BY MARLEN V. RONQUILLO
The 40 richest Filipinos are worth more than $20 billion. Close to 40 percent of the population live below—or just barely above—the poverty line. There has been no time in the sad history of the country with this kind of economic gap. Yes, we know, the rich are different from you and me. But should we have a vast, seemingly unbridgeable chasm, for a gap?
The good news amid this story of brutal poverty is a leadership that tries very hard to make it up with the common man. No wang wang and beating the red lights for the convoy of P-Noy. No special treatment for her sisters at the airport immigration lines. While these gesture are merely symbolic, they resonate and resonate deeply. To the Filipino Everyman, used to a culture of impunity and recklessness, these gestures are heaven sent.
We expect these gestures from the top to be adopted down the line—into every nook and cranny of the vast bureaucracy. P-Noy sets the example—the rest would follow. Wrong. Some agencies of government can’t seem to get it and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is a leader in this regard.
The MMDA is dead set on implementing a color-coding scheme for buses in Metro Manila. The agency, seemingly unable to shed a culture of making decisions by knee jerking, says the move is aimed at decongesting the EDSA of excess capacity. The buses are choking the road lanes and hence, the main metropolitan road should be decongested.
Question. Why pick on the buses? Why not the private vehicles? At worst, the average load of a bus—metro or a provincial that uses EDSA—is 38 percent. The buses on the busy commuter routes average more than 50 percent, whether these routes are purely Metro Manila or commuter routes between Metro Manila and Central Luzon or Metro Manila and Southern Tagalog.
In contrast, private cars that are owner driven carry one passenger 90 percent of the time. A single politician needs three cars, one for the Big Man and two back-up vehicles. What choke EDSA to the limit are private vehicles, not the buses.
The figures on the buses’ load were not picked from thin air. The RMCs, or route measured capacity with the DOTC and the LTFRB, say so.
On top of the load factor, there is the “use equation.” The private cars are for the rich, those pretending to be rich, the middle-class and those aspiring to be middle class.
They are the ones that enjoy most of the material things in life.
The bus commuters belong to the 40 percent that P-Noy wants to provide with both hope and opportunities. After a day of grueling work, they slump their tired bodies onto buses to rest on the trip back home, be this Sapang Palay, or Laguna, or Cavite, or Bataan or Pampanga. Now, these jerks at the MMDA want less buses on the main roads of Metro Manila.
“Rationalize?” “Decongest?” This is just a disingenuous way of punishing the ordinary people P-Noy wants to vest with both hope and opportunity.
To benefit what and for whom? The rich and the middle class that enjoy far superior things, the sectors that have more in life.
A vehicle decongestion policy should start with cars and private vehicles, not with buses that are the anchor of our mass transport sector. Because it is the right thing to do. The LRT and MRT lines cannot meet the demand. It is the buses that fill the transport void. So, instead of driving buses off the streets, the MMDA should work for the regulation of private car use. And encourage people to take the mass transport systems available.
Over the past 10 years, the MMDA has made its mark by beating down on the faceless and the voiceless, the whipping boys of those governing with a culture of impunity and no accountability. It thinks it still lives in those bad and brutal days, when its uniformed thugs could accost a shirtless man on the street and accuse that shirtless man of high crimes.
From what we have seen from our new president in the past few days, the concern for fairness and parity and equity, the MMDA has been out of sync and still living in the past.
This is a postscript but it is worth mentioning. Singapore, which is about to overtake China as the world’s fastest-growing economy, is perhaps the country with the strictest rules on car use and ownership. If you want to use a car, you pay a fortune. If you want to use a car into the city proper, be ready to part with a sizable part of your income.
Mass transport is the favored thing. Private car ownership is frowned upon.
The MMDA should learn a thing or two on the transport policy of the fastest-growing economy in the world.