Strange bedfellows

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven -
Senate President Manny Villar told this writer yesterday morning that he wasn’t joining Erap’s party, but they were only discussing a "coalition" of parties to fight the Administration in the May 2007 elections. "If," he grinned playfully, "there will be elections."

All I can say is that politics, as usual, makes strange bedfellows. It was Manny Villar, after all, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, who had, by a surprise dodge, fast-tracked former President Joseph E. Estrada’s "impeachment" to the Senate for trial. Erap has metamorphosed from one believed by Villar to be "impeachable" to political ally – even partner. Gee whiz. However, that’s politics!

The American cowboy humorist – no, no, not George W. Bush – I mean Will Rogers once quipped, "The short memories of American voters is what keeps our politicians in office." If Manny, Sus, even Mar Roxas are contemplating running on the same Senate ticket as J.V. Ejercito – who hopes to be the latest addition to the Erap family circle in the Senate – this just goes to prove that there are no permanent enemies, only permanent self-interests.

Don’t get me wrong. Manny is a great guy, with the most decent instincts. But in politics there’s obviously one imperative: Get reelected.

In any event, Manny excused himself after taking coffee with us at the Tuesday Club because he had to run over to Malacañang to lead the opening prayer at the Ledac meeting.

Before we parted, I asked the Senate President about the status of the Anti-Terrorism bill in the upper chamber (it was passed by the House of Representatives more than seven months ago). He replied that it was now in Stage 4. It will be passed soon when the Senators get to Stage 5, he said. Does this mean that Senator Serge Osmeña has withdrawn his objections to it? I asked. Manny Villar smiled like Mona Lisa, but didn’t comment.

By gosh, unless Congress passes a tough Anti-Terrorism Law, every arrested terrorist suspect, if captured, will walk free in just 48 hours. Your life and mine may depend on that Law. But our Senators, engrossed in their uncivil wars in-house and with their opposition to La Gloria whom some regard as the ultimate political "terrorist" herself, just can’t be bothered.

I guess Serge himself is in no pain. I hear he’s not running for reelection. Yet, I’m sure that after all the debate, he’s beginning to realize that our nation needs an anti-terrorism statute with teeth. Otherwise we’ll be sitting ducks – terrorized (and bombed out) by the terrorists.
* * *
Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando, a regular Club member, was with us, too – along with Senator Ed Angara (who’s also running for reelection on the opposition "coalition" ticket).

The MMDA Chairman had to excuse himself early, as well, since they were celebrating the 31st anniversary of the Metro Manila Development Authority which was founded way back in 1975 – during the days of the Marcos martial law government.

Bayani had invited, he said, all former Metro Manila "governors," starting of course with Imeldific. That was a fascinating lead photograph on the front page of this newspaper yesterday, depicting the former First Lady in full-gowned splendor, reclining like the Reclining Buddha of Bangkok – indeed, for better comparison, looking like the Queen of Sheba – for a photo shoot for the "promo" of her upcoming "Imelda Collection" at the Hotel "Sofitel" Philippine Plaza.

Typically, there was an aide holding an umbrella over the ex-Superma’am. In the old days, of course, the Umbrella Man had been a late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Poor La Gloria, our present Presidenta. She couldn’t even get SC Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban (who’s retiring on December 7) to back up her "People’s Initiative." Oh well. Different folks different strokes.
* * *
The idea of a Metro Manila "Governor,"so effectively wielded power-wise by Imelda – hence she was dubbed "Superma’am"– then carried on by her apprentice, former Mayor Mel Mathay – ought to be reinstated. What Metro Manila needs to solve its knotty problems, like the everlasting traffic jam – is a "Governor" able to override the little Cesars (or Czars) who passionately defend their own turf and strongly oppose any initiatives of the MMDA, namely our city and municipal mayors. We have a huge population in Metro of close to 14 million, but many mayors rule their fiefdoms with a jealous and iron hand. In sum, there can be no integrated plan implemented to alleviate traffic gridlock.

It is traffic, indeed, that ruins our domestic economy in many ways. Think of the gasoline and diesel burned up, at the cost of billions of pesos, in those eternal and infernal traffic jams. Consider the pollution those idling vehicles spew forth from their exhausts. Compute the millions of man-hours in productive work lost because our executives, white collar and blue collar workers are stalled in traffic.

Our national government, one President after another, has dismally failed in taking measures to alleviate our never-ending traffic problem. Only a creaky Light Rail Transit (LRT), then a better, but still inadequate Metro Rail Transit, or "Metrostar" setup are in operation. We ought to have built a subway or underground train system like other countries. It would have been expensive, but every civilized metropolis requires one.

The Thais, for instance, now have an efficient subway train line, and two other lines are being constructed.

It is a myth that subway or underground trains cannot be constructed here owing to the water level. Moscow’s magnificent Metro subway system, its trains carrying more than five million passengers per day, was tunneled through swampland – more so, the subway system in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), a city on pilings which was erected by Peter the Great along the Neva river.

Some of Moscow’s subway stations are as splendid as palace chambers, with underground but brightly-lit stained glass windows, marble floors, and chandeliers. Josef Stalin and his remorseless engineers, of course, ripped through once-splendid mansions and palaces, and several districts, to construct that phenomenon, without a single TRO to impede them.

This writer was in Bangkok a month ago, and I found that while there’s still a bit of traffic, the Thais have licked the irritating and economically-destructive traffic jams of a few years ago. Aside from the Sky Train, they’ve erected fantastic elevated expressways, flyovers and clover-leafs. Not clumsily and jerry-built like our unsightly flyovers, but top-class in aspect.

What appalls me about our character is that, despite our shortcomings, our officials continue to be so smug and conceited. Our saving grace is that the Filipino manages to cope, even with outrageous instances of our own stupidity. The economy may not be the greatest, but it’s humming along.

But it’s time we got off our asses and seriously tackled the traffic mess.

Years ago, I went to the old Hilton Hotel to pick up the famous Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal for a television interview. He was already waiting in the lobby and when I arrived he meticulously took out his watch, looked at it, and said to me: "I’ve been here in Manila for three days – and you’re the first Filipino who ever came on time!"

"If Filipinos only learned to come on time,"
he tartly added, "production in your country would go up by 40 percent!"

Gunnar Myrdal is long gone, and I confess my own former "on time" record has sadly deteriorated, but I’ll never forget what he said.

Which is why we must solve our traffic problem.

We start out with a bang in all our projects. Then the effort collapses into a whimper – forgotten after the original barrage of media hip-hip-hoorah and torrent of press releases. Oh well. As Daniel J. Boorstin put it: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers." Too many of our officials are of the latter variety.

I remember that during the Ramos Administration, there was a groundbreaking three times for the building of a railway from Metro Manila to the Clark international airport, now re-christened what else? "The Diosdado Macapagal International Airport." That railway, up to now, still hasn’t been constructed. Originally it was a Spanish group. Now, it’s the Chinese. If we only got in place a swift railway line to Angeles City, we’d be able to transfer our cramped NAIA to the more commodious and well-built former US airbase, Clark (Diosdado Macapagal Airport).

I admit this writer originally opposed that very idea, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Mt. Pinatubo won’t erupt again for the next 600 years. How? Wishful thinking, perhaps.

Once and for all, let’s address our traffic mess.
* * *
THE ROVING EYE. . . The new director of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), our old friend retired Police Gen. Tom C. Lantion came to see me yesterday. I told Tom Lantion that he should dedicate relentless effort into getting every colorum or kabit bus off EDSA, even if the buses are owned by policemen or their queridas. Lantion admitted that 20-year old buses are still permitted to ply our avenues, particularly EDSA. Those junk buses must go, even if we have to push through legislation to send them to the scrapyard where they belong. What a country we have! Every fly-by-night operator still manages to weasel his or her way into operating a bus line on our main artery, the Epifanio de los Santos Highway (which is, in case you forgot, the acronym EDSA means). (The US military who built it called it Highway 54.) Lantion vowed to study and tackle the problem. That’s what they all say: I told Tom that "seeing is believing." . . . Would you believe, we passed through the C-5 on our way to EDSA Plaza hotel yesterday morning. Eight jeepneys were right there on the C-5, parked near the U-turn for Guadalupe Viejo, on that busy expressway soliciting passengers! Nobody challenged or apprehended those errant jeepney drivers who were causing traffic. What we have in this land is anarchy – but we call it democracy.











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