast approaching.
As for the overwhelming majority of Filipinos? The Aquino government has this to say, “Just be patient. Can’t you see we are doing something about it? In time, the people would eventually feel the benefits of the ‘change’ that the government has been initiating.” In the meantime, the government would rather that the public suffers in silence.