MANILA, Philippines – Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade reiterated his request that the Senate grant the national government emergency powers to address delays in implementing projects. But what he got instead was a reminder from Senator Grace Poe.
Tugade and other DOTr officials attended Tuesday, September 10, the hearing of the Senate committee on public services to discuss the provincial bus ban. It was also an opportunity for the agency to raise the need for emergency powers to resolve the metro's daily traffic gridlock.
But committee chair Poe, told Tugade that the lack of emergency powers was not an excuse for the agency to fail doing its job.
"Huwag nating sisihin na dahil walang emergency powers ay hindi natin nagawa ang dapat nating gawin," Poe said (Let's not blame the absence of emergency powers for us to fail to do our jobs.)
After the hearing, Poe said that it seemed the transport agency was using the lack of emergency powers as an excuse for not being able to untangle the traffic problem.
Tugade said the emergency powers would be used to fast-track procurement, right of way, and relocation, as well as immediate adoption of policies and implementation of high-priority projects.
Poe said though that the list of priority projects submitted by Tugade's team included items not relevant to addressing traffic. These were, Poe said, the refurbishing of fences and gates, procurement of facial recognition software, and acquisition of fire trucks and ambulances.
"Mahalaga po ang bagay na 'yan, pero hindi naman talagang masasabi natin na dapat kasama sa emergency powers pa (These are important projects, but they should not fall under emergency powers)," Poe said.
Poe also said that Executive Order 34 has already addressed government procurement, in that government agencies no longer need to get an exemption from the Government Procurement Policy Board to avail alternative modes of procurement.
Under EO 34, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017, government agencies no longer need to get an exemption from public biddings from the Government Procurement Policy Board, provided they meet certain conditions.
She said that the agency's website showed that the DOTr has already used alternative methods of procurements.
Poe cited the case of the Dalian trains, none of which are operational in the Metro Rail Transit line 3 (MRT3) even though the 48 coaches were delivered in 2016.
"'Wag po nating sisihin na dahil walang emergency powers ay hindi natin nagawa ang dapat nating gawin. Sapagkat dito lamang sa train na 'to, na hindi kinailangan ng emergency powers, ay ni isa dun sa Dalian train na matagal na naming sinasabi na napakahirap na gawing tugma sa ating train system ay ipinilit pa rin. Kaya hanggang ngayon, 3 years after from the last administration, hindi pa rin gumagana 'yan," Poe said.
(Don't use the lack of emergency powers as an excuse for not doing what you're supposed to be doing. Such as in the case of these trains which didn't need emergency powers to procure, and which would be hard to fit in our train system but were still being forced. Up until now, 3 years after the last administration, they are still not operational.)
Tugade said that the emergency powers they were requesting were not limited to the MRT3 but also covered upcoming projects such as the Metro Manila Subway system. He added that they have addressed the MRT3 issues without invoking emergency powers.
"Wala ho kaming sinasabing wala kami nagawa kasi walang emergency power. Ang sinasabi ko, mas marami ho sana kami nagawa kung meron hong emergency power, (We are not saying we haven't done anything because of the lack of emergency powers. What I am saying is we could have done a lot more if we had them)."
He said the agency was stymied by court procedures whenever cases were filed against government projects.
Tugade also added that there were also problems in right of way acquisitions and procurements.
However, Poe reiterated that the current laws were enough to address DOTr concerns. She also said that emergency powers do not guarantee a solution to the traffic problem, citing cases like Boracay and Marawi.
She said emergency powers were not invoked in Boracay, but the people were able to clean it up in 6 months. Meanwhile, emergency powers were invoked in Marawi but rehabilitation in the war-torn city has not yet even started.
Not buying it
Poe also said after the hearing that it was frustrating that Tugade blamed lawmakers for the hellish traffic because the 17th Congress denied its request for emergency powers.
"Nakakasakit at nakakadismaya sasabihan ka, 'Kung gusto, may paraan. Kung ayaw, may dahilan.' Sila ang may kapangyarihan na gawin 'yun. Ako matagal na kong timpi pero nakikita nating kulang ang trabaho," Poe said.
(It's offending and frustrating to be told, 'If there's a will, there's a way. If there's none, there are excuses.' They have the power to implement projects. I have been patient on them but we see that the work is lacking.)
She noted that if the need for emergency powers were justified, then it should've been certified as urgent by the President.
"Kung napresenta lang nila na emergency powers ang makakapagbigay ng solusyon, mabilis pa sa alas kwatro, lahat dito ng senador papayag. Eh kaso walang nakumbinsi doon sa mga kasama namin," Poe said.
(If they were able to present that emergency powers was the answer to the problems, then all senators would support this immediately. But our colleagues were not convinced.) – with reports from Aika Rey/Rappler.com
Loreben Tuquero is a researcher-writer for Rappler. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, she covered transportation, Quezon City, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as a reporter. She graduated with a communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.