By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senators have slammed the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for penalizing members of a bikers’ group who placed makeshift barriers along a major highway in Quezon City last Tuesday to protect cyclists.
During their session Wednesday night, Senator Francis Tolentino said that he does not see any violations committed by the Bikers United Marshals (BUM) in setting up temporary cones on Commonwealth Avenue.
“Wala po akong nakikitang masama doon (I see nothing wrong with that), Mr. President. Ang ginawa po nila (What they did was that) they took decisive action to protect themselves as bicycle users because our government agencies have failed to put up the bicycle temporary markers,” the administration senator said.
He said the group rather acted “with good intention” to guide motorists and keep bikers safe as they go to work.
Tolentino formerly headed the MMDA.
MMDA Spokesperson Celine Pialago earlier said they will slap each of the BUM members with a P1,000 fine for obstruction, and charge them for “putting the lives of people in danger”. She called the BUM’s action “dangerous”.
“This is too harsh and severe a penalty for our cyclists, fellow travelers in the road, who only wanted to make the roads a safer place for them to travel, in the absence of an established bike lane in Commonwealth Avenue,” Tolentino however, said.
He said the MMDA should instead lead the efforts to promote the use of bicycle in the metropolis, instead of penalizing groups that help address the lack of public transport amid the general community quarantine (GCQ).
“The MMDA should be on the same page with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Department of Interior and Local Government, which are both promoting the use of bicycles and the establishment of bike lanes,” he noted.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros shared Tolentino’s concern.
“Indeed, the anticipated punishment for those bikers who put up temporary lane protectors made of plastic bottles is excessive. Pwede bang ang MMDA na lang ngayon ang maglagay ng bike lane protectors dahil wala na ngang masakyan ang publiko, paparusahan pa ba natin ang mga biker (Can’t the MMDA just put the bike lane protectors itself because the public has no means of transportation, do we even have to punish these bikers)?” she said.
“I’m wondering, if the bike group did not put up makeshift cones to protect them, would that have been more acceptable to MMDA? I do not know how the act of the bikers in providing a visible [barrier], how that could have further endangered them versus having nothing there to separate their lane from the cars,” added Sen. Pia Cayetano, who is also a cyclist herself.
The Senate was discussing the proposed “Safe Pathways Act”, sponsored by Cayetano, which seeks to create a network of pop-up bicycle lanes and emergency pathways that can be used by essential workers during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in the metropolis have turned to biking as their primary mode of transportation.
Despite the shift to GCQ and the reopening of businesses, public transport operations remain limited to enforce physical distancing and other health protocols.
Pialago had said that bikers could use the sidewalks in the meantime until the MMDA comes up with a plan for a safer bike lane. She admitted, though, that the lanes “will take time to be constructed.”