Erap on truck ban: Nobody above the law
MANILA, Philippines – "Nobody is above the law, naintindihan mo ba?" (Nobody is above the law. Do you understand?)
Decked in fatigues, Manila Mayor Erap Estrada was again ready to go to war on Monday, February 24. This time, against truck groups protesting the implementation of the city's modified daytime truck ban.
Early this month, the city passed an ordinance that banned trucks from entering and traversing the city from 5 am to 9 pm. Trucks carrying perishable goods or those involved in government projects are exempted from the ban. Days before the ban started, the city government modified the ban and introduced a window period from 10 am to 3 pm.
But only a few hours after the ban began, the Integrated North Harbor Truckers Association (INHTA) staged a strike along Moriones Road in Tondo, Manila. The group, led by president Teddy Gervacio, said the window period was not enough.
Gervacio appealed to the mayor, and said their concerns weren't heard during public consultations. When Manila officials threatened to tow their trucks which were parked right outside the harbor, all hell broke lose.
INHTA members crawled under one truck. Police had to drag them away from their trucks so the towing would begin. After the ruckus, Gervacio appealed to Estrada: "Ngayon lang po tayo nagkausap kaya po kami ang nakikiusap din na mag-usap tayo." (This is the first time we have been able to talk that is why we are requesting that you to hear us out.)
But Estrada remained steadfast, pointing out that Gervacio was present during the city council's public consultation prior to passing the truck ban ordinance. "Eh ito batas na, kaya sumunod na kayo," said Estrada. (It's already a law so follow it.)
Two trucks belonging to members of the INHTA were eventually towed, one of the first violators of the truck ban.
Is the ban perfect?
Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, who is also the "traffic czar" of the city, says he doesn't claim that the ban is perfect. If the ban is found to be lacking or faulty altogether, the city can always modify and scrap it, he said.
The same strategy was used by Manila when it introduced a ban on buses without terminals in the city. Following a dialogue with bus operators, the local government modified the ban. Moreno said vehicular traffic has improved dramatically since the bus ban was introduced in July 2013.
Even if the city modified the ban, Moreno emphasized the change was introduced after consultations with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA). It wasn't a concession to some bus operators whom he called "tyrants."
"They wanted to do their own thing. Only anarchists do that. We will not allow anarchists and tyrants in the city of Manila," he told Rappler.
The window period for trucks will last for 6 months to allow neighboring ports – such as the ones in Batangas and Subic – to prepare for the increase in operations on their docks. Moreno said neighboring ports were "underutilized."
With 9 domestic ports and 4 international ports, Moreno said around 6,000 container trucks traverse the city daily. The ban will also help ease traffic in light of the start of the Skyway Stage 3 project, which will also affect Manila.
"Nanalo ang Maynila," said Moreno of the truck ban. (Manila won.)
"Now they realize that there is a problem. Now they know that Manila is into it," he said.
Space for trucks
The local government continued its consultation with the MMDA, the PPA, and several truck owners at the Aloha Hotel on Monday. The window period was still a problem, they said, because processing of shipment papers at the ports typically take hours to finish.
Trucks are usually only allowed to enter the ports to retrieve cargo past noon, two hours into the 5-hour window period. Moreno said the PPA has already agreed to allow trucks to park along the roads inside the ports, so trucks could line up within port premises.
Truck groups want more space for their trucks, previously suggesting that public lots be turned into parking spaces for trucks during the ban.
During the meeting, officials also discussed the possibility of the Bureau of Customs extending or modifying its office hours to accommodate the city's daytime truck ban.
Customs Commissioner John Sevilla told reporters on Sunday, February 23, that the bureau is not solely to blame for the long processing of shipments. "Gusto ko rin maging clear dito. Yes, nag-issue kami ng maraming alert orders, yes, naging dahilan yan partially ng port congestion. We are not going to apologize for making it hard for smugglers," he said.
(I want to make this clear. Yes, we issued a lot of alert orders and yes, this partially caused port congestion.)
He also denied that the bureau was the reason for the bottleneck in the processing of cargo papers. If shipments are cleared by 5 pm, they can leave the yard by 1 am, he said.
"Ang sinabi ko sa mga collectors namin: let us monitor the situation to see, makakatulong ba kung mag-extend tayo ng operating hours natin. Kung halimbawa, magsara tayo ng 7 or 8 pm," he said. (I'm telling our collectors, let us monitor the situation to see if extending operating hours will help. For example, we can close by 7 or 8 pm.)
Sevilla said the city's truck ban made changes in the bureau more "urgent."
But the changes, he said, will also mean more positions and overtime pay for existing employees. The target is to implement changes by July this year, as soon as they determine the additional budget they will need. – Rappler.com