Politicizing traffic

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - September 16, 2019 - 12:00am

Every time Senator Grace Poe calls for a “hearing” at the Senate concerning traffic and related issues, my usual response is: Can you actually legislate solutions to improve traffic or has our traffic problem become click bait or media bait that ensures tri-media coverage for those attending the hearings? There is the saying: “If you’re not part of the solution – don’t be part of the problem” and this is a message that Senator Poe should take into serious consideration since more often than not, those hearings end up in arguments, bickering or politicking especially when she invites the DOTr Secretary and his team.

Last time I mentioned Poe and traffic in a column, I shared how MMDA General Manager Jojo Garcia got cited for contempt by a Judge after being pressured at Poe’s committee hearing to talk about the provincial bus ban issue in spite of a TRO. In months past, Poe and associates in the Senate have challenged or issued resolutions to counter the HOV lane, the provincial bus ban and the integrated bus terminals to name a few and this has left traffic managers privately saying: “They shoot down every idea and then asks us why we can’t solve the traffic problem.” To be fair, I too have taken a similar opposition but the difference is that I have humbly made efforts to study the problem, stand along EDSA or other streets to actually observe in order to validate my ideas and solutions before expressing them or sharing with the authorities concerned.

I don’t know how much personal time Poe spends to actually study traffic and commuter’s reality and while I respect her right to challenge the ideas and plans of government officials regarding traffic solutions, I would be even more interested to hear her ideas and solutions on what to do with traffic. You can’t keep shooting down other people’s plans and programs and not come up with real workable solutions yourself. At the very least, Senator Poe should aim towards producing some solutions during the hearings. Instead of just calling for hearings “In Aid of Legislation,” it might be better if the Senate spells out what the purpose, agenda, and end goal of the hearings are beyond “investigation.” This way, everyone involved knows what they are supposed to achieve above and beyond destructive criticism and politicking from all. Quite honestly people are getting tired and fed-up with traffic woes being used as political firewood or reason for Senate investigations.

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The Department of Information and Communications Technology has set aside P1.2 billion this year as well as in 2020 to put up public Wi-Fi facilities and a number of cities have also benefitted from the initiatives of telecoms companies such as SMART that have built free Wi-Fi hotspots in the City of Manila or have used localities as digital pilot projects such as San Juan City. From what I’ve picked up so far, the priority areas are hospitals and City Halls and Halls of Justice and police stations. But what about universities and colleges where students seriously need Free Wi-Fi?

We would like to call the attention of the DICT, Congressman Luis Campos of Makati as well as the telecom bosses to please remember the millions of students particularly those in state colleges and universities who have largely been left on their own to have internet connection in order to carry on with their research and studies on-line.

In order for our students to learn and be globally competitive, they need superior Internet connectivity. But the tragedy is that many SCs and SUCs especially those outside Metro Manila, Cebu or Davao don’t have access to the internet. I already wrote about the struggles of students at UP Baguio who have to go outside the campus in order to gain internet connection. Let’s not blame officials of SCs and SUCs given their meager budgets, the only thing I can do is to remind those who have the power to please don’t forget students! They need internet connectivity and Free Wi-Fi will boost their studies and reduce their financial burdens!

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Reports from the Department of Interior and Local Government indicate that none of the LGUs have managed to be 100% compliant with the orders of the President for officials to reclaim public roads etc. That no one could do it 100% is no fault of LGUs. To begin with it is only now under President Rodrigo Duterte that the concept of “political will” and law enforcement is being applied. Most LGUs have prioritized promoting business and development in order to generate income and have operating funds at the local level. As a result, zoning laws and building codes have been disregarded and as far as road clearing is concerned, LGUs only tow vehicles as a source of added income although they are towing vehicles in front of business establishments that have been issued local government permits and officially categorized as commercial areas.

So now the national government wants to get everything under control and the President has issued the edict and that’s suppose to solve everything. Not by a long shot. First of all, there has to be clarity on what we need to clear out and how to properly coordinate and implement them as well as a long term plan. We have no arguments over clearing national roads and alternative routes but the big confusion seems to hover over street parking for commercial areas that were in existence before they became alternative routes.

While everyone is talking about street clearing, I have not heard any talk or push for mandatory requirement for additional basement parking for every commercial building constructed. Many barangays include basketball courts or multi-purpose gyms in their development programs but not multi-level parking. Clearing and using vacant lots will never solve the problem. Either we generously incentivize high-rise parking developers or we watch businesses die from no parking rules.

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