For likely the last time, Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade pleaded the Senate to start the ball rolling for the granting of emergency powers to President Rodrigo Duterte to address the monster daily road jams in Metro Manila.
But Sen. Grace Poe — like previously — said no.
During a Senate hearing yesterday, Tugade said had Congress allowed extra powers to the President, the administration should be assessing the results of the emergency measures instead of the public suffering the daily gridlock.
Poe’s obstinate opposition to the grant of emergency powers is being blamed for the worsening of road congestion in Metro Manila which was temporarily worsened by the simultaneous infrastructure buildup.
President Rodrigo Duterte had chided Poe for repeatedly citing the probability of corruption in the contracts for the flagship project that will not be subjected to public auction under emergency powers.
Instead of acknowledging fault, Poe maintained that emergency powers were not needed.
In his opening address to the Senate panel, Tugade said there is still time for Congress to reconsider since the remaining three years of the President will be enough to address all the bottlenecks in the crisis facing Metro Manila.
A special authority given to the President will fast-track the implementation of projects vital in easing traffic congestion, Tugade said.
“We are not saying that we will not do anything without emergency powers but we could have done more had our request been granted,” he asserted.
Tugade stressed in the hearing that the emergency powers will have a limited period and Congress can exercise all oversight functions in its implementation.
The DoTr chief noted that several infrastructure deals that have been undertaken would have been made even faster had emergency powers been granted.
President Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said the position of the President remains, he wanted to solve that and he really needs emergency powers.
“Secretary Tugade is pursuing it but I understand some of the senators are for it. So let’s see how it goes,” he said.
“From the very start, he wanted emergency power to solve the traffic mess but when some senators issued statements against it and insinuated that there might be some abuse of power — he said, ‘So it’s up to you, let EDSA rot,’” Panelo quoted the President as saying.
“But I understand, there is only one senator now opposed to it. I have not heard of any other than the good Senator Grace.”
No need to bend knees
“We have stated that the emergency power being sought have unique features, first of all this is an option that will not be there forever, it will be specifically measured for one, two or three years.
A review of it will show that had emergency power been granted, all we need to do now is to review what had transpired,” Tugade said.
The grant of emergency powers allows policy directions that would normally need “amendments of existing laws and ordinances.”
Tugade further explained that the measure expedites the procurement process and the resolution of right-of-way issues.
Poe insisted Tugade should not blame the lack of emergency powers for the worsened Metro Manila road crisis.
The Chief Executive, Panelo also stressed, does not intend to woo or bend over backwards just to convince the lawmaker.
“Some Senators issued statements against it, insinuating that it might be an abuse of power, so the President said, `it’s all yours.’ Ever since, the President wanted it. But if you won’t allow it, then don’t,” he said.
“The President will not go down on his knees and plead. They should know what the President needs to solve the problem with respect to this matter,” he concluded.
Solon jumps to new topic
The senator the n digressed by asking Transportation Undersecretary for Railways Timothy Batan how many of the government-purchased Dalian Trains are currently in operation.
Batan answered that none of the 48 Dalian coaches are currently being used for the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) system.
“So, this is what I am saying, Secretary Tugade, all of us are victims of the traffic problem and nobody is stopping the adoption of whatever solutions for it but all of us here have their own responsibilities,” Poe said apparently citing her obligation as a legislator.
Tugade, nonetheless, said the problems on the Chinese coaches happened as a result of contracts entered into by the previous regime.
“Let me just clarify, we all know that the Dalian situation was not caused by us. That is already there even before,” Tugade replied.
The first set of coaches purchased from Chinese firm CRRC Dalian, however, is ready for deployment within the week, at the earliest.
The initial set, which consists of three train cars, has completed and passed its test runs.
“The first train set we are pushing for use this week, if this is not possible, then next week. We already have a report from the PNR (Philippine National Railways) and MRT-3 so we are addressing just some issues and questions,” Batan said.
A total of 48 Dalian light rail vehicles were delivered in 2016 as the contracts for these were signed during President Benigno Aquino’s watch but were not used due to compatibility issues. CRRC Dalian eventually agreed to absorb the costs for the adjustments of the trains under the term of Tugade.
“Let us not insist that since there were no emergency powers granted, we can’t undertake what we needed to do, since in the matter of the train coaches, emergency powers are not needed to fix any of the Dalian coaches to fit the train system, so three years after, from the last administration, those are still not operating,” she pointed out.
In response, Tugade said: “We didn’t say that we are doing nothing without the emergency powers. I have not said anything like that, what I have pointed out is that we could have done more if Congress passed the measure,” he said.
Poe remained skeptical about DoTr’s request noting that there are existing laws and ordinances which are available to apply on the traffic problems.
Tugade added that the Freedom of Information will be applied by the DoTr during the entire duration of the emergency powers to assure transparency.
The DoTr head also enumerated three reasons why they need the said emergency powers but Poe kept to her position that the DoTr proposals can be done without the need for emergency powers.
She pointed out that there are several procurements by DoTr that can be processed through alternative modes of purchases as stipulated under the Government Procurement Act.
“On your remark that the traffic problems should have been given solutions if you were granted with emergency powers, like what I said, probably, but there are things that do not need (emergency powers) but you can still fix like our trains. You do not need emergency powers to proceed with procurement,” Poe told Tugade.
Let DND, DoH talk
Amid the road crisis, Panelo suggested the use of choppers for emergency situations as reports of emergency patients having died on the road on their way to the hospital as their ambulances got stuck in traffic.
Panelo floated the idea of using helicopters or “air ambulances” to transport patients needing critical care.
The Palace official was reacting to a recent report published by the Agency France-Presse on ambulance drivers bemoaning witnessing patients they are transporting expire on the road because they couldn’t bring them to a medical facility on time due to emergency lanes being blocked and motorists refusing to give way.
According to Panelo, this should serve as a wakeup call for legislators to grant President Rodrigo Duterte’s request for emergency powers to address the worsening traffic problem.
“We have all the more reason that the Senators should reconsider the grant of emergency powers to the President given the situation that patients are dying because the ambulance carrying them could not reach the hospital on time,” the spokesman said in a press briefing.
He also suggested for emergency medical personnel to utilize roads with no traffic congestion or for hospitals — public or private — to start tapping airlifting services as a last resort.
Panelo went further by saying that the Departments of National Defense (DND) and Health (DoH) should draft protocols on using helicopters as air ambulances.
“If that’s how sensitive the problem is, the DoH should initiate it. The secretaries of the Department of Health and the DND should agree on how to do it,” he stated.
“The DoH can have it proposed in their next budget hearing or ask the help of other agencies in buying choppers to be used as an ambulance,” he added.
With Kristina Maralit