SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2020 - 12:00am

Valenzuela’s decisive move to suspend NLEX Corporation’s business permit protects its residents, businesses and territory from the gridlock spawned by the slapdash implementation of the RFID only policy.

The tollway excludes those who would not pay. It’s their way or the highway (MacArthur). But you pay for the convenience. Does anyone pay to be inconvenienced?

Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian has been a true T-Rex. He is not saying that NLEX Corp., the concessionaire for the operation of the tollway, shouldn’t charge tolls (though he did advocate a toll holiday). He’s just disallowing the charge in his territory. This amounts to the same thing. The mayor’s actions have been hailed as “brave” and “bold.”

NLEX Corp. is contemplating legal action, as is its right. Toll holidays are advance Christmas presents for motorists. But the question remains: Can the mayor do that? The Valenzuela City Legal Officer best give his mayor the correct legal advice. Millions in toll fees foregone would make up a hefty bounty if he were asked to return it.

Haste makes waste. The culprit here is the decision-making process. Urgency necessitated the immediate action. But as NLEX Corp. was not equipped to handle the demands of the emergency, there was no justification to insist on it. The spillover or externalities of the policy on, in this case, the motoring public plus the domino effect on the supply chain (with its attendant costs) should have alerted NLEX Corp. As early as day one of the congestion. it was clearly not feasible to push through with it. But they just watched the people sweat it out and profits of businesses go up in smoke. This was a miscalculation.

Maybe they relied on the Filipino’s infinite patience. But they didn’t account for a mayor who would speak for those who would not locate their voice. The RFID-only policy, according to Mayor Rex, is something that NLEX Corp. was given years to fine tune. There are serious systems management issues when you wake up to something like this.

Now what? Judicial recourse may be an option but unless and until the reforms initiated by Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta take root, judicial relief will continue to be pyrrhic. The cost of the delay in deciding will far outweigh the value of the win.

On the executive/management front, if there were some institutionalized dispute resolution mechanism whereby conflicts between LGUs and the regulatory agencies could be sorted out, then perhaps the stakeholders may fashion out more mutually agreeable outcomes. Already, Sec. Harry Roque is articulating the potential fall-out on investor confidence.

The Valenzuela-NLEX Corp. RFID toll mess should be a simple pissing contest. Mayor Rex has given NLEX Corp. a way out if it simply submits its action plan. NLEX Corp. should marshal its forces and comply before resorting to High Noon showdowns where everybody loses.

A similar episode happened back in 2014 with Manila’s truck ban. As a port city, Manila was host to its own common pool resource, the Port of Manila. Regulations over the local road network to protect the self-interest of the host community had spillover effects. To the port, congestion. To outside communities, the adverse impact on supply chain and logistics network. Another “hostage” situation, also in Manila, was the decision to re-zone the area hosting the Pandacan Oil Depot. Health and safety considerations compelled the policy but its immediate implementation caused untold consequential impacts on the downstream oil industry and other businesses dependent on the supply chain.

The RFID mess is an addition to the long list of governance issues that could benefit from more thoughtful, collaborative approaches involving not just traditional command and control structures but more horizontal and inclusive processes.

Proud symbols. To past generations, the symbol of a Filipino brandishing a stick justifiably conjures up images of Efren Reyes and his pool wizardry. After all, “Bata” or “the Magician” truly stamped his majesty on the lucrative US and World Pool championship circuits. Today, unfortunately, the image conjured is of a man in fatigues wielding the yantok to enforce social distancing.

But the symbol has a more noble and ancient tradition. Even at the advent of colonial history, accounts of men armed with sticks walking tall against superior force has enriched the legend of our distinctively Filipino art of self-defense, Arnis.

Pinoy DNA. Arnis has been handed down through the generations – by apprenticeship, oral traditions, developing in pocket communities around our 7,107. Hence, it is only in this past century that it acquired structure and documentation to bring it into the mainstream. Also known, among others as, Eskrima/Kali, it was declared the Filipino Martial Art and Sport by R.A. 9850.

But, thanks to film, Arnis has had a long and solid presence in popular culture. Depending on your generation, you may have seen, through Bruce Lee, its explosion on the world stage in 1973’s Enter the Dragon and 1978’s Game of Death. Locally, the 1974 Luis Nepomuceno international co-production Pacific Connection featured Arnis Grandmaster Roland Dantes. Yes, boomer.

Through the years, Gen X saw it proudly exhibited in any of the Bourne or Blade franchises. Locally, in Sen. Lito Lapid’s Kamagong. Millennials know the moves through Bond or Ethan Hunt or in the Netflix blockbuster, The Old Guard. Practitioners of Arnis include famous international actors and Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Denzel Washington.

We’re here thanks to the efforts of men like Dan Inosanto and the Presas Brothers internationally. Of course, locally, the president of the Philippine Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation is none other than a certain Juan Miguel Zubiri, former world champion. His night job is as Majority Leader at the upper house. There is only one Arnis expert in the Senate and it’s not Sen. Lito Lapid.

Relish the breaks we get. This Dec. 9, 2020, DOH COVID-19 Case Bulletin #270 showed a positivity rate of 3.9 percent. This milestone is the lowest in over seven months and the first time we went below 4 percent in a long, long time. As Christmas approaches, let us continue to live safe, spend intelligently, share with those in need and persevere as a nation.

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