The Philippine Star | November 21, 2016

MANILA, Philippines - Some lawmakers are worried that conflict of interest concerning officials of the transportation department might derail the granting of emergency powers to President Duterte to solve Metro Manila's traffic woes.

House Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said for instance that Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Undersecretary Noel Kintanar were both former executives of the contractors involved in the common station project for the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Railway Transit (LRT) lines in Quezon City.

"I have to be very straightforward with my concern," Suarez said. "Tugade and Kintanar are from Ayala firms or have done business with the Ayalas. They might favor the Ayalas' business interests. That's not right."

At the same time, Rep. Harry Roque of the Kabalikat ng Mamamayan (Kabayan) party-list said the President's proposed emergency powers on traffic might just be used to favor certain businesses and for transportation officials to skirt the law prohibiting negotiated contracts for projects costing over P500 million.

In the transportation department's budget hearing last Sept. 9, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez mentioned that while Tugade was a former assistant vice president of Ayala Corp., undersecretary for air operations Bobby Lim was former country manager of the International Air Transport Association.

“The budget of every department is for the interest of the Filipino people and not for the interest of some businessmen,” Alvarez said.

Suarez mentioned that he was surprised when Tugade told him in a recent congressional hearing that MRT 7, which will run from SM City North Edsa to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan, is to be detached from MRT 3 and LRT 1.

"The stations are supposed to converge," Suarez stressed. "That's why it is called common station. Why separate the MRT 7? Because by detaching the MRT 7, commuters are forced to pass by Trinoma Mall, owned by the Ayalas, before they could transfer to another station? We commit to closely monitor the progress of the common station project and ensure that it does not favor anyone but the public."

Suarez also cited commuters' difficulty in moving from LRT 2 on Aurora Boulevard to MRT 3 on EDSA highway.

"What happened in line 2 and 3 in Cubao is a classic example," he said. "If you’re from Quezon City and you'd go to Manila or Makati, you'd transfer to line 2 in the intersection of Cubao. But to get to line 3, you have to walk 700 meters and cross the Gateway Mall in between stations."

Suarez stressed, "We don't want the emergency powers to be abused and misused. We'll see."

Roque said in a news forum in Manila yesterday the President's proposed emergency powers to solve the capital region's traffic woes do not qualify in both the term's common and legal definition.

"It is written in the Constitution that emergency powers can be given only when in war or in a national emergency," Roque pointed out. "If we follow the common meaning of emergency, it should be sudden, unforeseen and dangerous that it needs government's action."

But he said Metro Manila's traffic problem "is not sudden and unforeseen," but was due to "failure of officials of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA)."

Roque expressed fear that the emergency powers on traffic requested by the administration is meant to exempt government from the procurement law.

He said the law allows the government to undergo negotiated contracts for projects under P500 million.

"The problem is that (government officials) want to buy projects that are more than P500 million without any bidding," he said. "The context of purchasing without any bidding involves conflict of interest.

"To me, it seems the special power they compra viagra online are asking for is for them to negate the procurement law and they might favor a private company," Roque said in Filipino.

More power for MMDA and jeepneys

Meanwhile, lawyer Vigor Mendoza, chairman of the Kilusan sa Pagbabago ng Transportasyon (Kapit) and former representative of the 1-United Transport Koalisyon (1-Utak) party-list in Congress, recommended "strengthening the powers of the MMDA and the Metro Manila Council by giving the agency police and legislative powers to ensure compliance with provisions of the Constitution upholding local autonomy."

He said, "(MMDA) is such a powerful agency because all mayors are there."

Mendoza also proposed that government modernize the jeepney sector, which serves a majority of Metro Manila commuters – with around 60,000 old and new jeepneys serving around 18 million passengers daily compared with the combined rail system’s 2.5 million daily passenger load.