Fight at the end of the tunnelBy Conrado R. Banal III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Quick: Who suffers the most from the atrocious traffic in the metropolis that is amplified a hundred times by flooding?
Everybody knows that they are the guys down here. A World Bank study concludes that three out of four commuters in Metro Manila, or an extensive 75 percent, belong to the low-income class. Translated into pesos, the everyday monstrous traffic costs us something like P130 billion a year in foregone income, fuel wastage and health problems from pollution and such, not to mention unbearable stress. Clearly, the actual and hidden costs of traffic can only punish the poor the most.
And so what are we doing about it? Our beloved government fields thousands of useless traffic “enforcers” who love to add to our stress—and expenses—apparently to impose discipline among motorists, as if the traffic jams are entirely our fault.
Yet we know that the only lasting solution to the problem is infrastructure. On this score, the Aquino (Part II) administration failed miserably. This administration has yet to start any single new road project in the metropolis, in the face of its avowed policy about the straight and narrow road. It is still a long way to the end of our traffic misery tunnel. In fact, certain Cabinet officials chosen by our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS) are fighting each other over critical projects for the past 20 months. Up to now nothing is happening in those projects.
Officially known as the “Metro Manila Skyway” (connecting SLEx and NLEx) and the “Metro Manila Expressway” (otherwise known as C-6), those roads will ease traffic in major roads like Edsa and C-5, where traffic is most horrible anytime of the day. Top-billed in the fight are the departments of public works (DPWH), justice (DOJ), and transportation and communications (DOTC). From what I gathered, the DPWH recently also asked the finance department (DOF) for help in the fight.
It all started in December 2010 when the group headed by Citra, the operator of the SLEx, submitted a proposal to the administration for the road projects, claiming that from the start in the 1990s, its contract included those projects. In the ensuing exchange of blows among government outfits, the DOTC, the TRB and the DOJ all agreed with the Citra group—except DPWH.
Headed by Secretary Rogelio Singson, who used to be CEO of Maynilad Water Services, which is controlled by the Metro Pacific group of MVP (Manuel V. Pangilinan), the DPWH immediately shot down the Citra proposal. It so happened that another company called Metro Pacific Tollway, which also belonged to the MVP group, which took control of NLEx from the Lopez group, wanted those same projects, or their equivalent.
Reports indicated that the MVP group proposal did not have the so-called right of way. It would need help from the government, using its right of eminent domain, to acquire additional right of way. According to the Neda, that was just another form of subsidy—i.e. against the law. The DPWH then ran to the DOJ for “clarification,” which instantly agreed with Neda. Also, both the DOJ and the OGCC (Office of the Government Corporate Counsel) already opined much earlier that the Citra group had the prior right on the road projects.
And so the DPWH ran to other government outfits for support. In the next 11 months or so, a flurry of letters flew between them, with the DPWH pushing for the MVP group while trying to eliminate Citra. From what I gathered, the DPWH even boycotted the technical planning sessions of Citra, and DPWH boss Singson even visited DOJ head Leila de Lima personally, asking for the DOJ to reverse itself, even intimating that the DOTC (headed by Secretary Manual A. Roxas) would, ahh, “not mind.”
That was about eight months ago in November 2011. The following month, San Miguel entered the picture by partnering with Citra. Thus, the effort of the DPWH to shoot down Citra all the more intensified. The DPWH filed more than 10 “pleadings” and “rejoinders” regarding the case in the past six months or so. Hmmm. Who would have thought that the DPWH legal department could be that hard-working and efficient? Anyway, last March, the DOJ released a 22-page decision, saying—again—that Citra had the prior right over those projects. What did the DPWH do? Well, Singson ran to our leader BS for help with his famous memo, in effect pulverizing Citra, citing all sorts of statistics.
What do you know—our leader BS decided that this country, where more than 40 million people are poor, who are in dire need of the basics like health care, shelter, nutrition and education, should pursue both projects worth hundreds of billions of pesos. A press campaign ensued, with DPWH saying that it would support both Citra and MVP groups, although some media outfits attacked the Citra proposal as “incredible,” or “impossible,” or even “mind-boggling.”
Our leader BS, based on press releases, also wanted a speedy implementation of both projects. Again—“speedy!” It was not surprising then that last June, the DOJ came out with its final decision by denying the motions of the DPWH for the DOJ to reverse itself. Translation: the DOJ affirmed that the Citra group had the right to do those projects all along. Here is the thing: According to a report in this section, the DPWH still went to our leader BS, appealing its case with the Office of the President.
Moreover, from what I gathered, the DPWH is still trying to recruit an ally in Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who is supposedly on top of the long-in-coming “PPP” of the administration. And so, I tell you, the fight may yet have an extension. No light at the end of the traffic infested tunnel! Meanwhile, the “bosses” of BS are agonizing in 6-hour long traffic on Edsa.
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THE DOJ, by the way, in a resolution promulgated last month, reversed the Pasig City prosecutor in the case filed against Francisco Ortigas III (former ambassador to Mexico and a major partner in the real estate firm Ortigas and Co.) by his wife Susana Madrigal Bayot, who reportedly were engaged in a feud over money. The city prosecutor earlier found “probable cause” to charge Ortigas and his executive assistant Maria Antonia Legarda with “concubinage”
The DOJ said: “The purpose of a preliminary investigation is to secure the innocent against hasty, malicious and oppressive prosecution and protect him from open and public accusation.” Earlier, the Ortigas camp alleged that the preliminary investigation was conducted in haste, thus denying Ortigas the opportunity to debunk properly the charges of Bayot. The DOJ directed the city prosecutor to withdraw the case against Ortigas and Legarda and to report the action within 10 days.
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