4 down 2 to go
After two more SONA's, we will soon say goodbye to our first fellow motorist/President. This is not as novel as it seems as Benigno Simeon C. Aquino belongs to today's ruling elite, a segment of the population of similar age, background, lifestyle, attitude and outlook who are no strangers to managing the levers of power of organizations, big and small. He has the same pet peeves and prejudices, dreams and ambitions, just as most of us who muse and curse every time we drive on traffic clogged EDSA. Irked and annoyed by the abuses of sirens wailing wantonly, he immediately banned the use of 'wang-wang' and uncharacteristic in the ways of Filipino culture, the ban stays, undiminished, despite our 'brushfire' culture.
Pnoy, to the core, is the creed
B. S. C. Aquino is from the upper middle class, born of a mother and father, both of characters larger than life. His progeny spans aristocracy for one and a half centuries, pointing to proud ancestors of heroic and nationalistic bent. He has relatives who are fabulously rich and though he did not grow up in the lap of luxury, his parents gave him a life where simple needs are not left wanting for long. His parents ensured him the best education money can buy. Unlike Bongbong Marcos, he is a home brew local who grew up here but he is no stranger to living away in a foreign land and foreign travel found its value as broader education beyond souvenirs and 'selfies'. He is as 'Pinoy' as his nickname [Pnoy] suggests. All the above alone will not endear him to the pedantic Left, except, of course, as a target of caricature. In other words, he is your average automotive website reader.
As a newly minted President, and like any petrolhead, Pnoy took time out at a pre-opening affair for the 2010 CAMPI Philippine International Motor Show. Besides admiring all the nice new cars on show, the President listened just as much as he talked cars with the various car executives who were present.
Weeding out colorum
With President Aquino, we find sympathetic eyes, ears and heart for the motoring public, whether they voted for him or not. Bothered by traffic caused by abusive colorum buses? The LTFRB has long been trying to cull these errant buses for sometime - ironically aided and abetted by issuing too many public conveyance franchises with multiple extensions- but it is only under the Pnoy administration that high fines and severe punishment afflict violators as frequent audits and inspections ferret out illegitimate franchises. Though some bus drivers still dare their airborne stunts on any elevated expressway or flyover or mountain altitude, severe sanctions like suspension of the bus company's franchise and very expensive fines are forcing bus operators to police their own ranks.
Been there, done that
Having 'been there done that' when he tried to commute from Times Street to Malacanang via EDSA when the riverside Bahay Pangarap was being built by the Palace, President Aquino uncharacteristically welcomed unsolicited proposal: the building of the Metro's first crosstown tollway. When Citra-SMC and Metro Pacific tollways were at loggerheads competing to build the north-south elevated tollway throwing the DPWH into an impasse, he did one better than the Biblical King Solomon by approving both Skyway Stage 3 and the NLEx Metro Manila connector.
EDSA people power
Being a regular EDSA user, President Aquino was always aware of the severe congestion on all our urban mass transit railways. Despite taunts and dares from civic action groups demanding he take the train, he kept his silence, knowing that one need not be a regular train commuter to know what any EDSA motorist knows by heart. Besides, for a man who has the fate of 100 million of his countrymen in his hands, it is not wise for him to waste his time on his work commute. After all, scientific research will tell you that because of the deprivation of public transport, the private car is still the most efficient, safest and most comfortable [read least stressful] means of urban transport in the Philippines. True, EDSA may not be the end all, be all and tell all mirror of the nation's woes but EDSA typifies the urban problems that ails all Philippine cities, where 50 million of us live.
Drive the open road
It is no secret that this President drives himself from time to time and his Land Cruiser and first gen BMW X-5 were quite familiar to both the LIDAR speed camera team and the night shift SCTEX personnel whenever he needed to go and visit Luisita during the first year of his term.
His rare trips to Baguio City awoke the same longing that many of us diminishing Baguio fans have all dreamed of; a mountain expressway, impervious to land slides. And an alternative to the wearying drive through the town-by-town congestion that is the MacArthur highway. This is probably why he was full of glee when he inaugurated the Ramos, Tarlac stage of the dual carriageway TPLEx last year, exuding profuse gratitude to San Miguel Infrastructure's Ramon S. Ang, whose timely partnership with PIDCo, builders of TPLEx, has greatly advanced total completion to Rosario, La Union by three years.
Quick tempered, loyalty to friends
Like many of us, we can only count on partial success in hiding our impatience, rash judgement and biases, especially when it comes to dislikes and friends, respectively. It took some time to clear out personnel and officials that were causing the log jam at the LTO but with the new 7-character rectangular number plates we are finally going to get the best looking license plates that we ever had. In contrast, a weatherman lost his job when a storm changed track and blew down DM Consunji's girder launcher just as Citra was rushing the finishing touches to Skyway Stage 2. Others are not so lucky with a public tongue lashing the least of his/her worries.
Though tollways maybe incidental to his legacy as the PPP or Infrastructure President, these had to take a back seat to his overwhelming desire to rid the country of corruption, by hook or by crook. Even if it ended up delaying many an infra project readied in the pipeline by previous administrations. North Rail, adjustable ro-ro ports for the nautical highway and the Laguna lakeshore dredging and ring expressway were cancelled. Even the integration of the SCTEx into the operations and maintenance of NLEx was cancelled. His first two years only yielded the 2km Daang Hari expressway which was further delayed by major design changes to its SLEx junction.
Like any red blooded male, the President is no stranger to nights out with college buddies. Knowing the pitfalls of having one too many, he can be justifiably proud presiding over the first workable anti-drunk driving law we've ever had. We now have appropriately enhanced fines for traffic violations that should either put fear in the hearts of habitual offenders or raise the minimum bid price for grease money.
The car industry set record sales during his term. Not since the pre-Asian Crisis days of the ERAP administration and if by some stretch of the imagination, the GMA era if you combine the Subic import sales to CAMPI sales, would you have new motor vehicle registrations this high. So what has he done? Nothing much and any two-handed economist would say that this is not a bad thing. Economists even have a name for it – laissez faire- which in petrol head lingo means 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'. But for the sake of local manufacturing employment, Pnoy has been pushing both industry and DTI to agree to review and even change incentives to encourage local parts manufacture. Specially in the light of recent political events in Thailand that has threatened the supply chain of many car companies who are overly dependent on their Thai factories. Thus Honda's continuance of City assembly in Santa Rosa and Isuzu with the D-MAX proved, on hindsight, to be beneficial.
Although the sales mix of such record sales is roughly 40% locally assembled and 60% imported, the best selling models are all made here. Despite the enhanced competition, Toyota has not only managed to keep the top slot, it has even grown its dominance by having a model in every segment and niche. This did not deter Tata of India and BYD of China to join the fray.
Luxury takes a hit
Though luxury car sales were somewhat pinched by BIR's Kim Henares hunt for tax cheats and the increased vigilance at customs, it has not put the brake on the expansion of premium and luxury brands. Thus it proved providential for CATS' Felix Ang to have a Hyundai franchise to augment sales of his Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and Mercedes-Benz. Having Kia, BMW and Peugeot together proved to be a good product mix/balance to weather the ups and downs of consumer tastes for Palawan Governor Jose Ch. Alvarez's automotive group. Pandering to the richest of the rich, Robert Coyuito's PGA added Bentley and Lamborghini to his stable of Porsche and Audi. Willy Tee Ten, brought in Rolls-Royce to augment his Mini and Autohub string of dealers. Willie Soong sells the full range of Maserati, Ferrari, Jaguar and Range Rover from his newish base in Bonifacio Global City.
The generally upbeat economy encouraged Malaysian giant Berjaya to manage Mazda here on its own. After being the only assembler of the auto export program during the GMA term, Ford has moved to being a fully imported brand. Today, and not since the 5 member PCMP days, Ford has moved to the top 5 in the sales charts. Mitsubishi, flush with the success of the Mirage and the sustained appetite for the Montero Sport, bought the Ford Greenfield factory and will redevelop the Mitsubishi plant site in Cainta. Incidentally the success of the Mirage spurred Toyota to introduce the Wigo, Honda, the Brio and Suzuki sharpen its Celerio, Alto and Swift offerings. Hyundai sales continues to be pinched by supply bottlenecks, while Chevrolet, by dint of its novel design twists to its offerings in mainly boring mainstream categories is inching up the sales charts. Nissan HQ has now taken over sales and marketing of its two local partners, NMPI and Universal. Volkswagen, Ayala's 3rd automotive brand, is off to a cautious start. Whether by committing or omitting, Pnoy's era has expanded the number of imported luxury brands that are now available here. Incidentally, a similar boom is also being sustained in the motorcycle industry as more brands enter the market.
Taming the tail
As a fellow motorist and car fan, we can only decry the condescending public opinion when he tried his hand at a pre-owned Porsche. Knowing the 'tail-happiness' inherent in a rear drive layout with the mass of the flat 6 engine hanging in the rear, Pnoy did the right thing and got an expert to teach him how to tame the tail at the Clark Speedway instead of risking other people's lives practicing on public roads. But instead of letting him enjoy the same pleasure that we all pine for, he ended up being crucified in a public trial.
Practice the golden rule?
Some can say he got the treatment he deserved; his enemies – bureaucrats, politicians, supreme court justices, alleged tax cheats - get the Maoist Red Guards like public shaming, full hammer and tongs treatment while his friends are cajoled with kid gloves, declared innocent until proven guilty. He refused to act on some public contracts that have been approved by previous administrations and keeps changing the terms of contracts won by those who are not perceived to be his friends or idols. Having denounced the corruption of previous regimes as a congressman, he has failed to follow through his support, for the FOI [Freedom of Information] Bill and the BICA [Budget Impounding Control Act].
FOI and BICA
The FOI and BICA were supposed to cure the PDAF pork diseases that continue to fester to this very day. In brief, the FOI bill will enforce further transparency and deeper accountability of all public officials and public dealings while the BICA should put an end to the Executive branch's neutering of the Legislature's control over approved spending. These laws, if in effect, would have prevented the collusion between the Executive, Legislature and bogus NGOs, that made the PDAF pork barrel scam thrive for such a long time. But that's another story so we won't stray too far from commenting about our narrow constituency called the motorist.
Nevertheless, beyond his term's end, we will be enjoying all the new roads, new laws and new plates that his administration fostered. Who knows, he may have set a trend where succeeding Presidents can pander to the motorist's bloc [or lobby?].
Sing or dance or divert an highway...
DILG Sec. Roxas's driving stint for Senator Revilla, earning him the 'Boy drayber' monicker, shows potential to favor us motorists, despite his mixed record at the DOTC. People forget that he supported the 2003 motor vehicle tax reform that expanded the brands and models available in the market today. VP Binay, like his predecessor Mayor Nemesio Yabut, is known to have had quite a few imported cars himself. The Revillas of Cavite are known car fans too and so is ERAP and his extended family. Sen. Villar, if he so desires to throw his hat into the 2016 Presidential ring again, may burnish his pro motorist's credentials by pointing to his keen interest in 'improving' the path of C-5. On the other hand, Senator Santiago isn't as vocal about cars as she is about liking guns. But then she speaks to her youth constituency, who are more interested in Mbps high speed wi-fi rather than high speed highways. Liking cars, like owning a refrigerator, is as universal as ever. At least candidates, in an effort to appeal to the motorist as being one of them [we share your hopes and your pain] easily beats singing, dancing and mouthing corny speeches.