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Palace junks proposal to declare state of emergency due to metro traffic

Traffic is at a standstill as commuters wait for public transport at the intersection of EDSA and Roxas Boulevard following a brief downpour on Tuesday night. Bernardo Batuigas

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang has junked a petition asking President Benigno Aquino III to declare a state of emergency due to the worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said a state of emergency can only be declared in times of war or calamity.

Coloma also noted that a state of emergency may have a negative connotation to some.

"Para bang nirireserba din naman natin iyan para doon sa kalamidad o iyong sa talagang naka-specify sa batas. Dahil hindi rin natin maaalis, marami din sa ating mga mamamayan, merong hindi magandang memorya iyang konseptong iyan – nalalapit tayo sa September 21," Coloma said in a recent radio interview.

Coloma was referring to the proclamation of martial law in 1972.

Under the Constitution, Congress may grant emergency powers to the president in times of war, rebellion, invasion or calamity.

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The Constitution states that "In times of national emergency, when the public interests so requires, the State may, during the emergency and under reasonable terms prescribed by it, temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest."

An online petition on Change.org wants Aquino to declare a state of emergency, saying "the inhuman traffic and transportation situation in Metro Manila has reached disastrous levels."

"It is clear President Aquino and government agencies need to intervene with immediate and significant emergency action in order to take serious steps to alleviate our catastrophic transportation situation - either through emergency powers or strong exercises of executive and police authority," the petition read.

"Whatever the mechanism, we expect more meaningful and swifter action from President Aquino," it added.

More than 4,200 people signed the petition in the past 11 hours including activist Carlos Celdran.

"A state of emergency should have been declared decades ago," he said.

Last week, Aquino met with concerned government agencies to address the traffic problem in the metro.

Aquino approved the deployment of the Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group to serve as the lead traffic law enforcement agency on EDSA.

He ordered that "priority action" will be taken to clear six major intersections that are considered traffic congestion "choke points" along the major thoroughfare.

Despite the implementation of these directives, massive traffic jams were still experienced in the metro particularly on Tuesday when heavy rains flooded various roads, stranding motorists and commuters for several hours.

Two weeks ago, Aquino asked the public to be more patient and understanding as the government tries to solve the traffic dilemma.

The president cited the constraints imposed by limited road space, legal issues and long implementation periods for major mass transit and infrastructure projects.

"Aaminin ko po: lahat ng problema, gusto nating tugunan—at kung puwede, nagawa na sana natin ito kahapon pa. Pero may mga limitasyon sa kung ano ang maaari nating gawin, at hindi naman puwedeng agad-agad ang pagpapatupad sa isang hakbang," Aquino said.

"Nagsisikap nga tayong tugunan ang lahat ng kayang tugunan, at ang panawagan ko po: Makiisa at dagdagan ang pang-unawa at pasensiya. Sa inyo namang pakikiambag, masisiguro nating sabay-sabay tayong uunlad," he added.

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