A TRANSPORT group on Monday called for the immediate resignation of Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino, citing his failure to solve the traffic problem in his five years in office.
In testimony before the Senate, Annie Giron, president of the transport group PS Link, said there was a leadership vacuum at the MMDA, and that the recent takeover by the national police of traffic management on Edsa was all the more reason Tolentino should step down.
“He has proven his incapacity,” Giron said of the MMDA chief during a Senate hearing to explore effective strategies to address the economic damage done by the worsening traffic problem in Metro Manila.
Giron added that the public had the right to demand accountability from Tolentino.
PS Link, an organization of public workers with 85,000 members, is also behind an online petition on the Change.org website urging Tolentino to resign. To date, almost 6,000 people have signed the petition.
“It is now 2015, and MMDA still has no concrete solution to our traffic woes and misery,” the petition reads. “In fact our traffic problems have worsened.”
“This administration is so callous that it continues to use public funds for the advanced campaigning of those running for public office under the slate of the administration. This includes MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino [who] ...cannot be seen in MMDA to supervise the traffic... While he is busy joining sorties, we are left to fend for ourselves in the traffic,” the petition adds.
The Palace brushed aside mounting calls for Tolentino to resign, saying that he still enjoyed the trust and confidence of President Benigno Aquino III.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. described Tolentino as “a hands-on” manager and credited him for a recent earthquake preparedness drill in Metro Manila, and for helping to prepare for the visit of Pope Francis earlier this year.
Coloma added that it was Tolentino who proposed that the Highway Patrol Group of the Philippine National Police take over traffic management along Edsa.
Coloma also defended Tolentino’s sorties in different provinces, saying this was part of his official functions—even though the law creating the MMDA limits the agency’s authority to the National Capital Region.
Tolentino, who is expected to run for senator as part of the ruling Liberal Party slate, has been widely criticized for using the resources of his office to promote his visibility in cities outside of Metro Manila.
Despite the scathing criticism of his performance, Tolentino said he would not resign.
Senator JV Ejercito, who presided over Monday’s hearing, threatened to cite for contempt the heads of agencies involved in traffic management for their failure to appear before the Senate.
Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board chairman Winston Ginez told the Senate committees on economic affairs and public works that during a recent meeting with the President, he suggested increasing the number of high-capacity vehicles such as buses to ease out the large number of private vehicles, which he said accounted for 70 percent of the vehicles on Edsa and other major thoroughfares.
But Ejercito argued that better infrastructure and a more efficient mass transport system would do more to solve traffic congestion.
Without a reliable and efficient mass transit system, he added, people would just buy more cars.
Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Cynthia Villar agreed.
“One way of solving gridlock is to lessen the number of vehicles on Edsa especially buses [without a license to operate], but you have to improve the MRT and LRT. If you are not able to do it—improve the public transport, that’s only half of the solution, and the people might not feel it,” Marcos said.
In the House of Representatives, an opposition lawmaker opposed the deployment of armed traffic police on Edsa, saying they would frighten motorists.
At a hearing of the House committee on Metro Manila development, 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III asked HPG director Chief Supt. Arnold Gunnacao if he thought the police were better than the MMDA.
When Gunnacao replied yes, when it comes to traffic management, Bello disagreed.
The enforcement of traffic law and discipline on the road would be better handled by the MMDA as this is within its mandate, Bello said.
He added that the MMDA could still do something about the worsening traffic problem with “proper planning.”
The leader of the independent minority bloc in the House, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, said the worsening traffic in Metro Manila has become a legitimate election issue because it hurts productivity.
“The Aquino government should show compassion for our commuters. The people are being tortured every time they report for work, school and return home. These ordinary commuters will ask the future leaders of the country if this kind of torture will continue,” Romualdez said.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, who presided over the hearing, said the government needed to rationalize the number of buses in Metro Manila to remove excess capacity, and transfer some buses to the provinces where their services are in demand.
The Palace said the police takeover of traffic management along the 23.8-kilometer stretch of Edsa was effective on Monday, but said it still needed “fine-tuning.”
“We are calling on the public to give feedback... to improve the management of traffic by the HPG, as well as other government agencies,” Coloma said.
Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras on Monday asked the public for more patience, saying the government still needed to make adjustments in how traffic was managed.
Almendras issued his appeal after rush-hour traffic remained heavy along EDSA on the first day of the police takeover.
“Of course, we are making adjustments. We have to make some adjustments [and] we must monitor the area of Guadalupe. I saw during peak hour the traffic there was heavy,” said Almendras following a closed-door meeting with concerned government officials at the MMDA main office in Makati City.
Almendras also acknowledged that there was some confusion among drivers regarding the rerouting of provincial buses from terminals in Cubao and Kamuning.
“I was worried about compliance. I know there was some confusion. I was already in P. Tuazon at 5:30 a.m. and I saw the problem because there was a counterflow by those coming from Tuazon,” he said.
Under the new traffic scheme, provincial buses are not allowed to use Edsa from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. during weekdays, and instead must turn left to Tuazon and take C5 Road to get to their destination.
Almendras said there were some parts where the flow of traffic improved.
“After Boni Serrano [Avenue] up to Shaw [Boulevard] the bus lanes are good... buses and cars are moving well. We came up with this post implementation meeting because I’m also worried about the afternoon traffic,” he said.
“We have to watch the flow of traffic in Guadalupe until tonight and we will try to make it move. I expect the volume in Guadalupe to be very heavy by 5 o’clock,” Almendras added.
Also on Monday, Vice President Jejomar Binay appealed to the public and transport groups to follow traffic rules and observe road discipline to decongest Metro Manila’s roads.
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