Press Release
August 24, 2016

Privilege Speech of Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito
17th Congress | August 25, 2016


Mr. President, colleagues and countrymen, good afternoon.

In 2013, there was a single phrase that immortalized our hellish traffic and pollution situation. That phrase was 'the gates of hell' that Dan Brown wrote of Manila. I remember how I felt insulted with that description of our capital. As a matter of fact, many of us took offense with that phrase that several of our officials had to be up in arms and told off Brown about it.

Unfortunately, that reference may have served as a predictive warning on our traffic situation. We have learned that in hell, there are various forms of senseless punishments, and somehow we cannot help but feel the same as going around Metro Manila. It is now a daily struggle to go to work or school, and to come back home. We dread being stuck in traffic because it feels like living in a realm of suffering, wherein we are being punished for sins we do not know of.

But this is the new normal for us living in Metro Manila. Every day, we sit in traffic for hours. Monstrous jams are seen in major highways and roads such as EDSA, C5, SLEX, NLEX, and even roads in Cebu and other cities. Delivery trucks are visibly seen on standstill along their designated lanes, adversely affecting businesses and employment and disrupting the flow of cargo. Quality time with family is sacrificed as a result of long hours spent on the road. Everywhere we look, and at any time of the day, the traffic is just getting worse and feels like living closer at the hellish gates.

This road congestion can be mainly attributed to the influx of brand-new vehicles plying our streets. Carmaggedon, as it was aptly coined by social media. According to the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc. or CAMPI, car sales in April 2016 reached 30,317 units, or 31% more than the car sales in May 2015.

This is a major problem. Our current infrastructure cannot cope with the thousands of cars being added on the road every month. The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) cites that EDSA only has a 6,000 vehicle capacity per direction per hour. In their latest data taken just last month, EDSA presently accommodates 7,500 vehicles per direction per hour, or 25% more than its capacity.

Mr. President, because of the absence of a reliable mass transit system, people prefer using private vehicles to get to their destination. This compounds the traffic congestion, not just in EDSA and other major thoroughfares, but also in secondary roads.

What can we do to resolve this hellish traffic congestion? The solution is to improve our mass transportation system by pursuing a modernized and efficient railway system.

Mr. Gustavo Petro, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia said that: "A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation."

This quote briefly explains our transportation goals. If we lay down the railway system, it will solve a lot of problems, not only congestion. It will spread out development to the countryside, and at the same time, bring down the cost of living of employees and the cost of transport of goods.

Mr. President, it is about time that we provide long-term traffic solutions and prioritize transportation projects that would occupy less space, but can move more goods and people. Traffic congestion within Metro Manila and around other hubs is already an economic hemorrhage. This transportation crisis should be dealt with much urgency, time and resources, as much as how we deal with other crises.

Present Situation

Mr. President, I have been vocal in sharing my advocacy of upgrading the railways across the country, particularly of the Philippine National Railway (PNR) in the last five years. Unfortunately, the same traffic and transport concerns that we had in 2010 when I was still a member of the House of Representatives remains unresolved up to this day, and the situation is much more aggravated. Now, traffic costs us at least P3-Billion daily.

Almost every day, we hear in the news of interrupted Metro Rail Transit (MRT), Light Rail Transit (LRT), or PNR operations due to mechanical hitches. Commuters had to endure long queues to buy their tickets and squeeze themselves in the wagons. Some trains also derailed from the MRT and PNR tracks. In several cases, train passengers had to endure the worst breakdowns and were forced to walk along the railway tracks, even at 6 AM, Mr. President.

All of these cases I cited are unacceptable. That is why I join our people in asking, "When will this suffering ever end?

That is why imagine my joy when President Rodrigo Roa Duterte vowed that his first big project will be the railway system. In psychology, the first step for successful problem solving is problem recognition, and this is the strength that we can draw from the new administration. President Rodrigo Duterte and Secretary Arturo Tugade's eagerness and political will to resolve the transportation crisis may be the light at the end of this tunnel that we have all been looking for.

Recommendations As Vice Chairperson of the Public Services Committee, Mr. President and dear colleagues, I'd like to lay down some recommendations on how to resolve the transportation crisis.

One of the earliest measures I have filed this 17th Congress is Senate Bill No. 154, which seeks to grant special powers to the President to address the transportation crisis. I have also filed Senate Resolution No. 63 to probe on the distressing air traffic congestion in Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), which has caused inconvenience to travelers, and has adversely affected tourism and huge businesses in the country. Other related measures are the PNR Modernization Act and the Train Protection Act, which I have pushed for in the 16th Congress, and refiled in the current Congress.

Granting President Duterte emergency powers for two years is simply the tip of the iceberg. This is just to promptly resolve the worsening traffic congestion. Mr. President, my bill the Transportation Crisis Act of 2016 seeks to reform the country's transportation sector, in the long run, through a comprehensive roadmap which shall reform national public transportation into an efficient, sustainable, safe, clean and integrated air, land, and sea transportation system.

While the administration is crafting plans to address the traffic, I urge the Duterte administration to start building as soon as possible infrastructures that would provide for a convenient, cost-effective, safe and reliable transportation system in Metro Manila and across the nation. This can be pursued through a modernized, efficient, and integrated or seamless railway system which shall serve as the backbone of our economy.

Mr. President, I believe there is no other way than the railway system that we could address the traffic congestion and hasten the movement of goods and shipments in Metro Manila to other areas. Singapore has tried and tested the impact of investing on a modernized and efficient railway system. In a study tour in Singapore, officials of the Ministry of Transport have personally attested to me that it is only through a good railway system that their nation was able to resolve and rise above their transport problems. I dream of the same for our country.

Aside from rehabilitating the trains, upgrading the service and operations, fixing other infrastructures and facilities such as elevators, escalators and washrooms; and providing for additional wagons for the MRT, LRT, and PNR, the new administration also needs to give priority over major infrastructure projects such as the North-South Railway Project, and the Mindanao Railway Project. We already have the Japanese and Europeans as willing foreign investors, and local contractors willing to start up the construction of the NSRP. Many of our Asian neighbors are also keen to invest on the Mindanao Railway. Mr. President, I trust that we are giving primacy to these projects that would surely bring in economic development since it is expected to lower the cost of movement of goods and to lower the cost of living, not just in major cities, but also to the countryside. It's about time that we distribute the concentrated economic growth across the nation, which is the vision of President Duterte.

For the PNR, I am open to its temporary suspension of operations so that its train wagons and railroad tracks could finally be subjected for rehabilitation and modernization. To expedite the construction of the NSRP, I am also in favor of awarding contracts to several contractors so that simultaneous and round-the-clock work could be done by various firms and its completion would be on time.

Mr. President and dear colleagues, by investing and establishing a national railway system that would serve as our primary transportation mode, the Duterte administration would also be changing the mindset of Filipinos, and even the government, about transportation. If we provide for an enticing public transport system, thousands of Filipinos motorists may finally be converted into commuters. If we invest on using freight trains instead of massive trucks to transport goods and materials, the movement of goods will surely be quicker and more economical for businesses. Further, this will lessen the volume of trucks plying along major roads, and there will also be less mishaps which speedy trucks are often involved. In these cases, Mr. President, we would be successful in terms of focusing on the movement of people and goods using less space.

Likewise, the government ought to consider rationalizing road investments and other infrastructures such as parking spaces and terminals. Once the railway system is integrated and efficiently operating, we can again push for the establishment of public parking buildings in areas where there are nearby terminals and revive the park and ride system that we used to have.

Moreover, the government could also promote other alternative modes of public transportation such as expanding and developing the current operation of Metro ferries, and the use of a Bus Rapid Transit or BRT, which was first introduced in Bogota, Colombia. According to studies, the BRT along EDSA could have as much as one million passengers in one whole day. This could be done if there are 96 BRTs traversing the highway, and having at least a 2-minute interval from each other.

To complete the transportation reform, I finally urge the Duterte administration to advocate and put forward a long-term Urban Master Plan that would intentionally transcend administrations for a minimum of 30 years. The goal is that whoever sits in Malacañang, this comprehensive blueprint would be implemented with the technical help of transport groups, interested private groups and individuals, and peoples' organizations. This may prove difficult, but again it is possible if we are determined to achieve complete transportation reform.


Mr. President and dear colleagues, our serious transport problems need serious solutions. It is high time that we seriously develop our mass public transportation system and address our weakness in public infrastructure. As I have registered in the past, this is probably one of the reasons why our economy has not fully taken off in spite of the improvement of ratings and good perception towards the Philippines. Foreign direct investments continue to shy away because of our poor infrastructure.

Let me reiterate that an efficient, reliable, cost-effective, environment-friendly and modern railway system that would move people and transport goods can be the catalyst for economic growth. Definitely, the railway system will cost us a lot of money and investment, but the returns to the economy will be enormous. It will stimulate and spread out development to the countryside. The railway system will eventually become the backbone of our economy.

Mr. President, we are now again being challenged to take the necessary steps to improve our quality of life. Let us grab this rare opportunity that the new administration is giving us. As servants of our people, let us not fail them in our collective march towards progress and development.

Thank you very much.

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