Poe, law-makers question transpo dept.’s proposed emergency powers, links to private corporations

(From left) Sen. Grace Poe, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, DOT Sec. Arthur Tugade, DOT Undersec. Noel Kintanar

By William Casis | FilAm Star Correspondent

Sen. Grace Poe lamented the dismal performance of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) under the stewardship of Secretary Arthur Tugade in addressing the country’s traffic woes as she put to doubt the inclusion of questionable projects in the DOTr’s proposed emergency powers package.

“I want to be kind, but their performance is really inadequate. They keep harping on emergency powers, but they can accomplish a lot even without emergency powers,” said Poe, who heads the Senate committee on public services which is conducting hearings on the emergency powers package.

But Poe said it is incumbent upon them to extensively scrutinize the DOTr’s plans to ensure that these will have direct impact on the alleviation of traffic problems.

Poe had scheduled he fourth public hearing on October 12 in a bid to further clarify the government’s plan to implement critical transportation projects.

“In the interest of transparency, we will be conducting a fourth hearing to give the DOTr an opportunity to present in detail how they plan to implement certain projects and an opportunity to explain why some of their projects, which apparently have nothing to do with traffic decongestion,” stressed Poe.

In a recent speech before members of the European and Filipino business community, Poe said she was forced to call for a fourth hearing for the DOTr to explain “why some of their projects, which apparently have nothing to do with traffic decongestion, are included in their proposals.”

“While I agree on the urgency to pass a transport emergency powers legislation, I have some reservations as to the list of projects DOTr presented during the hearings… For example, they seek emergency powers to procure license plates and establish a national emission-testing center. Do they need to wait for an emergency powers law before they can accomplish this?”

“How do they intend to implement the BRT (Bus Rapid Transfer) line project along EDSA? If they construct a BRT line there, will this not create a bottleneck as it reaches Shaw boulevard, because there are only two lanes for vehicles on each side? Will the BRT use existing city buses or will they require a new type of bus for this project?” the Senator added.

Poe also said the panel wants to be apprised on two proposed bus rapid transit system projects to traverse Manila City Hall to Quezon City and another from EDSA to Ayala and Ortigas to NAIA and cost about PHP 44.23 billion, which are expected to be implemented in three years with the extra powers.

Poe also called the attention of the DOTr for failing to provide proposals for the development of ports outside of Metro Manila to reduce the number of cargo trucks plying the capital.

“The list of projects submitted by the DOTr also provides for port decongestion in Manila, but does not include any proposed project for Subic and Batangas ports,” she said.

“Our traffic problems are by no means confined to land-based transportation. We also have to deal with port congestion resulting in slower movement of goods by sea, and air traffic problems causing flight delays,” said Poe.

“We cannot simply grant emergency powers and say, “bahala na” or “it is up to you.” It is incumbent upon us to supply strict public scrutiny on how the power granted to them will be used.”

At the House of Representatives, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was equally hesitant to grant Tugade and his team blanket authority for the next three years.

“We are okay with emergency powers but they have to define the areas where they will need emergency powers. We cannot just give them shotgun emergency powers,” he said.
Aside from demanding for the specific scope of the emergency powers being sought by the DOTr, lawmakers also raised concerns over the previous ties of transportation officials with private corporations that have stakes in ongoing projects of the government.

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said Tugade and Undersecretary Noel Kintanar were both former executives of the contractors involved in the Metro Rail Transit-Light Railway Transit Common Station project.

“I have to be very straightforward with my concern. This concerns the Ayalas. Two of the executives – Secretary Tugade and Usec. Kintanar are from Ayala firms or have done business with the Ayalas. They might favor the Ayalas’ business interests. That’s not right,” Suarez said.

Alvarez also expressed similar concerns over Kintanar, who previously served as assistant vice- president of Ayala Corp.; Undersecretary for Air Operations Bobby Lim, who was formerly country manager of the International Air Transport Association; and Undersecretary Felipe Judan, who has a shipping business with Ramon Ang’s Petron as customer.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency, one of the Philippines’ major official development assistance partners, estimated that daily gridlock cost the economy approximately PHP 2.4 billion in 2012 and that losses could worsen to PHP 6 billion by 2030 if the government fails to provide immediate relief to motorists and commuters.

“If I could describe the traffic problem in the Philippines in word it is this: Paralysis. Traffic paralyzes us. It is no wonder that we lose approximately PHP 3 billion a day, with Metro Manila residents spending 1,000 hours a year in traffic, while other countries in the world spend only 300 hours,” said Poe.

Poe acknowledged that traffic had impaired workers’ productivity and left irreversible impacts on health and the economy.