Day One

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

After the glitz and glamor of the inauguration ceremonies, it is Day One for our new President. Junior will probably face a culture shock as he buckles down to work today.

But he sought the position for whatever reason and it looks like there were enough Pinoys who thought he should be our leader. So now, lead he must.

The big policy issues will have to wait a while in the first few weeks of the new President. There are important flash points that must be addressed immediately. Duterte neglected these issues toward the end of his term.

First on the to-do list is the public transportation problem. Then there is food security. And not to forget, the COVID pandemic isn’t over and still has the potential to disrupt the economy’s recovery.

President Junior already said that the extreme rise in gasoline prices is externally driven and there is nothing we can do to stop it. He is correct. The only short term response available to him is to provide financial assistance to jeepney and bus drivers. Current fares approved by LTFRB can no longer cover the cost of fuel, forcing drivers to abandon their routes.

It was tragic past administrations did nothing about the almost total dependence of the transport sector to imported diesel and gasoline. Even Art Tugade’s jeepney modernization program still involves use of diesel powered mini buses. The Aboitizes experimented on EV mini buses in Davao, Cebu, and Metro Manila, and proved this is the way to go.

Electric-powered mass transport like LRT and MRT is the answer to reducing the sector’s dependence on diesel. San Miguel’s MRT 7 should be operational by next year, at least partially.

They should put in more trains in MRT 3 to take in more passengers and provide a shorter waiting time. When I last asked Tugade (April 21) about the Dalian trains, our only hope for additional capacity, he said they have provisionally accepted and deployed nine Dalian trains over the last two years.

Tugade said last April, in a Viber message to me, that “recent conditions prevented us from redeploying all of them on the mainline due to lack of maintenance of Dalian trains and parts.” PNoy bought 48 Dalian trains from China that were delivered in 2016, but remained unused.

The rehabilitation of MRT 3 by Sumitomo was supposed to have been completed. A press release of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries from Tokyo last March 24 indicated they had “completed a rehabilitation (renovation) project for the Manila Metro Rail Transit System Line 3 (MRT-3)...”

The release noted that the project was conducted in partnership with Sumitomo Corp. and was ordered by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) in December 2018. So, maybe, MRT 3 should be able to run faster and carry a lot more commuters by now.

In the meantime, President Junior should get his transportation secretary to personally look into the problems of the bus carousel program that is carrying passengers on the EDSA route. There have been a lot of complaints about the inadequate number of buses being deployed, especially during the night hours when BPO commuters need them most.

Since the government wants everyone to start working in their offices, DOTr must see to it that there will be adequate public transportation available. Otherwise, Junior should extend work from home arrangements.

DOTr Secretary Jimmy Bautista is a very nice guy I got to know during his days with Philippine Airlines. I am just afraid he has little or no exposure to the serious problems in land transportation. I hope he gets dependable consultants to assist him because he is expected to produce almost instant results.

Then there is food security. We are unfortunately dependent on imports for a lot of what we eat, from rice to pork, beef, and chicken. And countries all over the world are starting to limit their food exports to protect their own needs.

There are a lot of policy decisions and long term programs on food security being publicly discussed now. Junior must make sure we have enough to eat at prices that we can afford. Food price inflation has been a significant contributor to our rising inflation rate.

Our hunger rate will rise unless steps are taken to make basic foodstuff affordable to the poorest Pinoy. This is a gut issue with strong political implications, and that’s why Junior must be seen addressing it beyond mere words or press releases.

Long term, Junior should revise the agrarian reform program to make it more productive and able to reduce farm poverty. He has enough political capital to make drastic changes in a program that has failed since the time of his father.

Then there is COVID-19. No, it isn’t over. A new Omicron variant, BA.5 has been determined to be the most transmissible and best able to escape immunity of any version of the virus since the pandemic began. Here is an explanation in nature.com:

“Lab studies consistently suggest that antibodies triggered by vaccination are less effective at blocking BA.4 and BA.5 than they are at blocking earlier Omicron strains, including BA.1 and BA.2. This could leave even vaccinated and boosted people vulnerable to multiple Omicron infections, scientists say.

“Even people with hybrid immunity, stemming from vaccination and previous infection with Omicron BA.1, produce antibodies that struggle to incapacitate BA.4 and BA.5. Research teams have attributed that to the variants’ L452R and F486V spike mutations…

“It’s also unclear when the next variant will appear. BA.4 and BA.5 started emerging in South Africa only a few months after BA.1 and BA.2, a pattern now being repeated in places including the United Kingdom and United States.”

All these mean that Junior had better choose a health secretary with experience in handling epidemics and with a background in epidemiology and/or infectious diseases. He will have to reconstitute the IATF, and hopefully, there will be more scientists than retired generals making decisions on managing a pandemic.

So much to do. Junior’s sleeping habits will surely have to change.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco


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