FOUR lawmakers support emergency powers for President Rodrigo Duterte to fix the worsening traffic in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, but vowed to put in place safeguards to avoid abuses.
Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu, one of the authors of a bill that would give emergency powers to the President, assured the public would provide certain restrictions to guard against abuses.
“Congress would not tolerate an agency or individual exploiting the proposed emergency powers. Surely, the proposal would fast-track the implementation of key infrastructure projects that are critical to attracting foreign investment, helping create quality and decent jobs for many Filipinos and stimulating economic activities,” he said.
“Congress must arm the President with emergency powers,” said Leyte Rep. Yedda Romualdez, wife of former Leyte representative Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.
Camarines Sur Luis Ray Villafuerte said the emergency powers could swiftly address the sorry state of the country’s infrastructure, land and even air traffic congestion and safety issues.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, House committee on Metro Manila development in the 16th Congress, also backed the need to end traffic woes, particularly on the main thoroughfare of EDSA.
“Let us give the President the power to solve the traffic problem,” he said.
Senator Grace Poe also said emergency powers would only be used to untie the traffic gridlock crippling Metro Manila and other urban areas, and said enough safeguards would be in place to prevent possible abuses.
“It is clear to me [the proposal for emergency powers] only encompasses the solution to traffic. As what I have said, the oversight would focus on that. I believe we have enough safeguards,” said Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public services.
“I am with the people that we should immediately act on traffic problems. I will not allow the emergency powers to be abused,” Poe added.
Poe said contracts and transactions entered into by government must be transparent.
The Senate is set to resume hearings on the emergency powers sought by the administration to solve the transporation crisis on Sept. 22.
Local government units and various transport agencies involved in traffic management will be invited to the hearing, Poe said.
The proposed emergency powers bill seeks to address the traffic crisis by expediting procurement processes for transportation projects and establishing a single traffic authority.
The duration the emergency powers may be used could be at least two years, depending on the plans and programs needed to be carried out to address the traffic mess, unless sooner withdrawn by Congress.
A congressional oversight committee will be established to be composed of five members each from the Senate and the House of Representatives.
An advocacy group for road protection has asked senators to reject the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, saying he was “unfit and unqualified” for the position.
“We decided to write the Commission since being part of the republican system of checks and balances, it has the power to disapprove a nomination if deemed that the nominee could not exercise his functions appropriately to the detriment of public interest,” said Ray Junia, chairman of the Road Users Protection Advocates (RUPA) in a letter sent to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III.
Junia said despite Tugade’s promise to solve the traffic in 100 days, traffic in Metro Manila has actually become worse.
Junia also painted some of Tugade’s suggestions—like installing cable cars over the length of Laguna de Bay—were “fantastic and incredible” and cast doubts on his mental health.
Some House officials also accused Tugade and his men of favoring contractors that they once served.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez particularly called the attention of Tugade and Undersecretary Noel Kintanar in the Metro Rail Transit-Light Railway Transit Common Station project since both were former executives of the contractors involved in the project.
“I have to be very straightforward with my concern. This concerns the Ayalas. Two of the executives—Secretary Tugade and Usec Kintanar are from Ayala firms or have done business with the Ayalas. They might favor the Ayalas’ business interests. That’s not right,” Suarez said.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez also expressed similar concerns and grilled Kintanar, who previously served as assistant vice president of Ayala Corp.; Undersecretary for Air Operations Bobby Lim, who was formerly country manager of the International Air Transport Association; and Undersecretary for Land Transport Anneli Lontoc.
At the House hearing Friday, Tugade told lawmakers that stakeholders are set to sign an agreement on technical issues concerning the common station that will connect the existing MRT 3, LRT 1 and forthcoming MRT 7 at the Edsa North Avenue Intersection in Quezon City.
But Suarez said he was concerned when Tugade said MRT 7 had been detached from the MRT 3 and LRT 1.
“The three stations are supposed to converge. That’s why it is called common station. Why separate the MRT 7? Because by detaching the MRT 7, commuters are forced to pass by Trinoma mall, owned by the Ayalas, before they could transfer to another station,” Suarez said.
Alvarez said Tugade and his officials did not need emergency powers to address the concerns that the President wanted resolved in the first 100 days.
Alvarez warned Tugade that just like in the previous administrations, some officials had prioritized the interests of their former “principals.”
He cited as example former Energy Secretary and Executive Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, who worked for the Ayalas and served under former President Benigno Aquino III and also under Aquino, former Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, who worked for businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan.
“Let us not fool ourselves. In every administration, private corporations put their people in departments covering their business. Whose interests are you serving?” the Speaker said.
San Miguel Corp. also has stakes in MRT and Tugade, according to National Economic and Development Authority Director General Ernesto Pernia, wanted to allow SMC-Ramon Ang-owned Manila North Harbour Port Inc. to engage in international trade that port stakeholders were opposing since MNHPI has an existing exclusive contract with the Philippine Ports Authority to operate only in domestic trade.
Tugade, as secretary of the Department of Transportation, is chairman of the PPA Board.
Port stakeholders have opposed Tugade’s preferential treatment to MNHPI for allowing it to engage in international trade without the benefit of a public bidding.
Once the emergency power was in place, Tugade said his department could forego public bidding to expedite the process of procurement and could enter into negotiated contracts.
“We commit to closely monitor the progress of the common station project and ensure that it does not favor anyone but the public,” Suarez said.
Suarez recalled the difficulties of the interconnection between LRT 2 and MRT 3.
“What happened in line 2 and line 3 in Cubao was a classic example. If you’re from Quezon City and you’d go to Manila or Makati, you’d transfer to line 2 in the intersection of Cubao. But to get to line 3, you have to walk 700 meters and cross the Gateway Mall in between stations,” Suarez said.
Suarez called for a review of the LRT-MRT common station in North Edsa, “as we don’t want a mistake similar to the Gateway Mall connection, where commuters have to walk 700 meters to transfer from MRT Line 3 to LRT Line 2.”
“That’s the idea of mass transit. We make it convenient for the public and save them travel time. In other countries like Hong Kong and New York, interchange stations only require commuters to go up or down a platform or walk a few meters to transfer railway lines. Here, we force our commuters to cross the mall first,” Suarez said.
“We wonder then whose interests are best served here. Is it that of the mall owners or the public?” Suarez added.
As this developed, the House committee on transportation has asked Tugade to identify and define the traffic and transportation crisis to be fixed by the proposed emergency powers for President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Failure to determine the crisis may lead to a grant of power that is misplaced or beyond what is required,” said committee chairman Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento.
In the same hearing, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate backed the idea of carefully scrutinizing the plans and programs included in the emergency powers to erase fears over possible abuse of the powers.
Castelo, who chairs the Metro Manila Development committee, identified some issues the emergency powers can tackle, such as secondary access roads that can be used to mitigate traffic congestion in several areas of Metro Manila, bidding and procurement issues and MMDA’s council resolutions that do not have the force and effect of a law.
The committee is planning to consolidate 10 bills on the emergency powers already filed.