THE INSIDE MAN

To the next President: a wish list from the Transport sector

To the next President: a wish list from the Transport sector image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Brent Co | posted August 13, 2015 19:04

Hoping for a change of mindset

The real transport sector

It's a pity that when talk turns to the Transport sector, we imagine only PUV drivers and operators. This is a serious under-appreciation of what may well be a huge, tax paying voters bloc. True, the very vocal PUV drivers and operators are part of the transport sector, but if we want to be honest about it, they are just a small portion. The real transport sector embraces all road and railway users, and that includes all motorists, commuters, passengers, car owners, car industry workers, tourism workers, road builders, contractors, law enforcers, law makers, railway workers, tricycle drivers, cyclists, PWD [people with disability], motorcyclists, financiers, yes, even pedestrians and of course, Atty. Oposa's “Share the Road” movement. And yet this holistic transport sector hardly has any voice in matters national, regulatory and even local. We have long deserved to have our say and influence in how the next administration serves us.

Carry on the good work

It is well and good that next administration continue the good work and on-going infrastructure projects, especially the PPP's [Public Private Partnership], like Phase 2 of the Central Luzon Link Expressway and the Plaridel bypass toll road, which will be launched in the final months of the current administration. But continuance is not always guaranteed as this current administration has set the precedent of casting a suspicious eye for one sided corrupt deals on all projects started by previous administrations, except Cory's. Sadly, many a worthwhile project have been cancelled or delayed on the mere whiff of corruption.

A change of mindsets

To solve the Transport Sector's problems requires that we look at the bigger picture of the economy as a whole, which is why our coverage goes to the root of the problem, touching other related matters of governance and administration. It all begins with what's in the mind, for it is what in the mind that tells the heart that will steel it with the determination to follow. This has been the driving force, the will of “Daang Matuwid” for the past 5 years. It wasn't perfect, after all anything created that is based on a judgmental mentality of settling scores and that all past regimes, except Cory's, are tainted by the corruption brush. This kind of thinking will always blame the past for its present failures. For our country to move forward, Daang Matuwid must become fair, objective and transparent. This can only be done if the new President evicts the following entrenched mindsets...

White [collar] man speak with forked tongue

If we cannot be relied on to honor our side of the bargain/contract, we cannot be trusted. This is fatal to foreign investment, specially long term infrastructure investment. We already are sullied with international infamy because of the decades long failure to pay PIATCO for building NAIA 3. Our name remains soiled in the world's international courts of justice and arbitration, courts we seek redress too for territorial problems like China's claims on our open seas. Sec. Mar Roxas's admission that despite the severely flawed North Rail project that will cost us a huge amount in penalties if we terminate, we still have an obligation to pay. But this resort to word of honor was to prove to be the exception.

TRB dupes STAR, cheats NLEx, Skyway, SLEx

A few years ago, TRB or Toll Regulatory Board, asked San Miguel infra to expand STAR tollway to 2x2 carriageway but after 2 years it never acted on the agreed toll fee increase. TRB has, for 4 years and counting, also not acted on contract obligation toll fee increases for NLEx, Skyway and SLEx. It has also failed to adjust toll fees for SCTEx despite its advance opening of additional exits. Likewise, MWSS [Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System] has failed to implement any water rate increases for Manila Water and Maynilad Water as per contract, despite an international court order. MWSS even had the temerity to order a water rate reduction, without basis in its contract with both the BOT [Build Operate Transfer] proponents. This populist resistance to raise fees and fares has scored an own goal with the MRT-3, forcing the government to burden all taxpayers with a huge subsidy to keep fares cheap, further degrading commuter safety so long as the Metro voters don't complain about high fares.

What are we in power for?

Witness the abuse of the power of the state in bullying private businesses that it is prejudiced against. We provide a short list:

  • BCDA [Bases Conversion Development Authority] vs. SM [ShoeMart] Aura - A seeming personal prejudice against projects of the SM group culminated in the BCDA laying siege before the inauguration of SM Aura in the Fort, at the cost of causing huge traffic jams at C5 , Taguig and Makati.

  • DoTC [Dept. of Transportation and Communication] vs. MRTH [MetroRail Transit Holdings] - More prejudice against the Sobrepena Group's MRTH not just with DoTC's non payment to Metro Rail Transit Corp, but also terminating Sumitomo's trouble free maintenance contract and denying the MRT owners access to train maintenance to check on new-train compatibility to tracks and catenary system. The trains MRT needs are dual articulated LRV [Light Rail Vehicles] while, Dailan, the Chinese supplier that DoTC contracted is mainly a locomotive manufacturer.

  • DoTC vs. SM City – After receiving a P200M downpayment from SM for the LRT 1 and MRT 3 common station on EDSA in 2009, DoTC turns around in 2012 and moves the location to Trinoma resulting in a court case that still drags along, further complicated by the upcoming MRT 7 station location on nearby North Ave.

  • BCDA vs. CJHDevCo's [Camp John Hay Development Corp.] locators - BCDA sought eviction of 1,631 bona fide and paid for locators and investors of Sobrepena's Camp John Hay Dev. Corp. Events took a toxic turn as BCDA agents' thuggishly took down protest streamers, forced their take over of the Voice of America Compound log mansions, failed paying for huge electricity bills and worse, used jumper cables. Moreover, there was even harassment of CJHDevCo officers on trumped up malversation charges, which was dismissed in court.

  • BCDA vs. Metro Pacific Tollways - Even more pronounced, is the prejudice against Metro Pacific tollways pending contract to integrate SCTEx with NLEx. Delayed but readied for approval in 2009 by the GMA administrations, the new Pnoy appointed leadership of BCDA promptly cancelled it. Then had it rebid only to see Metro Pac as the sole bidder and winner. Then storm Maring destroyed the Porac viaduct which was due for enhancement by Metro Pacific in 2009, if only the SCTEx O&M [Operations and Maintenance] contract was signed and approved by the Palace. Then 4 years of nickel and dime bargaining by the Palace, where Metro Pac sweetened their offer twice over, which still ended in another rebid, which Metro Pac also won. Meantime, monstrous toll plaza traffic jams at SCTEx ensued every long weekend, entrapping Liberal Party stalwarts leading to the Senate President himself forcing the BCDA to finally implement the integration with NLEx. By the way, this isn't over as the BCDA is still stalling on the application of Electronic Toll Collection [EasyTrip] on SCTEx and SFEx.

  • The 2014 SONA [State of the Nation Address] vs. the PNCC [Philippine National Construction Corp.]– Blame again was put on the door of a public agency for the slow take off of the C-6 Metro Manila expressway. But the administration did not remember that they just appointed their man there and that the extension of the PNCC's corporate life was pending in the Senate waiting for the Palace's go.

  • The last SONA vs. UST [University of Santo Tomas]– Just because the UST, a private university, was wary of letting a huge drainage excavation near its historical treasure old buildings, doesn't justify being rashly judged and publicly attacked in a State of the Nation Address. DPWH [Dept. of Public Works and Highways] Sec. Singson was more conciliatory in moving the excavation to Blumentritt as UST accepts that their grounds will continue to flood even as the DPWH project relieves the flooding in the nearby areas.

Trial by publicity/Public shaming

This public shaming is not too far removed from the way the Red Guards shamed suspected “capitalist railroaders” and “comprador class” enemies of the state during Mao's Cultural revolution purges. Reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels propaganda machinery, those suspected of being less than supine to the ruling party were subjected to this public shaming and trial by publicity. Chief Justice Corona was relentlessly insulted just because he was appointed by the previous administration culminating in his impeachment by the Senate. Despite a Supreme Court order, ailing former President Arroyo, constantly accused but not convicted, was imprisoned in a state hospital. The demolition job on the Binay family hasn't even peaked as of this writing.

Being polite is hypocrisy in disguise

Whether this is true by design or default execution by the judgmental minds, many of this administration's relationships signaled an overall descent into divisive and uncouth incivility by engaging in demeaning public catfights with the Vice President, Opposition senators, Supreme Court and members of the Media just because they did not agree with the Palace. It felt like being in a high school peer group, led by an angst ridden brat of a hot head, a “war freak” in 70's speak. A famous guest, Jesuit Pope “Who am I to judge” Francis, was subject to a bitter and rude accounting by the Jesuit trained President, for the alleged past sins of the Church against the Marcos opposition. As an Argentine, Jorge Mario Bergolio is no stranger to strong man/martial junta rule and its abuses. Like his Philippine counterpart, Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Church chose critical dialogue with the ruling powers, instead of invoking heretical liberation theology and forming an alliance with Marxist rebels, which the Marcos political opposition did. It was the Church that the populace followed to EDSA in Feb. '86 to support Butz Aquino, and not the Marxist rebels, not the rightist coup plotters.

Double standard Justice

Political enemies, trapped in the PDAF [Philippine Development Assistance Fund] Napoles scam were prosecuted to the hilt while Palace allies involved were treated with kid gloves. Witness the unconstitutional DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program] fiasco and the perpetrators were even given more legal ammunition for protection by the supine and beholden Legislature.

Guilty until proven innocent

Political enemies are put in jail even before they are convicted by a court of law. Evidence of their alleged guilt was even withheld from the defendants' attorneys. Bail, sick leave, relative leaves go to the wringer if they are even granted at all. This forced detention feels like the suspension of habeas corpus, was characteristic of what happened during Martial Law, a cause that both Sen. Ninoy Aquino and Pres. Cory Aquino fought against crying “Never Again!”.

Summary justice and rash judgment

A weather bureau officer was fired without recourse to an appeal because a storm changed its course. No consideration was given to the fact that the bureau no longer had reliable working equipment for a long period of time. A NIA [National Irrigation Administration] officer was also fired on the spot for failures that were not under the officer's control. An MMDA employee was blamed for the failure of a flood pump at EDSA Cubao, but it turned out that the said employee's order for fuel and parts remained unheeded for weeks before the flooding disaster struck. Meantime, incompetence at the LTO, headed by administration allies, was left to fester for years, piling up one administrative disaster after another – more on that later.

Daang Matuwid a sacred [holy] cow?

If you are not for us, you are against us – this slavish and blind almost Mohammedan-like conversion to the Daang Matuwid mantra unfortunately silences any opposing opinion and dissent and even in some cases, shoots the messengers of the truth. The administration refuses to listen to any criticism of this sacred Daang Matuwid. Like ostriches burying their head in the sand. The sad fact of this is that their failures will just build up and when it snowballs to huge proportions, no cover up will work because of their failure to heed the early warning signs. This is the price to pay for preferring sycophancy to openness.

Choose the facts to massage the message, then believe your own B.S.

Its an old media trick. If you don't want bad news, make your own good news. A few random statistics from obscure and not so recognized sources will give credence to your PR spin. What is even worse is to cherry pick data and figures to support a pre-conceived notion, usually to make the previous administration look criminal and/or ineffective. That is exactly the basis of all the bright growth figures that this administration touts as its accomplishment. But if one looks to legitimate sources, qualified judges of the economy, i.e. NEDA [National Economic Development Authority] which the President chairs, the Economist newspaper [statistics, not editorial] and UP School of Economics and have such data assembled/analyzed impartially, benchmarked with the rest of ASEAN and other poor developing countries, the past 5 years show under spending and below average growth. We are still the cellar dwellers in the race to development in ASEAN.

Reinventing the wheel

Just because all BOT [Build Operate and Transfer] projects signed before Pnoy are suspect doesn't mean the incumbent has to void all checks and balances and other COA [Commission on Audit] authorized procedures that applied to those previous and existing contracts. Thus you had an Asst. Sec. Of the DoTC behaving like a repossession agent when the officer took sides in the ownership tussle of Stradcom, an LTO [Land Transportation Office] supplier. Moreover, it has been government's inaction on Stradcom's wider computerization program of LTO that caused LTO to depend on annual renewals of the LTO encoding contract just so operations are not halted. Meantime, LTO neglected to follow established COA bidding and appropriation procedures in acquiring drivers license paraphernalia and the new plate numbers.

Caveat

While we do not agree with some lawmakers that the LTO 5-year plate replacement problem was just a money spinning project, the LTO could have saved more money if it just followed the standard 520mm x 120mm EU [European Union] plate size and 8-character spacing that the Dutch plate maker churns out by the millions instead of our specialized pseudo Australian size; another case of unnecessary reinventing of the wheel. The 8-character plates were proposed during LTO chair Suansing's term and with this the permutation of number and letter combinations will allow null duplication for up to 300 million registrations. As for changing plates every 5 years, it assures a more frequent check as to the legitimacy of the registration and keeps the plates fresh. Furthermore, we also do not agree with lawmakers that plate making must only be made in the Philippines, specially if a foreign supplier can make them cheaper, saving our precious tax funded coffers.

No concept of customer service

In another attempt at poor customer service with the object to circumvent the Stradcom contract, LTO even considered DFA's [Dept. of Foreign Affairs] system of mailing Passports several weeks after license renewal to replace the more convenient current practice of license-renewed and-ready-to-go in 30 minutes. Fortunately, this patently inconsiderate idea has been put in the back burner.

Going fine crazy

Finding new powers to increase fines, the LTO went overboard with horrendous fines for no plate-no travel and no registration-no travel, only to be stymied by their own delays in delivering plates and encoding data for registration documents. The worse was the fine for using non-original mounting screws for the new plates. LTO failed to realize that their tamper proof screws did not fit all vehicles and were about to penalize the public, big time, for their mistake.

More reinventing the wheel, 2

The MRT 3's failure can be traced to the DoTC's cancellation of the comprehensive maintenance contract by Sumitomo. DoTC first rejigged the rules to so short a contract duration that prospective bidders found it onerous and that the only bid winner failed miserably in its job. For the same price as the Sumitomo contract, it didn't even include parts. This PHTrams contract is now the subject of a court case. Then the DoTC piece-mealed the contracts to several contractors, but still on too short a term to be effective. Much as the DoTC wanted to buy out the private owners of MRT, they were not given the complete payment amount by the Senate and neither did the 2 government banks, LBP and DBP, support it. The DoTC blames the private sector MRTH [Metro Rail Transit Holdings] for suing them in international court, but DoTC hasn't been paying MRTH for years and it refused to allow MRTH to inspect the compatibility of the China Dailan trains that DoTC ordered. MRTH reminded the public that Dailan is a locomotive maker, but does not directly build dual articulated LRV [light rail vehicles]. Meantime, the DoTC keeps exploring other means of BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] while PHILTRAK, an all Filipino invention from the 1990's that pre-dated BRT, languishes in filing cabinet limbo.

More reinventing the wheel, 3

The BOT [Build Operate Transfer] needed refinements, sure. And that was what the PPP was to be, a better BOT. But better for whom? The PPP as it is today, is losing out to competing PPP's in other developing and developed countries, because of the financial component, which we have likened before to a cover charge or franchise premium for doing business in the Philippines. This is over and above the cost of construction of the Infra project. This jacks up the cost of the project and in the case of toll roads and water supply dams, the costs will be passed on to citizens as higher tolls or water rates. The problem in our country is that government regulators like TRB and MWSS, under a populist administration, cannot be relied on to honor those toll/water rate hikes embodied in the contract. No wonder the bidders are few and are mostly locals who do it out of love for country.

Cash Register Mentality

Further proof that this administration is wedded to wringing as much “franchise premium” from a PPP was its disregard of the results of the first bidding for CALAx expressway. Because of a defect in the San Miguel Optimal bid, the winning Ayala-Aboitiz bid with an 11B financial component won over the 20B of San Miguel. The Palace then forced a re-bid where the bidders were greatly reduced, even if the final premium paid was 27B. If for anything, it burst the illusion that this administration favored a level playing field.

Flood control by reclamation?

Example: This financial component already makes the [LLDE] Laguna Lake Dike Expressway look like a rip-off project considering the very high cost of an elevated expressway over the sea and the long gestation period for the man-made islands. Mind you, the LLDE was designed to supersede a Belgian dredging contract to revive Laguna lake. The Palace belittled this Belgian expert's dredging and lake revival contract and voided it because it was a GMA era contract. Then it recomposed the dredging project as a PPP so as to attract private businesses. Thus the LLDE is supposed to achieve the revival of the lake and make lots of money because of the real estate potential, never mind if the expressway won't make money until all those island communities are alive and maturing. Simple question? How will those man made islands solve the lake's flooding? It looks like a replay of the Manila Bay reclamation, which caused even more severe flooding for Manila, Pasay, Makati, Las Pinas, Paranaque and coastal Cavite.

Other deserving projects were never given a chance

And what happened to the adjustable portable Roro ports and the North Food Exchange/intermodal rail-city-provincial bus terminal in Bulacan? Those were good ideas but were junked because they were again GMA projects. Nothing replaced them.

If you can't get what you want legally, circumvent it

This can only be done successfully if you have a Legislature beholden to the Executive. This is done by surrendering the Legislature's power over the purse in exchange for an allocation of “pork” or funds. All administrations [except this and the GMA one], even the Marcos administration, tried to keep to the constitutional Legislature-Executive spending power check and balance. But this check and balance is all gone thanks to the creativity of [DBM] Dept. of Budget Management Sec. Abad, the acquiescing Congress and the support of the [DoJ] Dept. of Justice, Supreme Court decision declaring DAP unconstitutional, notwithstanding.

Luneta, Zamboanga, Haiyan and Mamapasano

Disasters and catastrophes cannot be avoided, just like the way Pinatubo and the Earthquake visited the Cory era. But what cannot be forgotten is the government's action/reaction/non-action. Like the buck-passing on the deaths of SAF 44 and innocent tourists in Luneta. Then there was discrimination in typhoon Haiyan related relief and disaster aid against municipalities with elected officials related to Marcos. A government can choose to relieve or aggravate a crisis, and in some instances, this government's elitist/exclusionary elements failed to rise to the occasion.

Grace

To Grace Poe, if she becomes our next President, this is a short guide to what to avoid even if you believe in the principles of Daang Matuwid but don't want the abuses and unjust excess baggage of Daang Matuwid. You don't need experience for this so you should trust the much maligned men and women of the bureaucracy. There are many more expert men and women working in government who are not corrupt nor abusive. Word of advice: choose well among the people who are ingratiating themselves to you. You are better off listening to someone who has nothing to gain, like Erap, than those who are hell bent on perpetuating their illusion of a legacy besotted with lying, bullying and quarreling.

Mar

Roxas, nice guy. But if he only opens his eyes and not be like the ostriches with their heads in the sand – no doubt inbred by years of listening only to the news they want to hear. The lofty objective of D-Matuwid, was ruined because of the mindsets that attended it, herein listed above. Roxas, if capable of being man enough to change his mindset and be more pro-active, need not issue a mea culpa or a public apology even if most of the blame of “palpak” [incompetence, bumbling] and “manhid” [insensitive, dense] happened under his very nose or because of his prodding micro management. Enough of that “teka teka” wait a minute, don't rush me bit either. What we need to see is action, the kind that undoes the mistakes that has happened in the past 5 years. But Roxas has to admit to those mistakes first, before he can correct it. To true believers of D-Matuwid who were uncomfortable with its ugly, quarrelsome and angst ridden side, it will be Mar who will show us a kinder-gentler D-Matuwid.

Rody

Duterte? Steel yourselves for a blanket national speed limit of 60km/h and on the spot punishment by eating fake rice or imported garbage. And an 1100PM curfew on serving alcoholic drinks in all bars. Abolish Congress? It's going to be a lot less fun in the Philippines.

Manny

Ex-senator Villar would have been a refreshing pro-business change from the current populist crop. He and his family is indeed knee-jerk pro-business, but unfortunately, for so long as it's their own business. Who can forget the contorted path of C-5 extension, manipulated and blessed by the Senate, in order to pass through as many of his development prospective raw land as possible. Or the blocking of any new airport expansion as some bay area reclaimed land claimed to be a protected bird sanctuary. Some pundits explain that it only became a bird sanctuary because of a nearby trash dumpsite and that the same birds are a threat to commercial aviation approaching or leaving one of NAIA's busiest runways. Or the veiled threat of a legislative investigation against Ayala's MCX [Muntinglupa Cavite expressway] expressway project, thereby delaying its inauguration, because Ayala wanted to build a retail strip across Vista Land's Evia commercial complex. To think MCX benefited Villar's residential projects along Daang Hari the most.

Jejomar

Binay – whether judged to be corrupt or not – as a member of the Cabinet, was a silent witness to all this. Why didn't he speak up? How could he when he was not part of the elitist inner circle – he was not “kasali”? How could he when he wasn't always at the President's side to catch him in a good mood? How could he when the President's stubbornness kept him from backing down? How could he if saw that fanatics and sycophants of his cordon sanitaire always had the President's ear? Dissent or a different opinion was judged to be treacherous or suspect to the principle of Daang Matuwid. Considering the uncouth, bullyboy and quarrelsome tendencies, voicing an opinion to the contrary would be an open invitation for a mob mauling. He had no choice but to bite his tongue and hold his peace considering the small mindedness of the prevailing attitude. Until, frustrated and feeling he could no longer be of help as an insider-reformer Devil's advocate, he gave up and left. He continues to stagger along, pummeled by his enemies. Despite his exit, he continues to be treated like the unwelcome dark skinned interloper of a little boy who doesn't know what he is doing, scolded and told what to do by administration senators and presidential spokesmen. But the greatest damage to his image was at the hands of his friends and EDSA-mates, never mind the bitter vitriol of his enemies. It is the doubts sowed by close cause-mates like Winnie Monsod, subtly questioning his and family's motives and actions at City Hall, that will prove to be most damaging to his chances of winning. If he does win, however, and it will because of his warm personal one-on-one touch, you can be sure, he won't commit the same mistakes that this divisive administration did. But this is a long shot considering his feeble rebuttals to all the accusations gang banged against him. Going to the Judiciary for relief may be the right thing to do, but he is fast losing in the public image battle. And it is the public's image that makes or unmakes presidents.

Bongbong

Finally, Marcos, the most statesman like of the new non-trad pols. He eschews blasé and opportunistic sound bite laden cliché pronouncements unlike Chiz, Trillanes, Alan, Bistek and Rody Duterte. He never goes into a hectoring rage or delivers uncouth rebuttals nor serve false accusations/sweeping statements. You will never hear him talk without a cohesive concept and without the basis of well researched context. He thinks before he speaks or acts. He is the leader we need but do not deserve, as many are still attached to a bitter past during his father's rule. He is too much of a gentleman, and this won't cut the “moutarde” with a populace that prefers bloody gladiatorial combat than the subtle musings of philosopher-kings. If only our voting populace was more like the mature pluralistic societies of Britain and Scandinavia, he would be a shoe-in. It is his misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.