The rite of passage

Published November 25, 2019, 12:05 AM

by Francine Ciasico


Ambassador  José Abeto  Zaide
Ambassador José Abeto Zaide





When I was young and full of hope, I began my first day of school by taking the jeepney from Protacio Street in Pasay City to the quonset huts at the Ateneo de Manila on Padre Faura. Much later, in high school and through college, I continued commuting from Tambo, Parañaque, to Loyola Heights in Quezon City. It was do-able, even if I had to read my algebra and other lessons on the bus along EDSA (with transfer at Cubao to catch another bus).

When it was my time to raise a family of my own, my wife and I rented an apartment in Malate; and I walked to office at DFA ten blocks away. We enrolled our children at schools nearby (St. Paul’s, Manila Science, and Malate Catholic School). We opted to spare our boys the quotidian agony of commuting to Loyola Heights.

Today, I cannot imagine how families manage to juggle the challenge of commuting to work and/or bringing their kids to school (if it means one to two-and-a-half hours for school children going, and the same time to return home).
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Manila’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) which opened in 1985 is the oldest rapid transit system in Southeast Asia. It antedates by three years the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit, which opened in 1987. Singapore MRT has since grown rapidly in accordance with Singapore’s aim of developing a comprehensive rail network as the backbone of the public transport system, with an average daily ridership of 3.302 million in 2018. I repeat: Our claim to fame rests on having our MRT three years ahead.

Urban planning expert Felino Palafox Jr. blamed “too much politics” and lack of continuity and institutional memory for our maddening traffic. He cites infrastructure projects only officially began work now despite all having been proposed decades ago. Vide:

• The proposal of eight light rail transit lines which should have been completed by 1992.
• The subway system which was proposed in 1971.
• The Circumferential Road 6 which was proposed in 1945.

Palafox points to the World Bank-funded Manila Development Planning Project in 1976, where he served as senior planner and team leader. It isn’t for lack of ideas that we are behind and overtaken. (We have a surfeit of bright ideas, which seem not to get off the blueprint. Intervention of several other considerations get in the way of original plans.) Palafox said that our habitual sitting on our hands explains our “catastrophic traffic, flooding, unpreparedness for disasters, lack of decent housing, garbage problem, water supply crisis, power, and so on….” Metropolitan Manila Area suffers from major transportation problems, and we have become accustomed to chronic congestion because of population growth and exponential increase in the number of private passenger vehicles.
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Scare stories. A Boston Consulting Group study in 2017 ranked Metro Manila’s traffic congestion as the third-worst in Southeast Asia, costing motorists and commuters an average of more than an hour lost in traffic. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) says that traffic congestion costs the Philippines daily ₱3.5 billion in “lost opportunities.” MMDA in 2018 revealed that EDSA averaged around 402,000 vehicles per day (far exceeding its capacity of 288,000 vehicles). The Sustainable Cities Mobility Index 2017 ranked 100 cities on their mobility systems on three main criteria: People, Planet and Profit. Manila’s highest rank is for People (33rd), followed by Profit (38th); and the lowest is for Planet (91st). Manila has the dubious distinction to place 62nd in the world ranking and 15th in Asia. BTW, a 2018 study by WHO revealed the Philippines to have the third highest number of deaths due to air pollution.
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Some hopeful prospects on traffic solutions: Senate Bill No. 11 (Transportation Crisis Act of 2016) grants President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to fix Metro Manila traffic and other major urban areas. It enables the President to restructure the DOT, LTO, LTFRB, and the MMDA, creating stricter traffic enforcement and streamlining the overlapping functions of government institutions (with MMDA and DOT as the exclusive urban traffic management enforcers).

Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade wants to introduce a cable car system that will take only one year and six months to be operational (an accelerated timeline for a transport system which we desperately need now). He discussed this with the cable car manufacturer who built the system in Bolivia, and they are exploring sites for this stairway to the stars.

Manila Dream Plan (aka Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila) – Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. in the previous Aquino Administration announced the “Dream Plan,” approved by NEDA in June, 2014, and drafted by JICA, consisting of short, medium and long-term projects. It is organized into five components (At-Grade Urban Roads, Main Roads/Expressways Network, Urban and Suburban Rail Network, Road-Based Public Transport, and Traffic Management Strengthening).

Friendship Route – Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez has an eureka idea to bypass the traffic jams along the country’s major roads by opening thruways in private subdivisions in Parañaque, Las Piñas, and Muntinlupa. (Exclusive enclaves still instinctively resist the idea; but some subdivisions welcome the program). First to open to the friendship route are Doña Soledad subdivision in Barangay Don Bosco. Concha Cruz Ave., which leads to Toyota Alabang in Las Piñas, and the BF international gate on Southville. If Mayor Olivarez can introduce the correct protocol (security) and punctual transit opening/closing hours, his “Open Sesame” initiative may provide much needed relief to our motorists.

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