Rage and loathing at the NLEX

Rage and loathing at the NLEX

SEPTEMBER 27, 2007

Rage and loathing at the NLEX (SUNDAY STORIES By Marlen V. Ronquillo )

To the poster girl of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), a smiling one in blue jeans, plaid shirt and yellow baseball cap with the cut-out saying “Happy Trip,” the reaction of most motorists and commuters these days is to mutter the “f**k you” word. The venom and sting, of course, is directed at the “Happy Trip” exhortation rather than the smiling girl painted gloriously on plywood.

On early Monday morning (September 3), as I was stuck in a traffic jam at the NLEX’s Meycauayan-Valenzuela portion, only the tug of civility pushed me into reconsidering my decision to scoop mud from the rain-drenched shoulder of the expressway and hurl—ala Joba Chamberlain—a fastball at the “Happy Trip” sign.

Looking through the open and untinted windows of the motorists also stuck at the NLEX at rush hour, the grim faces said it all: they were contemplating doing worse things than what I had in mind.

Nothing can build up public rage more than being stuck in traffic in a toll road that charges you a fortune in fees—and is being advertised as a road that assures motorists of a safe, fast and efficient travel.

The NLEX ads and the smiling poster girl have a Stalinist ring—Uncle Joe calling for worldwide egalitarianism while butchering political dissidents in the Gulags and pick-axing Trotsky in Mexico.

It may not be worse than that but almost. Monstrous traffic jams are not occasional occurrences at the NLEX. You encounter traffic jams, diggings and road repairs on most days you travel by the NLEX nowadays. It is as if nothing has changed from the bad, old days the road was under the Philippine National Construction Corp.: the same potholes and ruts, the repairs that took eternity to finish, the killing gridlocks, the utter breakdown of professionalism of the toll road management. At least the round trip toll fee the PNCC charged then from Balintawak to San Fernando was loose change. The current round-trip fee charged by the NLEX on light vehicles is equivalent to the mandated daily minimum wage for workers in Central Luzon. Truckers and bus operators pay double.

Can motorists and commuters get relief from the NLEX—a public utility which should have the attendant public accountability and transparency embedded in its toll road operation? Are not motorists entitled to discounts every time the NLEX cheats the commuters by the way of brazenly violating its mandate?

Will there be justice for the victims of the NLEX ineptitude?

I don’t think so. Not now, not in this generation.

The NLEX is controlled by the Manila North Tollways Corp., which is controlled by the powerful Lopez family. This is the family that controls a major television network and a big radio station. Even the toughest politician would not dare tough it up against the Lopezes, who will not hesitate to cut down and castrate any public crusader or public official who goes against their vast corporate interests.

Will a lawmaker muster the courage to stand up in either chamber of Congress to denounce the Lopezes and their Murdoch-like practices? And work to put in place a law that bars leveraging media empires from owning and operating public utilities?

Again, negative. If a politician is dying of cancer and is planning a last-minute heroic, probably a damning indictment of the corporate and public service fraud that the NLEX owners are perpetuating is in order. But politicians with big ambitions and reelection plans will not surely make a brave and principled stand against the highway robbery of the NLEX.

The lack of an alternative road makes things more difficult for commuters. The old national road is almost impassable. The weak link is the Tullahan Bridge. The urban blight that is a staple sight along vast stretches of the old road is also depressing. There is no incentive to take the alternate route.

More, the guy who promised to widen and spruce up the alternate road was Vice-President Noli de Castro. Would Kabayan make good on his promise and really carry out what is necessary to take away business from the NLEX? No and never.

Where Kabayan is now, he owes everything to the Lopezes.

So this is where we stand. Us motorists are all alone in beweeping our hapless state. It is our curse that in a society of crusaders and do-gooders, we cannot get help from anywhere.

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