We're Being Abused and We're Paying for It
- Lester Dizon () - January 13, 2010 - 12:00am

When I was a young sales professional sometime in 1991, I was driving to work for our regular Saturday sales meeting in Makati when, quite by chance, I drove behind a long convoy of vehicles transporting then-President Corazon Aquino along Quirino Avenue. The police car at the tail end of the convoy sounded off a short burst of its siren but since the Presidential convoy was occupying only two lanes of the four-lane highway, I continued to drive alongside them at the rightmost lane.

I was about three cars near the Presidential limo – a Mercedes Benz S-Class – when one of the white Nissan Patrols behind it broke off from the convoy, blocked my vehicle and forced me to stop. Three armed men from the Presidential Security Group (PSG) jumped off their vehicle and one of them trained an assault weapon at me while the two others went around and inspected my old, yellow 1977 Volkswagen Brasilia for bombs.

After asking me a couple of polite questions and verifying that I was no threat to the President, the PSG officer who pointed a gun at me lowered his weapon and apologized by saying, “Ser, pasensya na po. Sinisiguro lang po natin si Presidente Aquino. Pasensya na po sa abala. (We beg your pardon, sir. We’re just assuring the security of the President. Sorry for the inconvenience.)” He then extended his hand and offered a hand shake, which I took a bit nervously at first, but he sounded so sincere that I was able to manage a wry smile.

He advised me to stay behind the convoy if ever I caught up with them again, which was not quite difficult to do because the President’s convoy always stops at stop lights. After all, Tita Cory strictly followed traffic laws despite the coup threats against her during her term. She never abused the powers of her office on the road and even her security men are courteous towards other road users. What a remarkable leader!

Unfortunately, those days are long gone.

It seems that every government official, from Ate Glue, her immediate family, her Cabinet and her Congressional henchmen to mayors, vice mayors and city councilors, even to the lowliest corrupt barangay official drives around the country escorted by a convoy of security vehicles while arrogantly violating traffic laws – running through red lights, going against and obstructing the flow of traffic, parking at no parking zones – and intimidating anyone that gets in their way by blaring their lights and sirens or showing their armed goons.

Last December 21 at around 10:45AM, I was cruising along EDSA in Greenhills when a motorcycle police escort suddenly cut in front of the black Ford Ranger that I was driving. The motorcycle cop swerved recklessly from the bus lane and into my lane that I nearly ran over it. The cop was leading a convoy of three vehicles – two black Toyota Innovas with red and blue flashing lights on its roof and a red Mitsubishi Adventure, all with sirens and driving fast on the bus lanes – and one of the black Innovas swerved near my vehicle as if trying to taunt me.

Since I was turning right and driving into the Parc House Building/Metro One parking area, I kept to my lane, which probably angered the driver of the Innova, who blocked my vehicle, stopped in the middle of EDSA and alighted to confront me. When he got near me, I rolled down my window and shouted, “Sino ba ang ine-escort niyo, ha?! Abusado na kayo, ha! (Who are you escorting? You’re all abusive!)” When he saw my Philippine STAR Press ID, he retreated towards his vehicle, gave me dagger looks and drove forward. The reckless motorcycle cop was riding against the flow of traffic to check the delay but made a quick and reckless U-turn after the Innova driver signaled him off.

Meanwhile, the heavily-tinted red Adventure blocked my right flank and after a few seconds, it slowly inched forward, as if to intimidate me. As I slowly drove nearer the entrance of the Parc House parking area, the second black Innova rolled to my left and the front male passenger rolled down his window to intimidate me even further. I again shouted, “Sino ba ang ine-escort niyo?!” to which the driver shouted back, “Eh ‘di, hanapin mo, p*t*ng i*a mo! (Try to look for him, you son-of-a-b*t*h!)” I got so infuriated that I was not able to jot down the plate numbers of the three vehicles. All had green private plates and one of the Innova’s plate started with the prefix “NCI”.

Compared to the tough but courteous PSG officers of Tita Cory, these a**holes are just security escorts of a minor official yet they act as if they own the country. They are arrogant, discourteous and reckless on the road. If they are under the payroll of a government official, don’t they know that the very public that they are intimidating on the roads are the people who actually pays their salaries through the taxes that are siphoned by their boss? If they are the bodyguards of a rich and powerful tycoon, they have no authority to bully other road users, even if their boss is the bagman of a corrupt government official. If I were a member of the Presidential Committee investigating private armies, these road bullies are the first groups that I will dismantle.

But then again, what do you expect from this government?

We have a Land Transportation Office (LTO) that wants to hastily implement a questionable Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system, which charges an additional P350 on all vehicle registrations. The RFID has no intrinsic benefits to motorists except to provide an additional tax burden without passing through a Congressional hearing. The LTO can’t even show the public how the RFID system actually works yet they are already forcing vehicle owners to pay for it.

There were rumors suggesting that former LTO Chiefs Anneli Lontoc, Reynaldo Berroya and Alberto Suansing were “booted upstairs” or transferred to other DOTC positions because they didn’t want to implement this questionable RFID system. Thankfully, Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel filed a case against the LTO but it will be a while before the courts issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to stop the implementation of the RFID and by that time, the LTO will have collected a couple of hundred million pesos, which they will never refund to the motoring public.

I just hope that Automobile Association Philippines (AAP), which is supposed to be the umbrella organization of car clubs in the country (and the most powerful voice for the motoring public when it was then known as the Philippine Motoring Association (PMA) and led by then-president and firebrand, the late Atty. Conrado “Dodo” Ayuyao), would support Sen. Pimentel’s lawsuit. I also hope that motorcycle associations like MDPPA and MDAP, which represents a bigger motoring population, would follow suit.

Meanwhile, career LTO personnel are pointing to Stradcom, the questionable infotech company, as the brains behind the RFID fiasco. It is the same company that is doing the computerization of the LTO and which motorists are paying via the additional P169.09 “Comp Fee” charged on every vehicle registration. If you multiply that by 5 million vehicle registrations, it amounts to P845.5 million pesos a year for Stradcom, which have been collected yearly since the administration of former President Ramos.

There are rumors that Stradcom is the one of the milking cows of Malacañang Palace, which is why it is quite untouchable despite the many blunders attributed to it – delays with the link-up to the Bureau of Customs computer system (which is also being done supposedly by Stradcom) resulting in the delay of new vehicle registrations; among others. With the haste that the RFID is being implemented by current LTO Chief Arturo Lomibao, many pundits are saying that through Stradcom, the funds will be used for the campaign kitty of the Arroyo administration in the coming May 2010 elections.

Then, there’s the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) which is issuing non-contact traffic citation tickets (TCT) for alleged traffic violations which you will only find out when it’s time to renew your driver’s license. My wife had the misfortune of experiencing this “racket” and when I exposed this in my previous turn as your Backseat Driver, the MMDA said the violation date (May 8, 2009) was probably wrong because their records show that my wife committed the traffic violation (beating the red light while crossing EDSA-Kamias intersection) sometime in October 2008. She was shown an unsigned TCT with her name, address and driver’s license number on it as proof of her violation.

However, we’re still perplexed because my wife, who’s a safe driver, never crossed a red light at that wide intersection and she cannot recall a time that she was flagged down at that intersection. The TCT was not signed nor acknowledged by her, which would make it invalid. The plate number indicated in the TCT was also questionable because it is not the license number of the car she was supposedly driving at the time. When she inquired why her violation had changed from the previous “reckless driving and driving on the bus lanes”, the MMDA blamed Stradcom for the errors in transmittal to the LTO. Hmmm… Stradcom, again?

Oh, heck…

The powers-that-be abuse us on the road every day, and because of their abuses, traffic cops cannot effectively enforce the law. The drivers of public utility vehicles (PUV), who are courted for their votes by the incumbents, follow the bad example set by our officials and drive as arrogantly, as discourteously and as recklessly. Passengers see the traffic violation and are programmed to think that everything’s all right, and soon, every one from private car drivers to pedestrians, and yes, even young children, violate even the most miniscule of traffic laws, resulting in the chaos that we now experience in our streets.

The abuses we’re getting on the road from the current administration, their relatives and friends are only a glimpse or a snapshot of the grave abuses they must be committing on the coffers of the nation through graft and corruption. I won’t be surprised if the incumbent administration clings to power “by hook or by crook” after their term ends because if an opposition or “unfriendly” candidate wins as President, this administration may be prosecuted for their abuses and lose millions or even billions of pesos in the process. Unless, of course, the next President is amenable to a “compromise” agreement, wink, wink…

But really, the sad part is, we’re all being abused yet we’re paying for it with our eyes wide open. Time to wake up, my fellow Filipino motorists!

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