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Opinion

Panopticon

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Before the No Contact Apprehension Program (NCAP) was shelved by a temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court, driving in the city had become a lot safer and more disciplined.

Anecdotally, I saw that drivers observed the yellow box even in small intersections. There was less lane shopping. Even traffic lights, which jokingly were referred to as “suggestions,” earned scrupulous respect. In a word, there was less of that sense of chaos in our streets.

The NCAP was designed to achieve results. The fines for traffic violations were updated. Streets were observed around the clock. There was no space left to negotiate with traffic enforcers and, perhaps, get away by paying a bribe. An entire province of petty corruption vanished.

NCAP served its purpose like the Panopticon did in a previous age. The Panopticon was a watchtower inside prisons where the prisoners could be observed by unseen guards. Feeling they were under constant surveillance, prisoners were always on their best behavior.

In this country, when there are no enforcers in sight, there are no rules in the streets. The NCAP changes that dramatically. The statistics prove it.

When the City of Parañaque adopted the NCAP in 2018, a dramatic 84 percent reduction in traffic violations on a per camera basis happened. In Quezon City, traffic violations in the streets covered by NCAP dropped by 75 percent.

More significantly, the MMDA’s Metro Manila Reporting and Analysis System, in its 2021 annual report, found that fatal and non-fatal injuries recorded in the streets dropped by 917 from its 2019 numbers. The average daily violations per camera also dropped from 56 in December 2020 to just three in August 2022.

Our roads actually became safer.

We do not have the numbers yet, but it should be easy to presume that since a temporary restraining order was issued, disorderly conduct in the streets bounced back. That translates into the number of road kills.

There were two petitions against the NCAP filed with the Supreme Court. One was filed by transport groups complaining that electronic apprehensions were “arbitrary” and that the penalties were “unreasonable.” The second petition was filed by a lawyer who claims his rights to due process were violated since he had not been informed of his traffic violations.

The petitioners, it seems, are simply resisting new technology that would make rules more enforceable. They might as well have objected to the use of electronic mail on the ground that our postal service makes no revenues from e-mails.

Neither of the petitions complained that the new system was faulty and resulted in chaotic reporting. Electronic surveillance of our streets, like the video systems on our gates, simply made things more efficient.

We have invested in the camera systems already installed along our major thoroughfares to monitor traffic. One by-product of the constant surveillance of the public space is that it is easier to document crimes. Recall how the gunman in the Percy Lapid murder was identified and the case was cracked.

Let us use those cameras to bring a better sense of order in the chaos of the city.

Right direction

Traffic is choked once again. Food prices continue on an unrelenting spiral. The pandemic still lurks. Our primitive mass transport makes us one of the worst places in the world for urban mobility. Our international airport is rated among the most stressful globally.

Despite all these, the latest survey by the OCTA Research group indicates that 85 percent of adult Filipinos think the country is headed in the right direction. Only 6 percent think not.

This is surely a vote of confidence in the new administration. The Palace has not been shy about touting the survey results.

It will take decades to sort out the nation’s major problems: a weak agriculture sector; low productivity; poor infrastructure; high poverty rates; a high incidence of self-rated hunger; etc. But our people are optimistic we are getting there. This survey outcome is pregnant with political implications.

The survey results indicate a broad constituency for the current administration and its continuity program of policy modernization. This translates into abundant political capital to support reformist policies. President Marcos Jr. should not fear unpopular policy decisions and forge ahead with the policy priorities of his administration.

Conversely, the survey results show a very narrow base for the self-designated “opposition.” Our people are not looking for an alternative path to the future and the lonely politicians roundly rejected in three successive electoral cycles offer none.

The public relations operatives of the opposition politicians have been busy trying to keep them in the public eye, possibly in early preparation for the next elections. But much of the content they produce show these politicians vacationing in North America and Europe. That could hardly be called a formula for constituency-building.

Meanwhile, the second tranche of the OCTA survey showed that 86 percent of adult Filipinos trust President Marcos Jr. Vice President Sara Duterte Carpio enjoys the same 86 percent trust rating.

A slightly lower but still immense number (78 percent) expressed satisfaction in the performance of the new President. About the same number (80 percent) were satisfied with the performance of the Vice President.

These are “Duterte-like” trust and approval ratings. They translate into immense public expectations. That is the challenge the national leadership faces. They have to deliver convincingly on their promises.

We do have an observant and critical public that ignores the peanut gallery and focuses on real gains.

NCAP

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