Metro Manila traffic already ‘fatal’

- The Philippine Star

I’d like to be kind to DOTC Secretary Jun Abaya (who seems to be a nice guy — unfortunately nice guys finish last) and simply say he used the right word “fatal” but in the wrong way. Traffic is in fact – fatal! When thousands of people get stuck in traffic – it is fatal. Metro Manila is dying with all its major arteries totally blocked with cars, buses, construction, etc. Medically speaking, when you have blocked major arteries in your body – you’re a “walking dead.”

Metro Manila is a total mess. The metropolis is in the ICU and it needed a by-pass years ago. You can hear everyone from rich to poor, man or woman, young and old using every curse word in the English, Tagalog language and some even in Ilocano and Pampango about the traffic. Is this what you call “progress” – when thousands of cars are sold every year? How can we claim progress if traversing one to two kilometers can take almost an hour?

The government says it wants to increase the number of visitors to 10 million by 2016 but how is that possible if visitors will take two to three hours just to leave the airport because of the horrendous traffic? Some foreign visitors I know who recently arrived at NAIA told me, “It took me four hours to travel from Tokyo and it took me another four hours just to travel an 18-kilometer stretch to my hotel! It took a total of 10 hours from the time we arrived to reach my destination and I tell you, I would have been better off going to the US!”

And now, Sid Consunji of DMCI has admitted that they will not be able to finish the seven-kilometer NAIA expressway project in time for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit this November. Can you just imagine how chaotic it will be with the thousands of delegates, participants and security people arriving from all parts of Asia plus the US, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Russia, Papua New Guinea and the other participating countries?

To be fair, government has announced plans to develop several provincial airports and even allocated P108 billion for the project, but people are asking – why only now? Why couldn’t have all these projects been started earlier in the last five years? Clark Airport is a very good alternative gateway that could decongest Metro Manila. The US Air Force built it to accommodate their big jumbo transport jets and its location is perfect as a growth corridor. But I am told that just because it was named Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, the government dilly-dallied and focused instead on efforts to have it renamed to “Corazon C. Aquino International Airport” rather than maximize its potential as a secondary international airport that could decongest flights at NAIA.

Unfortunately, the DOTC does not have any sense of urgency. Worse, this agency lacks foresight because it continues to ignore the fatal consequences of delays in the implementation of key infrastructure projects like the NLEX-SLEX connector road project that would facilitate the transport of people and goods from north to south (and vice versa).

It’s all very well and good for Jun Abaya and the Palace to tell the people to be patient – but that’s exactly what people have been in the last five years of this administration: patient and “pa-martyr.” The public is already reaching its boiling point, the frustration fueled by the very strong belief that the government is simply insensitive to their plight and are only mouthing words of apology to placate the anger without offering any real solution. Take the MRT for instance. It’s been five years since the administration took over, the fare hike had been implemented ostensibly for repairs of the decrepit trains and to improve the operations, but the situation is worse than ever. The government answer: Don’t blame us; blame the Arroyo administration.

If one could recall, the MVP group offered to rehabilitate MRT 3 and submitted the proposal to Abaya, but I’m told they were not even given the courtesy of a reply by the DOTC head. Can you blame people for blaming government for all the misery they go through every day? Even without the Japan International Cooperation Agency report that says the country loses P2.4 billion everyday due to traffic (the amount could reach P6 billion by 2030), Filipinos know the congestion is fatal. The amount of pollution that commuters ingest from motor vehicles idling in traffic for hours is fatal especially for those with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases – a fact that was underscored by the former president of the Philippine Medical Association.

For instance, a few days ago we heard about this family that was rushing a loved one to the hospital but the ambulance just a few meters away from the hospital could not weave its way through the traffic. Fortunately, a “good Samaritan” in a motorcycle helped transport the patient to the hospital just in time. 

The only long-term solution to the Metro Manila traffic has always been and will always be to start moving work outside of the city. The only other way is to develop a good, clean, reliable and easy commuter system that can encourage even the rich to use it just like major cities around the world. During elections, they say where Metro Manila goes, the whole county goes. Let’s see if the politicians running for office can offer a solution to this major problem. Actually, we can even say that if Metro Manila has a fatal heart attack, the whole country will be paralyzed and who knows – may eventually die.

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