History repeats itself

Talk about from the baul.

In the last few months, weeks, and days, the subject of Motorcycle Taxis has been the hot topic on social media, specifically the threat to the cessation of operations by Angkas, Joyride, and other similar forms of transport available to the public.

The debate is clear: Angkas and other similar services have be granted a “provisional OK” in the guise of a pilot test program to operate because technically, the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) considers them as illegal transport providers, otherwise known as colorum. And amidst a crisis of traffic and public transport in Metro Manila, it stands to reason that the commuting public found a good solution for getting around cities and traffic in services like Angkas.

Supposedly the LTFRB's hands are tied because of Republic Act 4136 from 1964 which has no provisions for motorcycle taxis (which is also known as habal-habal), the interpretation of which means that there is no legal framework for motorcycle taxies, hence they're illegal. The argument now is for the upper and lower houses (Senate and House of Representatives, respectively) to come up with a law that can address the matter.

But what if there already exists a “law” that directs government agencies to find ways to make the illegal... legal?

The supposed law we're talking about is a very old one from 1973. Yes, from Martial Law-era Philippines. It's called Presidential Decree 101, Series of 1973, by President Ferdinand Marcos which is titled: Expediting the methods in prescribing, redefining or modifying the lines and modes of operation of public utility motor vehicles in the Philippines.

Now we'd like to mention that this isn't a legal dissertation or expert opinion of any kind, but PD 101 is quite interesting because as early as 1973, the Marcos administration (or regime, depending on your view on that historical period) was already seeing the negative effects of traffic congestion and the lack of efficient public transport in the Greater Manila Area. This situation from the early seventies has given rise to colorum forms of transport. Sound familiar?

And so President Marcos decreed that the government agencies tasked with regulating public transportation find ways to reorganize public transport routes, permits and methods, as well as to grant “special permits of limited term” with the goal being to “replace or convert clandestine operators into legitimate and responsible operators”.

The PD did not mention whether MC Taxis or similar services (i.e. habal habal) were included in that; just colorum modes of transport in general, and it could be argued that MC Taxis should be covered by it. It's also interesting tha given that PD 101 was issued after RA 4136, any contradictory provisions in the RA will have to be amended by the PD being the newer piece of legislation.

There are some caveats to with regards to this PD. For starters, the government agencies mentioned in the PD no longer exist in their 1973 Martial Law-era forms. When the PD was written, President Marcos issued the order to the Board of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation, the Philippine Constabulary (PC), and the Department of Public Works, Transportation, and Communications (DPWTC). Those agencies have been split, renamed, and reorganized several times, and their current forms include (but not limited to) the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of Transportation (DOTr), the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), as well as the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

The second is that we're not quite sure if this PD has been repealed and/or superseded. While this PD was issued just over 47 years ago almost to the day, President Cory Aquino actually recognized the validity of Marcos's Presidential Decrees in 1986 and many PDs are still in effect. Case in point: the basis for the current Labor Code of the Philippines is not a Republic Act but a Marcos Presidential Decree from 1974.

And by our understanding, for a PD to no longer be in effect, it needs to be repealed or superseded by virtue of a Republic Act, of which a PD is considered to be at the same level. Not even an Executive Order post-1987 Constitution can do that as explained to us by our Legal Eagle.

But hey, if you've got a mind for legalese, you can read Presidential Decree 101, Series of 1973 yourself from the Official Gazette of the Philippines, and let us know what you think.

Some may be wondering what's the point of this. Some are pro-MC Taxi, some are not. Some may be up in arms at the mention of Marcos and politics. Some are anti-LTFRB and some are, well, we're not quite sure how many are pro-LTFRB. That's OK; we're all entitled to our opinion on all matters, and it's good that we can have a healthy discourse on these issues.

What we do want to point out is that the problems from 5 decades ago are the same as now. Traffic, congestion, colorum; these were problems in the 1970's as they are at the start of the 2020's. And it's not limited to transport issues; we have problems with water supply, population, agriculture, industry, electricity costs, so on and so forth. All of these issues demand long term solutions that require a lot of foresight to plan for and the political will to get done.

Everyone has their opinion on the current administration of President Duterte, but one thing we can't deny is that they're pushing very hard. There are a lot of projects in progress that can hopefully solve a lot of these issues, particularly with transport infrastructure. They're constructing a new subway, upgrading existing trains, building new airports, improving existing air terminals, as well as expanding the road network on the ground and above it. Yes, our generation is enduring the growing pains, but we need to bear it so that future generations won't have to.

Hopefully history won't repeat itself... again.