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[Caution: This is an opinion post. Skip it if you don’t like my views on politics.]
I am often asked about my political affiliations. People who ask this are usually those who don’t know me (hindi kami ‘close’) and base this likely from my recent posts on social media or perhaps interviews I have granted to print and mass media. I cannot really say I am for any one particular party or group but definitely detest certain persons and politicians who have been proven to be corrupt or associate themselves with the former. But that doesn’t mean I won’t work with them. After all, whoever is in power and wields it should be engaged at least for some good to come out of the engagement. We can cast our votes in elections but we have no control of who will win (by hook or by crook?) and who gets appointed by the winners to decision- and policy-making posts in government agencies.
No, this is not a case of selling out. I am very much aware of the saying the “everyone has his/her price.” I know I have mine and so avoid situations where I have to deal with someone or some entity that will probably lead to my corruption. Principles-wise, I would like to believe that I have so far been successful in getting out of potentially sticky situations including getting appointed to so-called sensitive posts. And so I do what I can to try to contribute to alleviating transport and traffic problems including providing what I regard as constructive criticism of agencies as well as people who are supposed to be working for improving transportation in this country. Problem is, some people cannot take criticism in whatever form and misinterpret this as what they term as “opposing progress” or being “resistant to change”.
Let it be clear that I am not ‘dilawan’, ‘pulahan‘ or whatever color it is that’s supposed to represent politicians, political groups or parties. My colours are those of the Philippine flag and what it represents, which is the interest of the Filipinos. I am not ‘bayaran‘ nor would I want to be one. I am indebted to the Filipino people for my education and for my primary income (I am employed by the government.), and not to any particular persons or political groups.
I had only recently written about appointments to top government posts when I learned about the offer of the DPWH top position to a politician who is also the son of power couple of former and present senators. Their core business is real estate development so there is definitely going to be conflicts of interest whenever certain infrastructure are built that will favour the development of their lands. This is basically the issue for the controversy regarding the Circumferential Road 5 Extension more than 6 years ago, which alleged that former Sen. Manny Villar (then running for President) influenced the DPWH to construct the highway that mainly benefited lands his company developed.
Having a politician at the helm of the DPWH is not a good idea. While apologists for the President-elect want us to give the guy a chance and explain that the soon-to-be-President probably saw something in the congressman that makes him qualified for the job, I must disagree with them given what I’ve seen up close with the DPWH. Here are a few arguments against a politician being DPWH Secretary:
- A politician as head of the DPWH will be more likely to give in to politicians (e.g., congressmen) requesting the appointments of ‘more favourable’ District Engineers (i.e., those who will do their bidding). This is basically going back to the ‘padrino’ system that is undesirable for such posts as they become prone to abuse and anomalies particularly in contracting.
- The DPWH Secretary chairs the Road Board, which is in-charge of funds collected from Motor Vehicle Users Charge (MVUC). This means the Secretary will have a say on how funds will be allocated and disbursed under the difference special funds (e.g., Special Road Safety Fund and Special Vehicle Pollution Control Fund). A politician will have no qualms approving requests for projects proposed by his allies or party-mates regardless of the merits or justification (weak?) of a program or project. This position requires objectivity and insulation against political pressure that may lead to questionable decisions.
- Governance-wise, the DPWH Secretary is expected to have a clear vision for the agency and must be an imposing figure to an organization where everyone under him including Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries will be organic staff. This is unlike other agencies where the Secretary gets to bring in his/her own people to appoint as senior officials (e.g., DOTC). And DPWH will only perform as good as its head. Outgoing Sec. Singson has shown how good and efficient DPWH can be under an excellent Secretary. Past heads have already shown how bad DPWH can be.
A couple of friends also mentioned that the DPWH Secretary sits on the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) is basically under the DPWH. There is conflict of interest here because the Villars own a water concessionaire in Primewater. The DPWH Secretary will also sit on the Infrastructure Committee (Infracom) that screens and approves major infrastructure projects around the country.
Since the next President has already decided on his choice for DPWH Secretary and the nominee has already accepted this, then we can only cross our fingers and hope that his appointee will be doing a good job and will uphold the current mantra of the DPWH: right projects, right cost, right quality, right on time and right people.
I started writing this days before the national elections and if we are to base our forecast of Monday’s results on surveys and what’s circulating in mainstream and social media, then “change” will most likely be coming. Whether this change is a breath of fresh air or something that stinks and is just being masked by people around and behind him we will only know once he and his team starts working on rebuilding this country from what seems to be a most tumultuous and divisive campaign.
While it is possible to list down a lot of reasons from different aspects of his campaign, I would like to think that the administration’s standard bearer lost in large part because of his and the administration’s failures in transportation. Here’s my top ten transport-related reasons for why the Liberal Party’s presidential bet lost his bid to become the Philippines’ President:
- MRT-3 mess – the new coaches of the EDSA MRT-3 went into service today. People associate the current administration’s failures with images of long lines at MRT-3 stations and people walking as they leave stalled or defective trains. These are powerful images even as government claimed they were working on solutions to acquire new rolling stock and provide the maintenance the line needed.
- Paralysis by analysis – despite having many “low-hanging fruits” (i.e., projects ready to be implemented) from the previous administration and his predecessor at DOTC, Roxas and his people embarked on their own studies that seemed to take forever to finish. Many of these were with the PPP Center and it seemed that the government didn’t want to have any part in infrastructure development but passed this responsibility to the private sector.
- LRT-1 Cavite extension – this is a PPP project that also until now has not been implemented. Add to that the alleged circumstances for this project and the privatization of Line 1 where one company was most favored over others. Incidentally, the same company seems to have bagged a lot of projects under the current administration.
- BRT – Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects in Cebu City and Metro Manila are examples of projects that were developed by the previous administration and were ripe for implementation but are yet to take off.
- NAIA controversies – “tanim bala,” “malas,” delayed flights, blackouts, dirty toilets, the list goes on…you name it and they have it at the NAIA terminals.
- DOTC Sec. EA Abaya – the face of DOTC after Roxas and one who has come to be associated with what is perceived as a poorly performing agency. He should have been fired from the job years ago but for one reason or another he has stayed on at the agency and brought much damage unto the Roxas campaign. One has to wonder why Roxas refused to do some self examination and call for Abaya’s resignation. Hindi ba siya nakahalata na yung mga taong dapat sana ay kakampi ay nakasira ng husto sa chances niya maging Pangulo?
- NAIA Manager Honrado – the capital airport manager’s boo-boos including the “tanim bala” controversies and the bungled renovation of Terminal 1 easily put the manager as a symbol of ineptness. His being associated to the President as a former classmate did not help his cause as “classmate” had become synonymous with being “favored” despite failures.
- PNR – the only remaining long distance railway line in the country is still in a state of disrepair. There have been opinions that this was to government could sell it cheap to the private sector.
- North EDSA common station – the most appropriate location for the common station or grand terminal for LRT-1, MRT-3 and the future MRT-7 is in front of the SM City North EDSA Annex. Elsewhere would not be optimal and yet that is what Roxas started at DOTC, after reneging on an agreement with SM pertaining to the design of the station.
- Transport planning and infrastructure framework – few people seem to know that prior to 2010, there have been studies that led to a proposed National Transport Plan and Policy but this was not adopted by the Roxas DOTC with one Assistant Secretary even claiming that there was no framework. Fortunately, NEDA took the responsibility to develop one with little help coming from the DOTC.
There was a clamour for public officials to take public transportation in order for them to experience what commuters regularly go through when taking public transport. This was especially the challenge to officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) after what seemed to be an endless sequence of breakdowns involving trains in Metro Manila. While some officials and politicians were quick to respond, most if not all were only for photo opportunities (masabi lang na nag-MRT or nag-jeepney or nag-bus). The DOTC Secretary himself also rode the train but with many alalays and was apparently given special treatment judging by the conditions when he rode the train. I remember one senator who was presidential-candidate-to-be at the time fall in line (a very long line at that) at an MRT3 station in Quezon City to experience it herself and declared it was so the experience could help her frame legislation to improve public transport in the country. That was rare and apparently never repeated by the politician despite the praises she received for her doing so without any bodyguards or alalays (assistants).
Some people have been saying that one Vice Presidential candidate is so desperate that she’s taking public transport and having herself photographed doing so. I happen to know for a fact that the said VP hopeful takes public transportation regularly and even from the time when she was not yet congressman. She almost always takes the bus between her hometown in Bicol and Metro Manila. That is not a desperate act but a natural thing for her that few if any of our national officials, elected or appointed, can claim they also practice. This is the VP-candidate in her natural self with no pretensions and no sense of self-entitlement (compared with others who ride their chauffeured vehicles complete with escort vehicles). We need more people like her if we are to address transport and traffic issues cities and the entire country is now facing. These problems hinder development and is something experienced by most people including those who can afford to have their own vehicles for their commutes. We need leaders with first-hand knowledge and experience of how it is to be someone who takes public transport regularly.