Emergency powers for transport
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - May 27, 2016 - 12:00am

I know… some people will say we don’t need emergency powers to solve any of government’s problems provided officials are competent, have political will and are not thieves.

 Cory Aquino had enough emergency powers, revolutionary in fact after EDSA 1, but she didn’t know how to use them and was uneasy using it when she did.

FVR sought and got emergency power to deal with the power crisis, but his man in Napocor abused it. We ended buying more power plants than we needed. 

Worse, FVR’s man bought those plants with a take or pay stipulation. We ended up paying for potential power output we didn’t use because the abuse created a surplus in supply.

P-Noy sought, but didn’t get emergency power to help deal with a looming power shortage two years ago. Luckily, Congress denied him or we would have bought generators we ended up not needing. The lack of emergency power made Energy Secretary Icot Petilla more creative and he came up with a deal with private sector businesses like malls that have standby power.

This time, however, I share the view of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) that we need emergency powers to end our worsening transportation and traffic problems. MAP pointed out “the transportation and traffic crisis ongoing for at least five years have been causing immense damage to the economy.”

Indeed, the estimated damage in 2012 is at a staggering P2.4 billion per day or about P576 billion annually. This is in terms of higher operating cost in addition to lost income opportunities and productivity, higher foreign exchange outflow for fuel and redundant transportation equipment.

The traffic crisis also “exacts heavy social cost owing to impaired quality of life, disruption to family life and social ties, degrading public health and the environment due to vehicle emissions, and impairing the image and competitiveness standing of the country.”

Whoever accepts the DOTC portfolio in the incoming Duterte administration (I am not sure Mr Art Tugade has formally accepted the offer) will be a failure unless he is protected from TROs and other suits. He must also be allowed to cut through government’s red tape to produce noticeable change within the first three months.

We need to give the new DOTC secretary extraordinary powers to solve problems that impede solutions like delays in securing right of way for vital transport projects.

LRT1 extension to Bacoor, for instance, is stalled even if the Ayala-MPIC consortium is ready to start building because of right of way problems. I heard they bought the wrong properties for right of way, among other not so innocent things on the road called Daang Matuwid.

To fix the horrible problems related to abusive bus drivers and excess buses along EDSA, the DOTC secretary must have the power to revise existing bus and jeepney franchises and routes, organize bus companies into specific consortia, reduce the number of buses on the EDSA route and require bus operators to pay salaries to bus drivers and conductors instead of demanding boundaries. Without extraordinary powers, the DOTC secretary will be delayed by nuisance suits.

Congress should also give the DOTC secretary enough leeway to use resources of other government agencies, from manpower and equipment, as needed to make traffic flow smoothly.

The DOTC secretary must have the power to void any local ordinances that grant permits to vendors or other businesses to use roadways for parking, tiangges or car repair shops. It must be specified the DOTC secretary’s decision must trump any LGU preference as it affects traffic flow even in secondary routes.

The DOTC secretary must also be given authority to settle commercial disputes involving all DOTC, projects that delay completion to the public’s disadvantage. This includes that long standing dispute on where to put the common station that is delaying the LRT1 extension project.

Another example is the contract dispute that is delaying the Bicol International Airport. While the parties may still seek a court solution, all transportation projects must be allowed to proceed without any TRO. Aggrieved parties may seek damages later on, but vital projects must not be delayed.

The DOTC secretary must be given powers to hire needed professionals to carry out projects outside of the normal government hiring process. The problem at DOTC, as even Budget Secretary Butch Abad once described it, is a technical deficit. No DOTC secretary can give quick relief to our crisis level problems unless he can get competent technical professionals to help him.

Also needed is the power of the DOTC secretary to do emergency procurement as needed to guarantee uninterrupted service and passenger safety specially for MRT3 and PNR. He must also have the power to force a settlement of long running issues in MRT3 that may be necessary to complete its rehabilitation.

The Duterte DOTC secretary must be like Duterte himself — straight talking and with balls to get his job done even if vested interests are hurt. The problem with P-Noy’s and Mar Roxas’s DOTC is that the officials had no commitment to get any projects done. The many lawyers Mar hired were more interested in protecting Mar and Abaya than rolling out projects.

In exchange for these emergency powers, the Duterte DOTC secretary must produce a timeline of projects, specifying what he hopes to accomplish in three months, six months, one year, two years, etc. Some projects in his priority list may be easier to accomplish than others. Adjustments in the time line can be made as we go along.

I have this discussion with MAP’s Eddie Yap on whether an Executive Order or a Republic Act is needed. Whatever form may be appropriate, it is necessary to give the Duterte DOTC secretary the powers to cut through usual rules to accomplish noticeable improvements not just on EDSA, but also for the whole country.

People voted for Mr. Duterte because they think he can deliver, even if he has to abolish Congress as he once promised. What MAP is proposing is not that radical given our current dire situation in transportation and Metro Manila traffic jams.


Congratulations to ANC for bringing Sir Richard Branson here to talk about entrepreneurship. In his one hour Q and A with Cathy Yang, Branson said that if you aren’t making a positive difference to other people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in business.

“Companies have a responsibility to make a difference in the world, for their staff, their customers — everyone,” he said.

Whatever business you may be in, Branson said it must be fun. He said treating employees well is key to business success because they radiate their joy in working for your business to clients and customers.

No wonder the cabin crew members of Virgin Airlines are so pleasant, always ready to help with a smile. You can’t experience that kind of pleasantness in the big American airlines.

Branson started his colorful and successful business career when he was 16 years old. Even at that young age, he said, “if you have a good idea, screw it... just do it. Get on with it, give it a try.”

An entrepreneur, he said, learns more in four months of working in his business than in years of education in a business school.

Branson arrived via Philippine Airlines from Los Angeles and left also by PAL for Melbourne. PAL president Jimmy Bautista said Branson told him he liked the quality of PAL’s service. That’s an honor, as it comes from the founder and owner of Virgin Airlines and from my experience, the service in Virgin Airlines is tops.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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