Manila's Traffic Crisis: Does Duterte Really Need Emergency Powers?

Manila's Traffic Crisis: Does Duterte Really Need Emergency Powers?
Photo Credit: Trishhhh flicker @ CC BY 2.0
What you need to know

Manila’s traffic crisis has been worsening every year. It is a daily strain for the riding public and has seen significant losses to economic productivity.

The Duterte administration believes that it needs emergency powers to solve Metro Manila’s traffic crisis. Filipino commuters and public transportation workers believe otherwise.

In 2015, Manila was labeled as the city with the “worst traffic on earth” by traffic and navigation application Waze in its first “Global Driver Satisfaction Index” (GDSI). But just how bad is the city's traffic?

Metro Manila’s traffic crisis has been worsening every year, a daily strain for the riding public while dealing with significant losses to economic productivity and other aspects of social life.

A Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study in 2012 showed that the country’s economy is losing US$51 million a day due to the Metro Manila traffic. This loss is estimated to reach US$120 million by the year 2030 if the trend continues. A look at the volume-capacity ratio for Metro Manila indicates that 125 motorists are sharing a road section designed for only 100.

Traffic congestion is sure to get even worse with the unprecedented growth of car sales in the country. The Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc. (CAMPI) surmised that in 2016, car sales may breach its target of 370,000 units as sales for the first half of this year alone have already reached 167,481 units.

Moreover, the rapid growth of the number of Filipinos migrating to the cities to seek better opportunities of jobs, livelihood and education has added to the congestion. It is estimated that 13 percent of the country’s more than 100 million population is already cramped up in the Metro.

Previous administrations have failed to draft substantial solutions to this predicament. To worsen the situation, the government and large businesses are taking advantage of the crisis to cover-up for their accountability by generating a blame-game among the public and affected sectors by pitting them against each other – passengers against drivers, public against private motorists and so on. This creates further confusion and failure to address the roots of the crisis and come up with a viable solution.

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Photo Credit: Trishhhh flicker @ CC BY 2.0
Emergency powers

Last September, Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Arthur Tugade asked the Philippine Senate to draft a law granting President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to solve what the government deemed a traffic and congestion crisis. The administration has submitted before the Senate a draft bill seeking a “Declaration of Traffic and Congestion Crisis” in Metro Manila.

Such a declaration would allow the executive branch authority to:

  1. Establish a single traffic management authority,
  2. Expedite procurement process for transportation and infrastructure projects,
  3. Exempt key projects to restrictive audit rules,
  4. Prohibit the issuance of temporary restraining orders and injunctions from any court except the Supreme Court,
  5. Expedite expropriation process for right-of-way acquisitions, and 6. To re-organize the DOTr to provide enough manpower in implementing projects.

Once approved, a single traffic management authority headed by the DOT would take over the traffic management powers of the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and of all local governments in Metro Manila.

Tugade, however, assured that the emergency powers would only last a maximum of two years or as soon as the traffic crisis has been resolved.

But does the government really need this much power? Does traffic warrant its very own Martial Law of sorts?

Corporatization: Death of a Jeepney?

Commuters and public transport workers have expressed opposition against the administration’s proposed emergency powers. They claim the government already has all the power to forge solutions in easing Metro Manila’s traffic if it really wanted to.

Commuter group Riles Laan sa Sambayanan, or RILES Network (Railway for the People), believes that the administration is seeking powers to bypass existing laws, not to solve traffic, but to railroad the awarding of key transportation and infrastructure project contracts to large businesses. And it seems they have every reason to believe so.

Attached to the DOT’s proposed bill submitted before the Senate is a long list of proposed transportation and infrastructure projects. Most of which are major Private-Public Partnership projects of the previous Aquino administration. These privatization projects have long been eyed by foreign and local key players in the transport and construction business.

The No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition (NTJPC), an alliance of public utility jeepney drivers and operators, meanwhile says that the proposed emergency powers will also be used to railroad the completion of the DOT’s Jeepney Phaseout program that would wipeout the Philippine public transport icon from the streets.

The government has started to ban jeepney units older than 15 years from plying the streets of Metro Manila. They are to be replaced by newer models of Euro 4 compliant units and electronic jeepneys (E-Jeep) that would be owned and operated by corporations under a so-called “fleet management system.” There are fears the program may result in the loss of livelihoods of more than 600,000 jeepney drivers and 250,000 small operators.

The jeepney is not simply a tourist attraction, but a mode of transportation cultivated for the collective since the Philippines started using automobiles heavily. Millions of families rely on it as the simplest, and in a sense, most Filipino mode of transportation. Its symbolism is prominent throughout the country along with its economic value to ordinary citizens.

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Photo Credit: Jeff Jacinto flicker @ CC BY 2.0
Roots of the crisis

Since 1970, the Metro’s traffic and transport conditions have already been subjected to several technical studies, planning and funding not only from the national government, but from other foreign agencies as well. Integrated transportation master plans have been formulated in 1972, 1980 and 1994. Every seated administration has also implemented various transportation development programs. All of these failed to solve or at least ease the crisis.

This failure is seen to be primarily because all transportation and traffic management programs for the past 40 years, consciously or unconsciously, have failed to address the root causes of the problem.

Metro Manila’s traffic is deeply rooted in the country’s socio-economic conditions. The extreme underdevelopment of agriculture in the country sides forces farmers on an exodus to the cities, resulting in an extremely high population density. On the other hand, the unindustrialized and overly import-dependent economy has paved the way for an unregulated and almost anarchistic inflow of motorized vehicles. Add to this an overall bureaucratic and corrupt approach that has led to traffic and transportation misgovernance.

In truth, the situation had only been addressed by with this much urgency when it was too late. The solutions presented, however, have merely provided an additional angle that corporations can exploit. The poor Filipinos who rely on the city for their meager subsistence will be tossed aside.

The government has been over-focused on profit-oriented projects for private large businesses in the automotive, construction and fossil fuel industry rather than upholding the need for social and national development. This is reflected by the fundemental neglect of public transportation as a basic social service.

By seeking greater power to implement the same policies in the same framework, the Duterte administration’s traffic management program is bound to meet a dead end.

Adopting a people-oriented approach

If the Duterte administration truly wants to address Metro Manila’s traffic and congestion crisis, it should have an all-inclusive paradigm shift from the neoliberal framework towards an independent national development outlook.

The government must do away with market-driven solutions and instead adopt a scientific and people-oriented approach in addressing the root causes of the Metro’s traffic crisis. In short, Duterte should stop masquerading certain programs as products of change when they are in fact more of the same.

Decongesting Metro Manila does not automatically mean the government should have greater powers to give away contracts to large private construction companies to build more roads or carry out road-widening projects that do not displace urban poor Filipinos from their communities and livelihood.

Besides, spending more money on failed practices is a waste. As civil engineer and sustainability advocate Charles Marohn put it, “Trying to solve congestion by making roadways wider is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger pants.”

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Photo Credit:AP/達志影像
Developing mass transportation systems

Developing a safe, efficient and affordable mass transportation system isn't impossible. This would ensure that more people are transported in lesser vehicles thus decongesting Metro Manila roads.

However, since mass transportation plays a crucial role in national economic development, strategic transportation facilities and infrastructures must be state-owned and state-operated.

The Duterte administration can nationalize the previously privatized Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT), develop and expand its operations and assure that it would be more accessible to the riding public by lowering fares and inter-connecting it with other modes of mass transportation.

Instead of phasing out or restricting their operations, the government can also develop primary Public Utility Vehicles, such as buses, jeepneys and other UV-based transportation, through a socially just rationalization and systematization in such a way that all territories and local communities are adequately served. This would also solve the classic “last mile” question of public transportation or the problem of how commuters reach their destinations from the train station.

By developing a nationalized mass transportation system, the government can also encourage private vehicle owners to help decongest the city by leaving their cars at home.

On the other hand, the government can junk existing free trade agreements that allow the unregulated influx of motor vehicles in the country, address the widespread smuggling of imported used vehicles and regulate the anarchistic automotive manufacturing in the country.

So, does the Duterte administration need emergency powers to address the traffic crisis? No. All it needs is a strong political will to promote national and social development over private business interests.

Editor: Olivia Yang