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President Rodrigo Duterte blamed the transportation department's Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) for the messy implementation of the cashless tollway transaction system, slamming its officials for "incompetence" while sparing Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade.
The RFID (radio-frequency identification) scheme debacle took up a significant portion of Duterte's remarks aired on Wednesday night, December 16.
"Hindi ko matanggap 'yung incompetence sa inyo. Kami ang masisi dito (I can't accept your incompetence. The blame will fall on us) and not only that, you work hardships on the people," said Duterte.
"'Yung kagaguhan ninyo, 'yung failure ninyo would reflect on us. Hindi man sila, sabi ko nga, at the end of the day, when people start to talk about the days past, 'Pahanon ni Duterte, kita mo nagkabuhol-buhol.' Kami ang sisihin," said the Chief Executive.
(Your foolishness, your failure would reflect on us. Maybe not them, at the end of the day, when people start to talk about the days past, "During Duterte's time, it was messy." We will be blamed.)
In different parts of his speech, the President threatened to fire TRB officials, then advised them to resign before he gets a chance to axe them.
But towards the latter part of his remarks, he ordered them to report to Tugade on Thursday morning, December 17.
"One more faux pas like that, another fiasco, alis na kayong lahat (you get out)," warned Duterte.
Calling TRB officials "inutile," Duterte also at one point floated that he would put another former military general in charge or that he himself would "just take over the whole thing," never mind the legal suits he could face.
Despite his railings against the TRB, he spared Tugade from blame and even praised him.
"An outstanding figure like Tugade, he gets the blame also. Kami ang napu-putangina kasi alam ko na may (We are cursed because I know there is a) system but it was not tried," said Duterte.
But glitches in the system and the need to put stickers on thousands of vehicles during the Bonifacio Day holiday led to intense traffic build-up in expressways and surrounding areas.
Tugade, who was present while Duterte was railing about the RFID mess, apologized to Valenzuela City and the general public for the fiasco. However, he echoed the TRB in saying that the traffic congestion and system glitches were birth pains.
The President also appeared to mostly spare toll operators themselves. For him, it was the TRB's job to make sure the cashless payment system would go smoothly.
"The system was not tested thoroughly, which translates into something like incompetence. Hindi ko masisi may-ari nitong sina Ramon Ang, Ayala, because mayroon tayong regulator," said Duterte.
(I can't blame the owners like Ramon Ang, Ayala, because we have a regulator.)
He said the TRB should have done a one-week "trial run" of the system before its implementation so that the government and operators would be able to anticipate any complications.
But he also told owners of toll operators that they too had a job to do.
"For those who are the owner of this toll, it behooves upon you to do your best because you are being paid by government," said Duterte.
NLEX Corporation's parent company Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation is led by tycoon Manny Pangilinan.
San Miguel Corporation, led by Ramon Ang, operates the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), Metro Manila Skyway, NAIA Expressway (NAIAx), Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR), and the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway.
Ayala Corporation operates the Muntinlupa Cavite Expressway.
Duterte backed Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian and his decision to suspend the business permit of NLEX Corporation, which operates NLEX.
The President, himself a longtime mayor, said he wanted to check the traffic congestion in Valenzuela himself and said he understood Gatchalian's anger.
"Nandoon si Mayor [Gatchalian], galit na galit, and I can undertand his – with all the conundrum taking place – pati ako magagalit talaga. I understand his burst of anger which is justified para matauhan kayo," said Duterte.
(The mayor was there, very angry, and I can understand his – with all the conundrum taking place – even I would be outraged. I understand his burst of anger which is justified so you would come to your senses.)
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.