THE DEPARTMENT of Transportation (DOTr) gets another rebuff from Congress when members of House committee on transportation deliberating on proposed emergency powers bill to solve expressed their disappointment on the agency’s insufficient justifications and lack of comprehensive plan for the requested measure. 

This is the second insult heaped on Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade by the lawmakers from the Lower House who earlier raised the issue of his suspect loyalty after his choices of subalterns for several sensitive posts in the department turned out to be mostly identified with and were working for business conglomerate Ayala and MVP Groups of Companies.


Tugade’s Team

In a recent hearing, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez noted Tugade’s family is in the transport and logistics business while his undersecretary for railways Noel Kintanar, is a former Ayala executive instrumental in his company’s acquisition of rail projects during the Aquino administration.

Tugade’s undersecretary for air transportation, Bobby Lim, is former country manager of the International Air Transport Association, while his undersecretary for maritime affairs Felipe Judan is in the shipping and logistics business.

The Ayalas, Pangilinan and businessman Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corp. have ongoing multibillion stakes in big-ticket infrastructure projects such as the Metro Rail Transit System and Light Railway Transit. Ang’s SMC has stakes in MRT.  

Tugade reportedly wanted to allow the Ang-owned MNHPI to engage in international trade, which port stakeholders were opposing since MNHPI has an existing exclusive contract with the Philippine Ports Authority to operate only in domestic trade. MNHPI stands for Manila North Harbor Port Inc.

That prompted the lawmakers to doubt on Tugade’s real commitment and loyalty especially since he himself is known to also have had business dealings with the Ayala Group as major supplier of services.


Revolving Door Policy 

So exasperated were the congressmen that some of them filed a bill that sought to ban for at least three years private business executives who were hired to work in the government to return to their former jobs once their tenure is over.

In filing the bill, they cited the cases of former Aquino government officials Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras and several others who instantly returned to their former posts with the Ayala Group after leaving government service.

Many lawmakers view the move with suspicion because they knew that those former officials “accomplished their mission” by securing huge contracts for their patrons during their time in the government.

The advent of the Duterte administration and the subsequent appointment of Tugade and his choices of assistants has somewhat assured that the juicy contracts bagged during the previous administration would be carried out and continued in the present government. 


Recycled Officials

Quezon City Rep. Winnie Castelo in filing House Bill 3578 seeking to address numerous conflict-of-interest issues involving Cabinet members and other government officials, particularly those recruited from the private sector said dey government officials should not be “recycled” – at least for three years.

Castelo wanted a law that will temporarily ban the designation to a private firm of a government official who served in an industry of his expertise, which usually puts government at the losing end.

“We should put a stop to this recycling of government officials, especially those who have been recruited to serve in government. They should be barred from returning to their original posts in private companies for at least three years,” Castelo stressed.

Castelo, chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee on Metro Manila development said succinctly the practice has become a “breeding ground for the promotion of conflict of interest.”


Questioned Loyalty

Castelo’s bill backed the strong stand taken by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez who said such officials should be prevented from engaging in employment or business and undertaking activities or contracts within the same industry.

Alvarez cited the cases of former energy secretary Jose Rene Almendras, who worked for the Ayalas, and former public works secretary Rogelio Singson, who worked for businessman Manuel Pangilinan – both under the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III.

The same was true for former Customs commissioner Bert Lina whom Aquino appointed, amid a very obvious conflict of interest – Lina is among the owners of a freight forwarding company doing business with the Bureau of Customs.


Tugade Still In Office?

That Tugade still remains in office despite several rebuffs and his suspect loyalty is a bit of mystery. 

First it was his loyalty that was in question. Then his incompetence has been exposed by the Lower House. 

Publicly rebuffed, worse, insulted, twice and still hanging on to the office is an interesting study of a person who claims to be super successful in business and public service. 

Why Tugade has not resigned after those self-inflicted pains baffles OpinYon. 

There must be a reason for this masochism.The likely reason is clearly the interests of some oligarchs, their agenda is to control Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects under the DOTr and the billions of pesos in projects that come with it. 

The transportation department reportedly controls about 80 percent of all big ticket projects under the PPP. 

To name a few: the rail transit programs; the proposed bus rail transit and the land, sea and air transport systems being ran and managed by the government, and last but not least, the internet and telecom businesses, which are being eyed nationwide.


Desperate Measures

With very little hope to resolve traffic mess despite Congress granting emergency powers, several sectors, have toyed with numerous “desperate” short-term measures to resolve the problem as other infrastructure options are simply too costly and have long gestations.

Such measures include: a ) a four-day work and class week; b) staggered work/class reporting times; c) no mall sales on weekdays (but just weekends); d) closing the window provided under the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (number coding or simply coding).

Also, banning cars from major road networks like EDSA, C5, Alabang, Guadalupe, Magallanes, Ortigas, Roxas and Aurora Boulevards; expanding the public transport fleet and exempting buses from such number coding; no parking on main roads; and  increasing the number of enforcers from the current 3,000 (of which only 200 have gone through intensive traffic enforcement seminars) to 13,200.

Already, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority piloted the “no window” number coding last Wednesday (October 12) until Monday (October 17) along EDSA, C-5; Roxas Boulevard, Alabang-Zapote Road and the cities of Mandaluyong, Makati and Las Pinas. It issued reminders to the public through text messages, Twitter and its Facebook page.

Under the present scheme, vehicles that are supposed to be banned from the roads are allowed to go out during the window hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., except in Makati City.

MMDA general manager Thomas Orbos said a reduction in vehicles of 18-20 percent is seen when this (no-window-hour policy) is implemented.

Orbos said the proposal to keep vehicles covered by the coding off the roads from 10 to 3 p.m. was suggested by House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez.


Worst Traffic

Metro Manila has been tagged as having the worst road traffic on earth.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency has estimated the country’s traffic gridlock could cost the economy P6 billion per day by 2030, if nothing is done to fix the problem.

Number coding has increased driving and made traffic worse. It’s time we reformed traffic policy

But an article published by Rappler written by Robert Anthony Siy, a student of MA Transport Economics of University of Leeds and a 2015 Chevening scholar for the Philippines, said the coding scheme is not effective, as it only led to a doubling or tripling of private vehicles ownership.


Confused Tugade

Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento, who chairs the House of Representatives committee on transportation, said Tugade and his officials are “confused” on what the crisis is and consequently on what special authority they need.

“You have failed to define the scope of the crisis. It is a time-honored principle, even acknowledged by our courts, that the findings of administrative agencies are accorded great respect by reason of your special knowledge and expertise. Sorry to say this but sadly, on this particular instance, we hope for a better performance,” he said.


Doing The Right Way

It appears that the problem of Tugade is that he started on the wrong notion that the traffic mess could be solved by simply granting emergency powers to President Duterte.

They overestimated his popularity by espousing the belief that his popularity alone could address the fatal traffic mess.

Tugade failed to comprehend that they should do things the right way and that despite the granting of emergency powers projects are still to be identified, plans are to be laid out comprehensively and accountability and transparency must not compromised.

It is of paramount importance for Tugade and his team to understand that the cart must not come ahead of the horse.

The problem however is that while Tugade might be really committed to solve the traffic mess the people that surround him might be in for a different agenda.

The problem ensues because they are not of the same page thus greatly affecting the planning placing the government and the people at a disadvantage. 

(With reports by Rose de la Cruz)


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