Lawmakers berate MMDA over lack of data, absence of general manager

MANILA, Philippines – Congressmen visibly got irked after the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) did not send its top officials to attend a House committee hearing on the perennial traffic problem.

On Thursday, May 30, the House committee on Metro Manila development held a hearing on various road safety issues, including the MMDA's finding that EDSA and C5 were among the country's deadliest roads in 2018. (READ: IN CHARTS: How deadly are Metro Manila roads?

But Marikina 1st District Representative Bayani Fernando was disappointed that MMDA General Manager Jojo Garcia was not present, even if the committee invited him. 

"Seryosohin 'nyo kami (Take us seriously).... This is the most important committee in Congress for the MMDA. Ito ang pinakamahalaga (This is the most important) for Metro Manila concerns. No less than the general manager of the MMDA should be here.... So we need to see the most important, most powerful people who can effect change, who can do things," said Fernando, a former city mayor and MMDA chairman.

He then told two MMDA officials present – MMDA planning and design division chief Emilio Llavor and MMDA legal office chief Crisanto Saruca – to tell Garcia that only a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte is an acceptable excuse for not attending congressional hearings. 

"The only excuse for not attending the call of Congress is if he is called by the President of the Philippines. This (House hearing) takes precedence over media call. Because they're always on media, but they don't seem to have time for us here in Congress. So please convey that message. Masyado na eh (It's too much)," said Fernando.

Before Fernando spoke, things were already heating up during the hearing after Negros Oriental 3rd District Representative Arnolfo Teves Jr repeatedly asked Llavor and Saruca for data on the average number of buses and trucks that the MMDA apprehend daily for violating traffic rules.

Llavor said he failed to bring the necessary data. Saruca then told the committee they would submit the required information to the lawmakers the next day. But this was not enough for Teves. 

"Hindi puwede 'yun! Manual ba bibilangin? Wala bang computer records?" said a frustrated Teves. (That cannot be! Do you have to count it manually? Don't you have computer records?)

As the MMDA officials started calling their colleagues to get the data, Teves continued his tirades against traffic problems the MMDA has failed to address – from jeepneys that unload passengers anywhere to vendors selling their goods along EDSA. (READ: MMDA wants to 'diet' EDSA lanes, proposes slimmer roads)

"Nakakatatlong taon na ko dito sa Kongreso. Naka-ilang reklamo na ako. But until today, it continues. Again, kung ayaw 'nyo aminin, pipicturan ko uli. Will you be willing to resign if I send you the videos?" said Teves. 

(I've been in Congress for 3 years. I've complained many times. But until today, it continues. Again, if you don't want to admit, I'll take pictures. Will you be willing to resign if I send you the videos?)

Quezon City 2nd District Representative Winston Castelo, chairman of the committee, then stepped in, explaining that what Teves wanted to say was the MMDA should admit its shortcomings in implementing traffic rules. 

"Admitted naman po 'yun. 'Yung mga newly hired, may nakikita kaming mayroong pagkakamali, natatanggal po 'yun," said Llavor.

(We've admitted that. Whenever we see newly hired personnel committing mistakes, we fire them.)

Castelo, however, said the House panel is not resorting to a "blame game" either. 

"But the very purpose of putting this into issue is to exercise our oversight function so that personnel from MMDA can do [their] job so we'll be more proactive," said Castelo.

Around an hour after the lawmakers berated the MMDA officials, Garcia finally arrived for the hearing, which is still ongoing as of posting time. – Rappler.com 

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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