"Defend it in Plaza Miranda?" That was the political battle-cry more than 50 years ago. Plaza Miranda, in Quiapo, Manila – today little more than a hawkers haven fronting a church - was the nation's "speaker's corner", the bellwether of competing political ideas and issues, that predicted impending shifts in political power. Plaza Miranda's significance saw its peak when an election campaign rally for LP senatorial bets was bombed by terrorists in August 21,1971, an event I saw, live, via late night TV broadcast, in living black and white. That infamous bombing maimed Sen. Jovito Salonga, LP president Sen. Gerry Roxas – Mar's dad - and Rep. Ramon Bagatsing, for life. The very popular Sen. Ninoy Aquino was the only LP stalwart who was absent at that fateful rally. It was to be the seminal event that would lead to the declaration of Martial Law in a little over a year. It would take another 15 years for Philippine politics to regain its Plaza Miranda vibrancy, but, alas, it would not be in Plaza Miranda anymore.
EDSA, our daily grind
Whether by accident or design, EDSA, or what happens on EDSA has been our society's short cut catch all measure of a government's failure or success. Hence any reasonable person would expect some measure of worsening traffic over a span of 6 years, specially if nothing drastic is done about it. By the same token, the media of imperial Metro Manila, will always have EDSA as it baseline, its anchor value. Traffic, pollution, business frustrations, government bumbling, etc. is best and comprehensively personified in the most common image of EDSA – long lines of crawling vehicles on multi-lane asphalt.
EDSA, crowd sourcing
Quite a change from the values of new hope the original EDSA of 1986 projected, nowadays, at best a collage of photos from the history books, mostly of crowds waving the "Laban" sign, showered with yellow confetti and yellow ribbons tied to limbs, arboreal or human. Thirty years later, EDSA still drives what judges how the country's leaders stood and continue to stand from those halcyon days of the first Aquino administration. The voting public, consciously and subconsciously, is still influenced by that historical moment. Daang Matuwid, was to be the next fulfilling step from the Cory's first foray with her only son at the helm. President B. S. C. Aquino has every anxiety for the next administration to keep on the track he has put us on.
Heart, full of grace
Even if it has been a short, albeit fast track, we like Grace Poe's pro-transport credentials. Cynics would say that her timely sound bites about the woes of EDSA and MRT commuters is spot-on opportunistic tradpol but her vigilance on these matters has silenced those wagging tongues. Though mainly a Manila based politician, her province sorties prove that understanding Manila problems can translate to understanding small town and regional city center problems, who also have their EDSA problems. Her opponents allude to her lack of executive experience, specifically the nitty gritty of running a town, which is supposed to mean as the more appropriate CV for the presidency rather than as legislator in the Senate. Still, it seems not to matter to those who see in her the genuiness of her motherly "gobyernong may puso" [government with a heart]. Whether it is a stab at the past six years of a quarrelsome and exclusionary administration, Grace fans will believe that to be coincidence and out of character. To her many fans, her citizenship is only an issue to rivals who fear losing to her.
Experience indeed, but what kind?
We wouldn't be surprised if the abuses, quarrelsome contentiousness, small-mindedness, bullying, score-settling, vengefulness and subjective "justice" of Daang Matuwid is due for her immediate ejection. Neither does she really need all that experience for the job her critics claim to be her deficiency. Rather, she should trust the much maligned men and women of the bureaucracy. With or without Daang Matuwid, the many untainted expert men and women working in government, neither corrupt or abusive, know their stuff. Besides, Mar Roxas in government for more than a decade proves that one can muddle from analysis paralysis. A long tenure does not prevent amateurish gaffes that make Mar his own worst enemy. Neither can best friend Congressman B. S. Aquino's stint in Congress be considered stellar. Grace would do well to choose among the people who are ingratiating themselves to her, people who have nothing to gain, like Erap, than those who are hell bent on perpetuating their illusion of a ballyhooed legacy besotted with lying, bullying and quarreling.
Of klutzes and ostriches
Mar Roxas? Nice guy and for all intents and purposes, well meaning but a bit of a klutz. Still, he has to open his eyes and not be like the administration ostriches with their heads in the sand. If so, it will take a lot to undo the years of inbreeding, listening only to the news they want to hear. The lofty objective of D-Matuwid, was ruined because of the mindsets that attended it. The singular obsession to junk anything that has to do with STRADCOM in the LTO, along with Sobrepena and Sumitomo in the MRT, led the agencies he headed to grind to a halt and inflict more pain on the citizenry. Roxas, needs to clean slate though he may not need to 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 "headless chicken" micro management. Yes, enough of that "teka teka" wait a minute, don't rush me bit either. He may love driving, but that didn't guarantee that he would make a good driver for the DoTC. At least not on two wheels on a typhoon wet highway. What we need to see is action, the kind that undoes the mistakes that has happened in the past 6 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, Mar should obsess in showing us a kinder-gentler D-Matuwid.
Small, dark and damned
Jejomar Binay – whether judged to be corrupt or not – as a member of the Cabinet, was a silent witness to this D-Matuwid mindset. Why didn't he speak up? How could he when he was not part of the elitist inner circle – he was not "kasali" [not included]? 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 speaking with candor? How could he if saw that the two factions of 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 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.
Messiah of summary justice
Rody Duterte? Will he or won't he? As entertaining to the press as Donald Trump and Miriam Defensor-Santiago was and still is, Rody, like Miriam, can't help himself having a stab at how to get things done, in or out of government. And that's the problem with Rody. There is only Rody's way or the no way. But with Rody on the warpath, 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. The sometime NPA [New People's Army] apologist is serious about abolishing Congress. It's going to be a lot less fun in the Philippines.
Low hanging fruit
It was easy for Binay to top the surveys, corruption allegations notwithstanding, when he was the only bet in the race. Then Grace came along and the power of Pnoy and the LP rubbed off on Mar. Binay continues to stagger along, pummeled by his enemies and somewhat abandoned by his allies. Despite his Palace 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. Still, the greatest damage to his image, never mind the bitter vitriol of his enemies is the doubts questioning his and his family's motives and actions at City Hall. That will dim his chances of winning. Business though sees Binay as someone who can do deals and would be more business friendly than Daang Matuwid. The quagmire of many an infra project today, will, supposedly, dissipate under his watch. If he does win 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.
BBM rescues Brenda, comics
Then there's the mercurial and straight talkin' Miriam Santiago, who, through the years has spear headed transport sector inquests on fare pricing, LTO bungling and even took on the powerful Jeepney Lobby. She does have a sizable following among the wired millenials and her loyal voters who were "cheated" by FVR in the '92 elections. Stage 4 cancer or not, she can get the vote out from the young. Always good copy and knows how to be in the spotlight, her alliance with BBM or Bong Bong Marcos is viewed by BBM fans as a defacto vote for a Marcos Presidency part 2, if Miriam's battle with stage 4 cancer takes an ugly term. Which leads us to a possible president in her running mate.
Wrong time, wrong country
Bong Bong Marcos, the most statesman like of the new non-trad pols. Of the Veep candidates he has the name recall, specially to those who were the victims of his Father's regime.
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. Most of all, he is one of us and one with us in our views and prescriptions for reforms in the Transport sector. Just like Pnoy, he also likes cars.
Ambitions larger than life
So how about the other "spare tire" VEEP Nationalista hopefuls? Trillanes; with the Presidency a heart beat away, it wouldn't be wise to trust an obsessive, vengeful and bitter man, whose claim to fame is in destroying the reputations of Binay and his friends. He may have some understanding of the car industry as he found value in owning, and more importantly, maintaining a couple of Subic-import Japan Domestic Market vans. Alan Cayetano? Another one whose claim to recent fame is built on the ashes of the ruined reputation of Binay and his friends. We insist that the CV for a VEEP is the same as the CV for the President. Good they are at tearing down but not in building up, the CV's of these two candidates are woefully wanting.
What performance record?
Leni Robredo; give her credit for sacrifice and party loyalty, but that is not all it takes to be the President in waiting. Besides, the public's recollection of what her husband Jesse did at DILG was limited to his vague defense of the higher-ups decision to buy very expensive used Austrian fire trucks, how he was sidelined like a lame duck from making decisions at the Luneta massacre and since he couldn't, for some reason, send Makati more Police men when Junjun Binay's MAPSA boys were attacked by squatters, he went to the scene of the battle all by himself. Nice man, anti-RH bill believer, but was not given a chance to prove that he had national leadership and executive potential, much less Presidential material?
Old soldiers never die, they just fade...
Greg Honasan? Gone is the RAM [Reform the Armed Forces Movement] firebrand, mellowed after all these years "fighting" in the Senate trenches. It would be better for him if he doesn't expend himself trying too hard to win as he, despite his Legislative experience, still needs matriculation to be the top administrator in the highest office in the land.
Slick but sensible sound bites
Chiz? Slick, smooth, knows all the tricks, survivor, politically astute and expedient, a good deal maker like Binay without the corruption baggage - is the strongest VEEP candidate and if Grace wins, he should be in a very influential position. Chiz's recent proposal to simplify tax compliance for the smallest of earners shows how well he understands the bureaucratic plight of both big and small scale businesses. Grace should think out of the box and instead of just keeping Chiz in the Housing sector as what GMA did to Noli and Pnoy did to Binay, Chiz can be a close-in Malacanang live-in presidential adviser, executive secretary alter ego and big Cabinet cluster head, rolled into one.
From August 21, 1971 to August 21, 1983
It's the stupid government, stupid!
Yet how can we forget the EDSA moment, the EDSA mentality that is seemingly ingrained in the Filipino psyche? Can we blame media for cheekily transforming that image in our minds from one full of people flashing the "Laban" sign to an image of constant gridlock? The annual commemorations of the events of August 21, 1983 bring to mind the long saga of our "EDSA" mentality. Media never fails to capture and publicize recent snap shot of traffic choked EDSA as if it was symbolic of government ineptitude dealing with any and all socio-political issues plaguing the country. Even during holidays, the travails of commuting are not exempt from the aggravation by government missteps.
Feb 25, 2015
Take the annual February 25 EDSA People Power celebrations, going on for close to thirty years. Still, authorities can't seem to settle on the right template. Considering past practice, one hard-and-fast rule is sure: you never close EDSA for the better part of the day AND not declare a non-working holiday.
Lessons learned, lessons forgotten
In a decade just past, there was already an indication of a good template for commemorating EDSA. If it is a regular working day, schedule a few early hours of half-closures - half northbound EDSA carriageway and White Plains Ave. in the general area near the People Power monument. Then a few late afternoon hours partial closure of the zone near the EDSA shrine. If EDSA is declared a non-working holiday, the closure schedule of the two aforecited celebration zones could stretch longer. But never a total closure for the better part of 2/3rds of the day of this transit critical tri-city area bounded by Santolan, Shaw, Ortigas and EDSA. Who ever implemented last February's road closure was using a template that is more than twenty years out of date.
Anyone but BF, no way GMA
Rubbing salt onto the commuters' wounds, the MMDA even said that these closures were announced 2 weeks before. Which makes it even worse, because it only means that past experience and precedence, as mentioned in our opening paragraph, didn't even figure in the government's plans for 2015. The mystery to us, being also unaware of said the planned closures were announced 2 weeks before, is that why didn't anyone protest? If we knew it, we would have poked fun at the closure announcement as another "ostrich-head-in-the-sand" mentality by the "anyone but BF or GMA" brigade or ingrained hostility to ideas from preceding administrations.Commuter anger at last Feb's traffic fiasco with the ineptly planned EDSA closures for the People's Power celebration, is but another one of the myriads of blips that give media a ready excuse to hammer at government's groping to find solutions to metropolitan people transit.
The APEC fiasco
For some reason, the same kind of heavy handed blinkered thinking resurfaced again when the country sponsored the APEC Summit in late 2015. Budgeted at 10B, and coming on the heels of the vicious ISIS attack on Paris, the security forces practically shunted aside the traffic managers, virtually shutting down air and land traffic, and closing down any form of commerce and livelihood in all of the Metro. With half the population constrained to keep away from the streets, and the other half needing to use them pummeled with standstill traffic, not even the worse days of Martial Law and the coups d' etat of the Cory era ever subjected the populace to such a cruel fate.
What Economic benefits?
FVR was right in hosting the APEC summit in Subic and Clark 2 decades ago. Convention Facilities that are secure befitting of Heads of State are not absent in both Subic and Clark. Moreover, Manila's traffic has already worsended by an infinitestinal degree so it really boggles the imagination why the summit was foisted on the Metro. As always the Palace spin was that the sacrifice of the public is for the greater good of the economy. Really? Even if all the countries in the world opened their doors to the free entry of Philippine made products, it will be a hard sell owing to our inferior quality or the high prices we are forced to charge because of the high cost of doing business -labor, power, transport, communication costs - or manufacturing anything in this country. All because the 1987 Cory constitution cannot be "desecrated" by allowing foreigners to own more than 40% of any business here. Talk about the right hand, not knowing what the left is doing, whether it is inside the pocket or not.
Short sighted and too close to the ground
This exposes another problem with the way we manage EDSA and the streets of the country. Why do we allow the "boots on the ground", the traffic enforcers who cannot see beyond the next corner, to take charge when the overall coordinator, the traffic manager, the guys who should constantly behold the "bird's eye view" of the whole traffic situation are pushed aside? The recent takeover of EDSA by the PNP HPG shows that misapplication of tools for solving specific facets of a problem.
Enforcers cannot be managers
The Police, by nature are law enforcers. The PNP HPG troopers are trained criminologists that keep an eye out for violations against the law. Note that they are not traffic flow engineers nor managers. Since their remit was EDSA's traffic flow, their earlier recommendations were to shut down some U-turn slots. Well, it may have improved traffic flow on some parts of EDSA, but it worsened traffic flow on the major streets that channel traffic that cross and traverse EDSA. By nature of their training, law enforcers are forced to be short sighted and are ill equipped to understand the bigger picture of holistic traffic flow.
EDSA last quarter; mixed results
Admittedly, the HPG takeover of the Balintawak market put an end to vendors lording it over Lanes 1 and 2 of EDSA. That area was really an enforcement problem rather than a management problem. With the Dario bridge under construction, Roosevelt EDSA/Congressional EDSA reverted to its pre-U-turn traffic light guidance with good countdown timers of 160 seconds for an EDSA green light. The downside of this that the PUJs have also reverted to their old habits of blocking the yellow box as passengers insist on embarking and disembarking close to the corner with Jeeps stopped four abreast. As for the stretch from Bansalangin to EDSA Quezon Ave., the closure of many U-turn slots gave EDSA better free flow, but then chaos now reigns on the North Ave. and West Ave. end as PUJ's are not able to complete the authorized journey as they cannot cross EDSA. Traffic Management problem in this case. What is most successful is the management of traffic on EDSA White Plains, EDSA Connecticut and the new EDSA Ortigas flyover traffic island cut out in front of PGA Porsche. This works wonders for traffic trying to merge into EDSA heading for Makati, as the tendency to cut into two lanes is eliminated as bollards force the stubborn to execute a proper right turn or lane merge.
Make it easy for the commuter, not the enforcer
That is why the MMDA traffic managers, like Mr. Emerson Carlos, should always reign supreme over traffic enforcers, whether they be PNP HPG or MMDA traffic enforcers. Remember, the PNP, through its training and supervision of security guards, are instrumental in teaching building security the ridiculous practice of shutting down all 12 main doors of a mall to congest entry of people through just one door. Suffer the public to make their jobs easier? The same kind of anti-common sense thinking that caused the APEC Summit traffic catastrophe and the anti-democratic color coding that exists to this day.
The next EDSA reinterpretation
Yet again, the slow mo trafficked streets, heralded by EDSA, will be the battleground for the hearts and minds of the Filipino people. For anyone and everyone who spends time on the road, we will look forward to a President who will promise and actually achieve reducing the time we spend on being on the road. And maybe someday, the country's economy, whose image used to be symbolized by photos of a traffic choked EDSA will look more like today's smooth flowing NLEx.