Much has been said about what really took place and what was really stated by the new director of the MMDA's Traffic Discipline Office, retired PNP General Francisco Manalo, at the Usapan AAP forum last September 12.

The issue even reached MMDA Chairman Atty. Francis Tolentino who allegedly berated the staff of during an unrelated meeting because of an article written by Aida Sevilla-Mendoza of the Philippine Daily Inquirer last September 18 over a supposed misunderstanding that Manalo suggested that private car and their owners get more limits in terms of road use.

Upon going over the full recording of the said event at the AAP headquarters along EDSA, it's time to really show how the conversation went. But first, a background.

The Usapan AAP is an event spearheaded by the national auto club, the Automobile Association Philippines, as a means of direct interaction between members of the media and concerned heads of different government agencies and the private sector. The event itself has already had various editions over the past few months, and the September 12 forum was the latest in the series.

Personally, I chose to attend given the reported presence of Mayor Herbert Bautista of Quezon City, but due to one reason or another, he did not confirm nor attend. As a result, the forum began with two panelists: the director of the University of the Philippines National Center for Transportation Studies, Mr. Sean Palmiano, as well as AAP President Augusto “Gus” Lagman. The initial discussion revolved around various solutions and remedies to the traffic situation in Metro Manila, particularly regarding the effect of public utility buses. As such, former LTFRB Chairman Alberto Suansing joined in to give his views and experiences as to how the PUB landscape changed in the past decade or so.

We were also told that MMDA Chairman Tolentino was also invited to attend, only to learn that he has relegated the task to MMDA Assistant General Manager Emerson Carlos, who subsequently re-relegated the task to the new director of the MMDA Traffic Discipline Office: retired Gen. Francisco Manalo.

A retired Philippine National Police General, Francisco Manalo arrived to represent the MMDA as he has assumed the post of Traffic Discipline Office director following the resignation of Atty. Yves Gonzalez earlier this year.

Manalo then took the floor and began his opening speech, talking about the problems of traffic in the metro as that was our topic for this edition of Usapan AAP. It was actually perfectly timed, given that only a few days have passed since the heavy Metro Manila traffic given the heavy rains that took place on September 7.

At the very start, Manalo pointed out things like traffic on certain streets, the lack of MMDA enforcers on other areas and even shared his personal observation of how rainwater was emerging from a storm drain along Ortigas near La Salle, not the other way around. Astutely, the general said that it must be clogged somewhere below.

Such was the tone of how the forum proceeded when the retired general spoke: a collection of very specific incidents, observations and occasions on the road.

“There are not enough roads,” said MMDA TDO Director Manalo. “If you were to measure the total length of our roads and then bring out every single vehicle, they simply won't fit and turn our roads into a parking lot.”

If anything, the director of the MMDA's Traffic Discipline Office appears to be laying the blame squarely on the Department of Public Works and Highways. Manalo then proceeded to talk about how, in that light, the number of cars should be reduced.

“It's supply and demand,” said Manalo. “Since we have insufficient infrastructure [supply], then we have to reduce the demand [cars]. As with pipes, our pipes are small, yet we pass too much liquid through them”

“My observation is that there are far too many vehicles on our roads, especially private vehicles,” continued Manalo. “We have to agree that there are way too many private cars.”

“We thought of a solution which is why we thought of the number coding scheme,” continued Manalo, referring to the UVVRP. “However the system backfired on us 180 degrees. Instead of reducing the number of vehicles on the road, the our countrymen suddenly began to buy more cars. Cars must be cheap now for the people, especially the middle class.”

“It's easy to buy a car. We have second hand imports; they're cheap. That adds to the vehicular volume. Plus the old vehicles are still there on the streets, still running. Even though they're belching smoke, they're still running.”

As you can gather from the previous paragraphs, it seems the division of the MMDA concerned with traffic discipline is concerning itself with the volume of vehicles and the lack of infrastructure. But to bring us back on topic, we just had to finally ask the MMDA TDO director about enforcement of many things like the motorcycle lanes and the demeanor of buses on the streets... basically the real mandate of the MMDA Traffic Discipline Office: road discipline.

“Since that's where we're headed, with the sheer volume of drivers who do not follow rules, our enforcers can't handle them,” said Manalo. “[If we do that] we won't have time to do anything else except apprehend and apprehend.”

“Perhaps it's a matter of values and attitude. It runs across our society, especially the arrogant ones with flashy cars. EDSA is not a racetrack, that's why there are so many accidents there especially at night.”

It sounds strange hearing that from a career policeman, right? It's quite a contrast given Manalo's predecessor as MMDA TDO director, Atty. Gonzalez, as the latter kept up the 'bad boy', no-nonsense image that garnered him respect from many in the motoring media.

A straight shooter lawyer-cum-public administrator who wouldn't take any excuses, Gonzalez was integral in trying to clean up the ranks of MMDA's traffic officers. It was clear that Gonzalez was out to instill discipline in motorists by continuous enforcement, and implemented the slogan Zero payola (payoff), Zero kotong (extortion), Zero lagay (bribe).

“These motorists don't want to be disciplined, yet the police or the enforcers get blamed because there are so many violators. It should not be the case. It's the fault of the violator, not the law enforcer.”

To be frank, I was expecting a stern disciplinarian in Manalo because he 's a retired high-ranking police officer. Unusually, that wasn't the case.

To sum up the whole forum, however, was one statement from the MMDA TDO Director, recounting his time back at the PNP.

Ganito yan; sa akin, I was a policeman, I hate arresting people kasi pang dagdag lang trabaho yan eh. Yung minor offense, yung paperwork nun napakarami. Ubos oras ako dun."

Special thanks to Jude Morte for the full recording of the Usapan AAP forum.

The mostly Tagalog recording was translated into English.