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Opinion

Hopeful

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Much of the media coverage of the inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. described his speech as “hopeful.” These days, hope is probably the rarest commodity. The speech delivered it in abundance.

Those who want greater policy detail from the new president are looking at the wrong speech. An inaugural address is, above all, a merely tone-setting speech. The detail some people want should come a few weeks from now, in PBBM’s maiden State of the Nation Address.

The peaceful transition of power happened without a hitch last Thursday. The inaugural ceremonies, advertised as “simple,” turned out to be more than that. But it was executed without a hitch, pretty much like the BBM campaign was executed.

More than the speech, perhaps, it is the capacity for flawless execution that should impress us. This is quickly turning into a hallmark of the new president.

Yesterday, the appointment of Enrique Manalo as Foreign Secretary was announced. The appointment of Manalo was met with nearly universal approval. He is one of our most senior diplomats and among the most respected. He previously served as our Permanent Representative to the UN.

The appointment of Manalo follows a pattern in the emerging PBBM Cabinet: skilled professionals with impressive credentials. He joins the likes of Ben Diokno at DOF, Felipe Medalla at BSP, Arsi Balisacan at NEDA and Jimmy Bautista at DOTr.

With all the mature talent appointed to PBBM’s Cabinet, we are assured there will be no want of adults in the room when policy is crafted.

Over the next two or three weeks, we can expect the policy agenda to take shape in time for the State of the Nation Address. That policy agenda, although expected to build on the policy framework of the Duterte administration, should also unveil new initiatives to indicate an effective response to the multifold crises facing the nation.

The most pressing concerns at the moment are: elevated inflation rates that penalize our purchasing power, the higher energy costs driving the inflation rate and the possibility of food scarcity in the face of a global food crisis produced by the war in Ukraine.

There are no easy solutions to these concerns. Oil prices are beyond our control. The almost universal interest rate increases will make money costlier and take a toll on our economic expansion. The possibility of a global recession lurks and could undermine our own growth efforts.

Nevertheless, the remarkable pool of talent PBBM assembled for his Cabinet should be able to put together a package of policies that will conserve our people’s hopefulness the new administration can take the nation through an episode of difficulty towards prosperity.

Immobilized

Basic fare rose by two pesos this week to P11. Commuters complain that this will cut into their disposable incomes. Drivers say the increase is not enough.

This debate over fare is just the tip of the iceberg. Everywhere in the metropolis, there seems to be a shortage of public transport. Commuters are immobilized, adding to all the things that make Manila an inhospitable city to live in.

Our public transport system is inefficient to begin with. It has taken, for instance, more than a decade to get any progress in the jeepney modernization program. Our buses still operate under the antiquated “boundary” system, causing them to behave like oversized jeepneys chasing after passengers.

The exceptional tightness in city public transport, it appears, is an outcome of the spike in fuel prices. Hundreds of taxis are parked because their drivers find taking them out to the roads is a losing proposition. The same explains why there are fewer jeepneys plying their routes.

A two-peso increase in fare will not dramatically alter the business calculations of drivers and operators. There is simply no income to be made playing their routes.

Compounding the refusal of bus, taxi and jeepney drivers to venture out of their garages, government has terminated the free rides offered at the Edsa carousel. There will be no free rides in the commuter trains either.

The only way to lure public transport back to the roads again is to raise minimum fares to P15 or more. This is what the drivers want. The added pain on commuters will be severe. The impact on an already elevated inflation regime will be incalculable.

We are running out of options. All the years of failing to modernize our urban mass transport system brings us to this impossible point.

Unless there is working public transport, all the talk about reopening the economy will mean nothing. If the workers cannot get to work because there is no transportation available, it will be like keeping the whole city on lockdown.

We have a crisis in agriculture. We will soon have a crisis in our energy supply. Now we have an urban transport crisis. This might escape the attention of the car-riding upper class, but it is a real and profound crisis for all those who have to commute to earn their wages. Factory workers, for example, cannot do work-from-home.

Mr. President, we know you have so many concerns on your plate. But the urban transport crisis is just about ready to explode. The only way to defuse it is to get our transportation assets – buses, jeepneys and cabs – back on the road one way or the other.

Someone has to cut the Gordian knot to get out this crisis in urban transport. That has to be you, Mr. President.

BBM

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