MANILA—After listening for almost five hours to the Department of Transportation officials led by Secretary Arthur Tugade, the senators have agreed that there is a need to grant President Rodrigo R. Duterte and the Executive Branch with emergency powers to solve land and air traffic congestions in the country.
”Nakikita natin dito ang emergency powers, kailangan nila para mas mapabilis ang procurement process (We see here emergency powers, they need it to hasten the procurement process),” Senate Committee on Public Services chairperson Sen. Grace Poe told the media after the first public hearing on bills and resolution providing emergency powers to address the transportation crisis.
Poe, however, said the emergency powers should be compliant with the Freedom of Information (FOI) executive order to prevent abuses.
”It (FOI) must permeate and penetrate all activities, contracts, projects, biddings, documents, awards, payments made pursuant to the act of granting emergency powers. Letting the sunlight in construction results in better-built infrastructure,” Poe said.
She also said the emergency powers must be fiscally responsible and must have complete details and deadlines for the construction of the infrastructures.
”We will not go for vague powers, or blank checks. Hindi pwede ang bahala na kami. Everything must be well-defined. The parameters must be set. I assure you there will be elbow room and wide latitude given but not wide enough for thieves to sneak in,” Poe said.
Poe assured Malacañang that “we will not be competing with you in finding problems, we will be cooperating with you in finding solutions,” even pointing out that current transportation woes require “extraordinary powers to solve.”
“What are the limitations of the emergency powers? It should be clear that timetables must be set for specific projects, how much is the implementation cost and who are responsible,” Poe later told reporters, adding that a “traffic czar” should be appointed to take responsibility.
In response to Poe’s call, DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade vowed that once emergency powers have been granted by Congress, state transactions will be FOI-compliant and will be done in the spirit of transparency and accountability.
”Huwag po kayong matakot sa salitang emergency powers (Do not be afraid of the word ‘emergency powers’). This is not absolute. We will be FOI-compliant, transparent and accountable and we will be time-bound. DOTr has a lot of things to do in a very short span of a time. Give us the special powers. We will try to do what can be done within the time set,” Tugade said.
The DOTr Chief said under the special powers, Congress will have oversight authority and can seek redress to the Supreme Court.
Tugade said bidding and procurement procedures must be fast-tracked to immediately solve what observers said as transport crisis.
Senators Franklin Drilon, Joseph Victor Ejercito and Alan Peter Cayetano have filed separate bills granting President Duterte emergency powers.
In his Senate Bill No. 999, Cayetano said the emergency powers should not only help address the land traffic problem but the air traffic congestion, particularly at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
Tugade said the special powers will authorize the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to redistribute air traffic to Clark, Laoag, Davao and other international gateway.
For his part, Senate Committee on Public Services vice chairman Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said the traffic woes in Metro Manila is an “economic hemorrhage” that needs serious attention.
”Our economy bleeds more than PHP2.5 billion a day and could swell up to PHP6 billion in 2030 if we will not find an effective cure for this malady,” Ejercito said.
Ejercito eyes special powers for President Duterte for a period of two years to reform the country’s transportation system.
In his PowerPoint presentation, Tugade said the emergency powers would help them eliminate the illegally-parked vehicles along city streets that can be used as alternate routes, particularly in Metro Manila.
Tugade said the special powers also would help in acquiring right-of-way (ROW), prohibit transport terminals along major thoroughfares, particularly EDSA, accelerate transfer of General Aviation to Sangley Airport to decongest NAIA, and limit temporary restraining order and injunction by lower courts.
Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) officer-in- charge Emerson Carlos told the Senate panel that major contributors to traffic woes include motorists’ undisciplined driving behaviors, the high road accident rate, overpopulated Metro Manila and inadequate road network.
Carlos said 26 percent or 2.3 million of the 8.7 million registered vehicles are in the National Capital Region.
”The maximum carrying capacity of EDSA is only 6,000 vehicles per hour per direction but right now it’s already 7,500 vehicles per hour per direction and that contribute so much to traffic congestion,” he said.
The promotion of the Pasig River ferry service would be viable solution to help in reducing traffic congestion, according to the MMDA chief.
Poe said many of her colleagues agreed that emergency powers are needed to solve immediately the traffic congestion.
”They believe that we need the emergency powers now. The emergency powers are for the President to be able to do what he needs to do,” Poe said.
Poe is hoping that the Senate will be able to pass the emergency powers bill before the Christmas break in December.
Poe said the committee will invite commuters’ groups and other government agencies as well as local government units in the next hearing set on Aug. 24.