By Genalyn Kabiling and Argyll Geducos
President Duterte said the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG) are “duty-bound” to escort and guide ambulances out of traffic gridlocks to save lives.
Duterte issued the order during a press conference Tuesday night in the light of reports that many patients die on their way to the hospital because of the monstrous traffic in Metro Manila.
“Maybe I will ask all itong – lahat na – Metro Manila, Highway Patrol pag may emergency…‘pag may nakita sila na siren tapos – hilahin na lang. Hilain nila. Itabi nila para makalusot [Maybe I will ask all, Metro Manila, Highway Patrol, if there is an emergency… if they see a siren, they should escort them so they can get through],” Duterte ordered.
“Maybe that would be a mandatory work for them,” said Duterte, who has “left heavily-congested EDSA to rot” after Congress rejected his request for emergency powers to improve the traffic situation.
He said the MMDA and the highway policemen must be “duty bound” to escort ambulances carrying patients in need of urgent medical attention. “Course ko kay kay Danny Lim and itong hagad sa pulis. Must – must hila. Duty-bound to hila [I’ll course this to Danny Lim and the police escorts. They are duty bound to escort them],” he added.
Duterte, however, warned that those who blare car sirens just to get ahead of other motorists will be apprehended.
“Huwag lang ‘yang emergency na nagmamadali ito. Itong minsan ‘yung iba nagsasakay ng ano, maski walang emergency nagsa-siren. Ah ‘pag ganun, huli talaga [Not those emergency that are just in a hurry. Some use sirens even there is no emergency. If that’s the case, they will be caught],” he said.
Duterte initially admitted that he had no answer to concerns about the plight of ambulance patients stuck in traffic and even suggested an air ambulance would solve the problem.
Earlier, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo proposed the use of military helicopters to augment the government’s air medical services.
Panelo said the Department of Health could coordinate with the Department of National Defense to tap helicopters to transport patients to hospitals during emergency situations.
Duterte maintained he will no longer ask for emergency powers to resolve Metro Manila’s worsening traffic. Even if these were granted, he said he does not anymore have time in his hands to remedy the situation.
“No [I will not beg for emergency powers]. Bakit ako maghingi ng (Why would I ask for) emergency powers?” he said Tuesday evening.
“Sabi nung isang senador doon sa isang senador, willing daw na pag-usapan. Sabi ko (One Senator told the other that they are willing to talk about it. I said), what for? I cannot complete the project. I cannot clear EDSA with the remaining years of my term,” Duterte said.
“So ‘pag kinuha ko ‘yan, umalis ako hindi tapos, may maiwan pa ‘yan (If I get that and step down with it unfinished). [they will say] ‘See? I told you. Corruption. Tingnan mo ang ginawa. Iniwan pa na incomplete (Look at what they did. They left it incomplete),'” he added.
“When as a matter of fact, verily, you cannot complete the project within three or – three or four years. Sabi ko, huwag na lang (That’s why I said, ‘Never mind’),” he continued.
But if Poe decides to run anew, he will raise the issue against her.
“But someday, eh maybe kung magtakbo uli ‘yan, ‘yan ang ilaglag ko sa kanya. That if there’s anybody responsible, it’s because may mga tao ditong Pilipino – siguro kay sa breeding nila – extra proud (if she decides to run, I will bring this up. That if there’s anybody responsible, it’s because there are Filipinos – maybe because of their upbringing – who are extra proud,” he said.
“Parang sila lang ang honest. Sila lang ang talagang ibig sabihin with all the integrity and… Sabihin ko ‘yan (They think they are the only honest ones, that they are the epitome of integrity),” he added.
Earlier, Duterte said the country loses P3.5 billion a day due to traffic congestion in Metro Manila.
DOTr wants it
But if the President has gone cold about such powers, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) insists it should have emergency powers to address traffic woes in major metropolitan areas in the country.
If emergency powers had been granted in previous years, more projects, programs, and policies would have been already implemented, DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade told a Senate hearing. “We could have done more,” he reiterated.
Tugade clarified that the grant of emergency powers would only last for one to two years, and that the oversight functions of the Congress would still remain.
During the hearing, transport officials highlighted ongoing projects and future plans that will help solve traffic congestion in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu.
“With emergency powers, we can finish our railway projects ahead of the original schedule and implement partial operability so commuters need not wait for full completion,” according to DOTr Undersecretary for Railways Timothy Batan.
Congress already approved on December 2018 its counterpart bill on emergency powers -House Bill 6425 (Traffic Crisis Act of 2017).
“One solution that the emergency powers can resolve is the consolidation of franchises so that all bus units will coordinate as one single unit,” Undersecretary for Road Transport and Infrastructure Mark de Leon added.
“Procurement can be done faster with no issues through emergency powers, and that is what we need right now to avoid delays in our ongoing infrastructure projects,” says Assistant Secretary for Procurement and Project Implementation Giovanni Lopez.
“We need to have a single traffic authority to address the monster problem that is EDSA. We need a traffic czar,” Secretary Tugade concluded.
“Well, if he doesn’t need it anymore, why will we push for it?” Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters Wednesday when asked if the Upper Chamber will continue to push for the passage of the emergency power bill.
Meanwhile, Sen. Grace Poe denied Duterte’s claim that she is blocking appeals for emergency powers. She said she is just doing her job as a legislator.
“Gusto ko naman talagang ibigay iyan [emergency powers] kung may patutunguhan at kung mayroon naman talagang certification na ito ay kailangan,” she said in an interview over radio DZMM.
Poe admitted warning the President in 2016 that the special authority might fall into the “corrupt system”, but said she did not imply that all of the officials in his administration were corrupt.
Still, she said she will continue to scrutinize the emergency powers bill.
“Hindi pwedeng magbibigay ka nang nakapikit lang ang mata mo. Kailangan ay talagang nakadilat ka at tinitingnan mo, ito iyong solusyon, ito rin ang safeguards (You cannot just grant the emergency powers with your eyes closed. You should be vigilant to make sure there are safeguards, if this is the solution for the traffic problem),” Poe said.
“Kung atribida, kung ako nga ba iyon, ang masasabi ko lang pasensya na. Trabaho ko ang ginagawa ko (If I was presumptious, if ever I was the one being referred to by the President, then all I can say is I’m sorry. I am just doing my job,” she added.
Sotto, like Poe, believes that government can solve the traffic crisis, specifically in EDSA, without the emergency powers.
“If you talk about EDSA, I sound like a broken record, there are many ways of solving it but they are not doing it. Ganon, eh (That is what’s happening). They are trying to do something about it but it’s not [enough] eh,” Sotto said, citing the proposed bus ban in EDSA, and implementation of no-parking laws, among others.
He said it is not entirely the DOTr’s fault, as objection from sectors also hinder the rollout of their plans.
“Ang daming solusyon na pwede kaya lang hindi ma-ideliver (There are several solutions that they can implement but they do not deliver),” Sotto said.
Sotto believes senators would be convinced to pass the SB No. 213 if specific projects are enumerated in the proposal. (With reports from Emmie Abadilla and Vanne Elaine Terrazola)