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Opinion

Road closed

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Yesterday and last Tuesday afternoon, traffic was snarled for nearly an hour along Roxas Boulevard and the roads around Manila’s Rizal Park – among the busiest arteries in Metro Manila.

The reason: both northbound and southbound lanes of the boulevard cutting through the park were completely closed to traffic. Northbound vehicles including trucks transporting shipping containers had to be rerouted through the Quirino Grandstand and then to the Manila Hotel, while those southbound had to use Taft Avenue and the narrow streets of Ermita, which are always traffic-choked even outside rush hour.

Because this had been happening with annoying regularity, we had previously checked and found out that the vital road stretch, used heavily by trucks and other vehicles on their way to and from the country’s busiest port as well as Divisoria, was closed each time a new ambassador presented credentials to Malacañang and laid a wreath at the Rizal monument.

Who’s bright idea is it? This we don’t know, except that it’s part of the rituals connected to the presentation of diplomatic credentials.

I can understand why this honor can be accorded to a visiting head of state or government, especially those who might be targets of assassination or a terrorist attack. They also deserve to be spared from the awful traffic in the area. We don’t host the United Nations headquarters; such top-level visits are rare in our country.

But for ambassadors who would be calling Metro Manila their home for at least two years, the sooner they get used to the horrid traffic and personal safety risks, the better; no need to impress them with the shutdown of a section of a busy boulevard. A number of them have their own security details, to protect them throughout their stay in the Philippines, which will surely include attendance at public functions in outdoor venues like Rizal Park.

Closing off the northbound lane, or even just two of the lanes would suffice, so that the innermost northbound as well as the southbound lanes can still be used and the traffic disruption minimized.

Being diplomats, I don’t think ambassadors relish the idea of causing grief to citizens of their host country. Through immersion in the real traffic situation in Metro Manila, ambassadors of donor countries may even see the urgency of providing aid to the Philippines to improve mass transport and traffic management.

*      *      *

With the traffic mess in many other parts of Metro Manila, motorists don’t need the additional aggravation, and surely traffic cops have better things to do.

Or maybe not… along the southbound stretch of the boulevard between NAIA Road and Airport Road in Parañaque, where the road is wide and traffic jams are rare, there are always traffic enforcers of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority posted along the traffic island, armed with a speed gun, busily enforcing the 60-kph speed limit.

Since that limit is unrealistic along such a wide road where the typical speed is 80 kph, there’s always a motorist or two being pulled over for a fine of P1,000. And since there’s rarely any traffic buildup or jaywalking along that road stretch, the main objective of this zealous mission has to be fund-raising rather than traffic management. This was also what underpinned the no-contact traffic apprehension scheme, with its exorbitant and arbitrary fees, which was why it caused such a public uproar.

People will readily comply with the rules if these make sense, which is not what we see in many cases in our dysfunctional country.

From traffic management to business rules, people often can’t make heads or tails of the requirements, except they entail the payment of fees to the government.

One must hurdle a gauntlet of overlapping requirements, with fees at every step of the way, just to open, operate or close a micro enterprise or pursue a legitimate livelihood.

It’s good that President Marcos suspended the collection of pass-through fees, which producers and distributors alike have said contribute to the high prices of many commodities.

Transporting goods entailed multiple pass-through fees collected by different local government units, barangays and police.

This practice was one of several issues raised by manufacturers of food products in explaining their petitions to increase their prices, during consultations with the Department of Trade and Industry. The DTI is appealing to the manufacturers to hold off price increases at least during the holiday season.

Some local politicians, however, are appealing the suspension and loss of their revenues, and the politician in Bongbong Marcos may give in as soon as the holidays are over.

*      *      *

BBM’s order is merely for a suspension of the fees, apparently as a carrot for the food manufacturers, and perhaps to see the impact on inflation.

Every survey has shown that Marcos 2.0 gets the lowest marks in managing inflation. As announced yesterday by the Philippine Statistics Authority, inflation rose to 6.1 percent in September from 5.3 percent in August, driven again by food prices particularly the 17.9 percent spike (a 14-year-high) in rice prices.

Those pass-through fees are collected by myopic folks who see only the personal benefits that they reap, rather than the greater impact not just on consumer prices, but on business sentiment and perceptions of ease of doing business in this country.

Investment requirements, the regulatory environment and judicial adjudication can be confusing and are often unpredictable, with some rules whimsically imposed. Structural inefficiencies are built in to compel investors to resort to facilitators, of course with corresponding fees.

And from business transactions to traffic, there are so many VIPs accorded or demanding preferential treatment.

Yesterday a viral video showed traffic at a standstill along busy Commonwealth Avenue as Quezon City cops stopped all traffic to make way for an unidentified VIP. The much reviled wang-wang entitlement has crept back.

The only person in this country who may deserve having traffic along an entire wide avenue stopped for his convoy is the president of the republic, but even then, it will have to depend on the circumstances.

National progress is achieved when every Juan and Juana enjoys free, safe and efficient traffic flow, with no need for cops to close off any road stretch so some VIP can be spared from traffic stress.

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