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The P1,000 budget

The House of Representatives has decided to give the Commission on Human Rights a budget of P1,000 for the 2018 fiscal year. This basically abolishes the agency. In the old days, if Congress wanted to show its displeasure at one agency, P1 was normally the budget given. The P1,000 is probably due to inflation.

Kidding aside, the CHR is a constitutional body that was put in the 1987 Cory Constitution to safeguard the rights of ordinary citizens against the abuses of government. It is a signal to the world that the country’s government believes in a functioning democratic system of government.

Whether Congress can in fact abolish a constitutional body is another legal question. If the CHR is abolished, then all semblance of democracy in our system of government would be gone. In all the years of its existence, I do not know how effective it has been in protecting the human rights of ordinary citizens against governmental abuses. Maybe it has been a failure to some but certainly a pain in the neck to many government officials. The CHR does make the lives of some in government uncomfortable.

Also, the CHR’s existence is showing to the world that we are aligned with most countries in protecting human rights. Abolish it and where does that leave the country?

Sure, the communication people of the government will do a good job deodorizing and explaining that even without the CHR, the government can still protect the rights of ordinary citizens. But in the long run, the government will be judged not by what it says but by what it does. And right now, in eyes of many in the international community, the country is not doing very well in the area of human rights.

The House of Rep-resentatives want CHR Chairman Jose Luis Martin Gascon to resign in order for the budget to be restored. Gaston is of course refusing to do so. I do not want to speculate any further why the House wants the CHR abolished. There is really no rhyme or reason to abolish the agency because abuses by none state actors are dealt with by existing laws of the land. But as that famous US baseball player Yogi Berra once quipped, “The game is not over till it’s all over.” The House bill will still have to go to the Senate for deliberation and hopefully there are cooler heads in that chamber who will fight to restore the regular budget so that the CHR can continue to function.

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To a more mundane subject matter, Highway 54 was the original name of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue before it was shortened to Edsa. It was improved during the later stages of martial law to be our first urban freeway in Metro Manila to connect SLEX and NLEX. This was done by widening the road and removing all the traffic lights in the various intersections along the 24-kilometer stretch of road.

With the improvements however, came development. Shopping malls started to sprout all over Edsa and bus companies relocated there. As if that were not enough, the MRT3 was constructed along the road which made it busier than ever. Edsa today is arguably the busiest and most polluted highway in the country. Of the thousands of buses plying the streets of the National Capital Region, approximately 95 percent ply Edsa.

During martial law, jeepneys together with the tricycles were prohibited along Edsa. Today, the two are all over the place. To be sure, there are many causes of congestion. For one, instead of being a predominantly transit road that a motorist uses to go from north to south or vice versa, Edsa is now a destination in itself attracting hundreds of thousands of trips. This is because of the shopping malls, bus stations and other businesses located along the road. It has now become the battle ground on solving the traffic gridlock in the NCR.

But let us set those aside and take the question of the thousands of buses that ply Edsa. In all the steps taken by the government to decongest it, never was the type of buses ever questioned. Why? Because we have been using the wrong kind of buses all these years. The buses plying Edsa are not suited for urban use. These are buses intended for long distance trips. This is the reason it takes too long for passengers to exit and enter the buses, thereby contributing to the gridlock. If there are say 15 buses in one intersection, compute the time spent of passengers exiting and getting in one at a time and multiply that with the number of buses and one can understand why it is so difficult to improve travel time along Edsa.

There seems to be no realization on the part of the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board to come up with a plan to phase these buses out sometime in the future and bring in properly designed urban buses to improve traffic flow. I was recently surprised to see on TV a news footage that Vietnam has started to use urban buses that allows multiple passengers to exit and enter at the same time, thereby saving valuable time. If Vietnam is already operating these buses, there is no reason why we cannot start doing the same. The advantages of these buses are so plain to see that it is difficult to understand why the LTFRB has not all these years require bus companies to start switching to urban buses instead of maintaining the same buses.

Topics: House of Representatives , Commission on Human Rights , Jose Luis Martin Gascon
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