Valentine's Day Massacre by the MMDA
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson () - February 22, 2009 - 12:00am

Call it Fernando’s Folly. It seals his fate, this guy with such misplaced chutzpah he thinks he can even run for president. 

Well, his MMDA crew’s Valentine Day Massacre of 25 mature trees on Katipunan Avenue, the same that had escaped his zany designs six years ago, will be remembered long after he’s slunk back to his small pond.

On the night of Feb. 13, close to midnight, traffic slowed to a crawl on the southbound lane of Katipunan across Ateneo when a full complement of MMDA personnel, trucks and other heavy equipment surrounded the service lane islands.

Tree limbs were pruned, the ground dug up, roots exposed and cut, as Bayani Fernando’s unheroic minions made a big show of “balling” 11 acacia, six mahogany, two narra and three banaba trees, plus one each of caballero, camachile, campanella and balete. Ostensibly, these were to be relocated, transplanted in what the MMDA chair eventually revealed as a “model urban ecological zone” not far from Katipunan Avenue.

Pray tell, could this model property be in Marikina where the gung-ho despot hails from, and where he should retire back to by next year? This writer hereby challenges the MMDA functionaries to show anyone interested where the 25 Katips trees have been transplanted. A visit to the area every month should uncover evidence that they all died of an unnatural death.

In other words, I am sure none of those trees survived or will survive that massacre conducted in the dead of night by the MMDA. The DENR-NCR executive director, Jose Andres Diaz, is on record as saying that the balling exercise was conducted unprofessionally. To my mind, no doubt it was just for show. 

Not only did the MMDA avoid the anticipated protest of the affected community’s environmentalist group, which had succeeded in undercutting Fernando’s plans in 2004, thanks to a TRO. The MMDA also proceeded with the maneuver without proper coordination with the DENR. By the time DENR Sec. Lito Atienza issued a cease-and-desist order on Valentine’s Day, the MMDA already had a fait accompli. All the trees had been uprooted in continuous operations well unto morning.   

MMDA’s general manager Roberto Nacianceno declared that they already had an arrangement with the DENR, so where’s the beef? This was affirmed by the MMDA chair. But it turned out that both were mistakenly referring to what had been a 60-day permit issued early last year, which even called for the MMDA “to inform the DENR-NCR office before undertaking (any) balling and cutting operation.” Why, the agreement had since lapsed, giving Atienza cause to quip, quite correctly: “The MMDA has no license to disregard environmental laws.”

For its part, the Concerned Citizens Against Pollution (COCAP) had filed a petition against the removal of those trees from Katipunan’s service road islands. A ruling by RTC Judge Rosanna Fe Maglaya denied this. No copy of the ruling reached COCAP. This was opposite of what transpired in 2004, when RTC Judge Marlene Gonzales Sison ordered the MMDA to “stop balling or cutting the trees until after the prayer for preliminary injunction has been resolved.”

Thus, Bayani Fernando and the MMDA went ahead and did what they had been obsessed with for the last five years, to heck with the community, the DENR, and environmental laws.      

Now, is it simply a question of tree-lovers heedlessly standing in the way of what could be progressive efforts to widen a road for better traffic flow?

The initial protest against the move was well-reasoned. The service lane islands served as a buffer for students and residents, protecting the western side of Katipunan from being eaten up by an avenue of free-flowing traffic. Cars taking that service side had to slow down, because of the chock-a-block strip of commercial establishments that resulted in vehicular parking or standing, as well as for picking up or disgorging passengers.   

Further, I question the need to tear up the buffer islands just to add another lane to that half of Katipunan. Southbound traffic has been quite comfortable, since there is a wide flyover to receive speedy flow, all the way to the Blue Ridge area.

Where it’s tight is the northbound half of Katipunan, simply because the avenue narrows down considerably at Balara. In fact, there has been no difference in the logjam created on these lanes, between the current set-up and the time when traffic lights dictated the stop-and-go, and allowed for left turns into and out of Ateneo’s Gate 3.

Now, MMDA thinks that its U-turn scheme solves everything. It doesn’t, not on many roads. On Commonwealth Avenue, the practice may be viable (despite the frequent instances of collision because of the U-turn access and all the surrounding bollards and concrete blocks), because it’s such a long and wide avenue..

But it doesn’t amount to a whit on Katipunan, as there’s simply too much volume of traffic going north, aggravated by the narrowing of Katipunan all the way to Tandang Sora. It only inconveniences residents in the area, whose previous custom of simply crossing the avenue to get to Ateneo or Miriam College has constantly been modified in favor of ever longer, more circuitous routes.

All the frequent relocations of U-turn points simply suggest an unending experiment by the MMDA. Presently, someone who lives on B. Gonzales St. and beyond has to go all the way up Katipunan to make a U-turn under the flyover, in competition with public transport and heavy vehicles, before he can enter Ateneo or Miriam, or worse, go all the way back again before he can manage to turn into UP Diliman.

No sense in widening the southbound lanes of Katipunan, even if the MMDA may be planning to move the actual center island and thus add anther lane to the northbound side. MMDA traffic experts seem to be hell-bent on moving traffic volume along as fast as it can all get into an unavoidable bottleneck. 

Contrary to modern traffic engineering principles, which subscribe to the belief that the fewer “herding” obstacles are placed on a road, the better, the MMDA continues to choke our metropolis with cement blocks, bollards, pink wire-screens, segregating this and that lane while only adding to the slalom features at the cost of space. It treats drivers like children.

“Hurry on along now, until you get to the next chokepoint.” And then what? “Well, we’ll solve that problem when we get around to it.”

That seems to be the stream-of-consciousness default mode practiced by the MMDA since Bayani Fernando took over, so that one wonders if anyone profits from the manufacture of all those pink wire-screens and cement obstacles.

Nacianceno argues: What’s 20 trees when we’ve planted thousands in other areas in the metro? Hmm. There must have been a change of heart on his boss’s part. We recall how Bayani once infamously said that there is no place for trees in a city.    

On certain matters, however, he is as hard-headed as all-get-out. What he decides has to be done, just like the previous massacre of trees planted on the center island in that wide avenue leading from EDSA to Temple Drive off White Plains. Remember those trees? Gone forever. Now there’s no island, even, just a lengthening series of concete blocks, only after which one may make a U-turn. It would have been easy enough to create a U-turn point anywhere through the former island. But no. Since no one was concerned enough over that area, Fernando had his way and turned it into a concrete desert. 

Someone should stand up against this man (besides Jojo Binay), before he becomes one more reason to wish for an end to the dispensation that keeps him there. He is dangerous. He conceives of elevated U-turns (something erected in no other place on earth), as he’s done on C-5 by the intersection with Kalayaan. A former civil engineer, Fernando designs them himself, earning protest from an association of structural engineers who question their legality, design and safety. 

He is also dangerous because he doesn’t forget. When his first attempt at clearing the Katipunan trees was foiled, he took it out on the community. He threatened to arrest workers putting up a pedestrian overpass close to Ateneo’s Gate 3, since it wasn’t an MMDA enterprise but a private one. It took some time before he relented and allowed that overpass to be built, so that students wouldn’t have to walk nearly a kilometer away to safely cross an avenue shorn of stoplights.

Maybe he also remembers that Ateneo sought his by-your-leave for a back road to a Marikina property where university employees resided. He reportedly asked for a section for his city’s use. This request for a quid-pro-quo was turned down. Maybe he’ll never let up on Loyola Heights and Katipunan.

It is with the same mindset that he’s posted all those Metro Guapo billboards and posters displaying his ka-pogi-an. Or had all those infernal pink lines painted on pavements and sidewalks and alongside property boundaries. What are they for, but a waste of taxpayer’s money? If they’re supposed to designate areas where no vendor can park himself, how come they also stretch on a mere millimeter or so away from a property wall? Hard to imagine anyone squeezing into whatever miniscule space is left.

So what are those pink lines really for? Methinks they’re meant for subliminal effect, to make every Metro Manilan (except those in blessed Makati) aware of Bayani Fernando’s existence, and viability as President!

Insane. No Metro Manila mayor can ever have a chance at the presidency. Ask Visayans and Mindanaoans. Ask Cordillerans. No, not even Jojo Binay. But like that nemesis of his, Bayani Fernando may really be positioning to slide down for a senatorial seat. He’s unlikely to land one, too. Sure, he has the balls. But all he deserves is to be uprooted from the MMDA chairmanship.

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