No urgency to grant emergency power to solve traffic – Senate panel

Published September 11, 2019, 12:19 AM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senator Grace Poe on Tuesday said the Senate Committee on Public Service sees no urgent need now to grant President Duterte emergency powers to speed up infrastructure projects that would help solve the country’s traffic crisis.

Senator Grace Poe (Senator Grace Poe's Official Facebook Page / MANILA BULLETIN)
Senator Grace Poe (Senator Grace Poe’s Official Facebook Page / MANILA BULLETIN)

She stressed this at the end of Tuesday’s hearing where Senate Bill 213, which revives a proposal to grant President Duterte emergency powers to speed up traffic and infrastructure projects, was tackled. The bill was filed by Sen. Francis Tolentino.

At the hearing, Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade failed to convince senators on the urgency of granting emergency powers.

Tugade’s opening statement alone, in which he blamed the failure of Congress to grant emergency powers for the delay in the implementation of the DOTr’s programs, did not sit well with Poe and triggered a brief exchange.

“Kung nabigyan sana ng emergency powers noon, dapat ngayon, nirerepaso na natin ‘yong nagawa – kung nagbigay. Pero sabi nga nila, walang huli sa tamang gawain (If we were given the emergency powers before, we could have completed our projects and should now be reviewing those we have implemented. But, as they say, no good action is late),” the DOTr secretary told the panel.

With the emergency powers, Tugade continued, the government can immediately adopt and implement policies without having the need to amend existing laws and “wait for the tediously long process of legislation.”

This will also fast track procurement and road right-of-way (RROW) acquisition and relocation processes; and will allow the DOTr to easily implement its priority projects.

Poe took exception to Tugade’s remarks.

The senator, who led the discussion and sponsored the emergency powers bill in Senate during the previous Congress, said the DOTr should be able to do its job even without the emergency powers with the current laws and executive policies.

She cited Republic Act No. 9184 that allows government agencies to resort to alternative methods of procurement. There is likewise President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 34 which further eased requirements for alternative procurement processes, Poe added.

She also mentioned Republic Act No. 8975, which prohibits courts, except the Supreme Court, from issuing a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, or preliminary mandatory injunction against the government’s infrastructure projects.

To stress the DOTr’s inefficiency, Poe cited as an example the 16 Dalian trains that were promised to improve the degraded Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3), but which have yet to operate.

She also raised the delays in the construction of the FTI Transport Terminal in Taguig City and the Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT1) Cavite extension, as well as the pending rehabilitation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) by the NAIA Consortium.

Still, Tugade insisted on the need for the grant of emergency powers despite agreeing that the DOTr was able to work on the rehabilitation of the MRT-3, among others.

“Wala po kaming sinasabing wala kaming nagawa kasi walang emergency powers… Ang sinasabi ko, marami sana kaming nagawa kung may emergency powers (We are not saying that we failed to do our tasks because we did not have emergency powers. What I am saying is that we could have done more if we have the emergency powers),” Tugade retorted.

But Poe said it is unfair to blame lawmakers for refusing to grant the emergency powers.

“Kung talaga kailangan, eh bakit hindi ibibigay? Pero huwag naman natin sisihin na kaya hindi niyo nagagawa trabaho niyo kasi kahit wala naman ‘yan ang dami niyo na sanang nagagawa (If you really need the emergency powers, then why would we refuse to give it to you? But you should not blame us for your failure to do your job because even without the emergency powers you should have done plenty),” she said.

In his appeal, Tugade assured that the proposed emergency powers will not be “forever” and Congress will still be able to exercise oversight in the projects they will implement. The DOTr will also uphold the people’s right to information, he added.

He said legal issues can also be taken to the SC, he said.

SB 213, like RA 8975, allows the High Court to order the suspension of infrastructure projects covered by the emergency powers.

DOTr officials said that injunction and RROW issues hamper the rollout of their projects, such as the construction of the MRT-7 and the planned integration of bus terminals along EDSA.

Traffic master plan

During the hearing, senators criticized the DOTr for its lack of a comprehensive traffic and transport master plan to address the congestion problem in Metro Manila.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the plan should be prioritized by the government as this would determine whether or not the emergency powers grant is necessary.

“Have you presented a plan? Wala pa akong nakikita dito (I have not seen anything from you yet). In the last three years wala pa akong nakikitang presentation dito sa Senado (I have not seen any presentation in Senate),” Recto said, explaining his reason for seeking an inquiry into the government’s traffic program.

Engr. Rene Santiago said the government has adopted in 2015 the Metro Manila Dream Plan, which included the construction of the subway, improvement of railway, among others, to ease traffic problems in the capital region.

Santiago, who was part of the NEDA-JICA team that formulated the transport infrastructure plan in 2014, however, admitted that the plan was not being followed.

“Adjustments are acceptable but if it changes the whole behavior of the network, it changes the integrity of the plan,” he said.

He also noted the “deteriorating” technical expertise among government agencies.

“Because the expertise sort of disappears or evaporates after a few years, the government has no capacity or capability to retain this experience. I noticed that deterioration and I pity Sec. Tugade for coming in an organization that is depleted of technical experts or people,” said the transport engineer.

Santiago agreed with Recto that the traffic crisis may worsen by granting the emergency powers without a comprehensive plan from the agencies concerned.

Poe, meanwhile, recalled asking the DOTr for its specific action plans to address the traffic crisis.

She said the DOTr had earlier submitted a thick document of project proposals which supposedly included perimeter fences for airports and facial recognition software for its attached offices. The DOTr has yet to trim down its plans for the emergency powers bill, she noted.

In asking anew the DOTr for its plans, Poe said the submission should include a detailed list of projects and sources of funds to make sure that the government will not be buried in debts.

“No accountability, no deal. Siyempre kapag mayroon tayong kapangyarihan, mas malaki ang responsibilidad. Hindi puwedeng puro powers lang pero walang plano (Of course power comes with greater responsibility. You can’t have powers without plans),” Poe told the DOTr.

“These conditions are not unreasonable. We have to make sure that any grant of emergency powers is placed in responsible hands,” she said.

Poe blamed the lack of a master plan for the failure to address the traffic crisis. She said “firmer” actions from the executive branch would solve the problem, like how it acted to rehabilitate the Boracay Island.

While hearings on the bill was adjourned, Poe said they will still conduct weekly technical working group (TWG) meetings to give the DOTr the opportunity to clarify and enumerate its projects should the emergency powers bill be passed in Congress.

She, however, did not ascertain the fate of the emergency powers bill in the Senate.

“Sana patunayan muna ng DOTR na sa kapangyarihan na meron sila ngayon ay nagagawa ang dapat nilang gawin… Hindi ako kontra, doon ako sa kung ano ang makapagbibigay ng solusyon at sana nagawa nilang kumbinsihin tayo na ‘yon lang ang paraan, emergency powers (I hope the DOTr will prove first that, in its capacity now, it is able to implement its projects. I am not opposed to the bill, I am for whatever that will solve the traffic problem and I was hoping that they were able to convince us that the grant of emergency powers is the only way),” Poe said.