Press Release
December 14, 2016

Senator said congressional action necessary to 'untangle mess'

Senator Grace Poe today endorsed for plenary consideration the proposed emergency powers bill sought by the administration to tackle the longstanding problem of traffic gridlock in Metro Manila and other urban areas, as she expressed optimism that the bill will get multi-partisan support from legislators.

Poe, chairperson of the Senate public services committee, sponsored Senate Bill No. 1284 or An Act Compelling the Government to Address the Transportation and Congestion Crisis Through the Grant of Emergency Powers to the President, said traffic is a "virus engulfing the nation" that needs to be addressed to reverse economic, health and productivity losses.

"Philippine transportation infrastructure at present has been unable to keep with the demands of a rising economy and growing population. The traffic and congestion crisis in Greater Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, as manifested in the debilitating long hours of daily commute, has assumed the nature and magnitude of a public calamity. It is a crisis of national significance requiring urgent, immediate, and focused actions from the government," said Poe, who earlier signified her support to the measure but warned that excesses will not be allowed under strict congressional scrutiny.

The measure authorizes President Rodrigo Duterte, through his appointed Traffic Crisis Manager, to use alternative methods of procurement such as selective bidding, direct contracting, negotiated procurement and other modes under existing laws to speed up implementation of key transportation projects.

Although the senator had lamented that the Executive did not have any ready plans to address the intolerable, costly and unhealthy traffic despite existence of various studies on transportation and traffic in previous administrations, Poe said the bill compels the Executive department to get their act together in solving such crisis as the Philippine economy loses about P3 billion a day due to traffic.

"A long train of bad ideas, bankrupt programs, botched projects, and lack of meaningful foresight has made it an accident waiting to happen-the perfect train wreck upon which the well-being and welfare of the Filipino people is fighting for survival. It is now time to untangle the mess, one that is so grave and great that it needs emergency powers to straighten it out," she said.

"This goes beyond politics or being legislators. This is being a patriot and a Filipino. Now we want to be able to contribute what we think will help [the administration]," Poe said. "We are granting emergency powers because Congress needs to do its part in helping address traffic. But we also expect the Executive department to do theirs. If this bill passes into law, then the Executive department will no longer have an excuse and should stop pointing fingers as to its inability to address the traffic crisis in the country."

The Senate is expected to debate and put the bill to a vote when sessions resume in January next year, Poe said, but while she admitted that the bill "will not undergo smooth sailing" in the chamber, she urged her colleagues to do their part in supporting the measure that could eventually improve the traffic condition.

The bill has set the parameters on how to exercise the emergency powers, but projects to be rolled out under a Traffic Crisis Action and Decongestion Plan would be limited to those indicated in the short-term Three-year Rolling Infrastructure Program submitted by various agencies and already approved by National Economic and Development Authority and the long-term Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Greater Metro Manila dubbed the "Dream Plan" and the Roadmap Study for Sustainable Development for Metro Cebu prepared by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Programs and projects under the Traffic Crisis Action and Decongestion Plan include rationalizing routes of public utility vehicles, creating a uniform Traffic Code that will harmonize all laws related to traffic management, managing the volume of users in gateway seaports and airports to aid decongestion, identifying "friendship routes" and opening of private roads, modifying, revising, amending, suspending or revoking franchises, clearing sidewalks, imposing a moratorium on construction of mixed-use developments on main avenues, developing the Clark International Airport in Pampanga, and recommending on whether to buyout MRT-3 or to commence negotiations and procurement of maintenance contract that will be coterminous with the MRT concession period in 2025, among others.

Metro Manila and cities near the capital and Metro Cebu are covered by emergency powers. The Traffic Crisis Manager may also implement systems and mechanisms in other areas such as Davao, Cagayan de Oro and other highly urbanized cities and municipalities that are suffering from a land traffic crisis based on an existing master transportation plan specific to those areas.

The emergency powers, if approved, shall be valid and effective until the next adjournment of Congress-or in June 2019-unless sooner withdrawn by Congress.

Except for the Supreme Court, lower courts are barred from issuing temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against the government in implementing the projects under the expanded powers.

One of the key anti-corruption features of the emergency powers bill is the creation of a freedom of information portal that would contain projects, funding and status of projects to keep the public aware as to how the Executive is exercising such powers.

To ensure that projects are closely monitored, a joint congressional oversight panel will be created composed of the Senate Public Services Committee and the House Transportation Committee, with two members each from the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Traffic Crisis Manager is required to submit regular reports to the joint oversight panel on the efficiency and effectiveness of the projects.

Under the expanded powers bill, the contracts shall be awarded only to contractors with proven competence and experience, qualified personnel, sufficient and reliable equipment and facilities and adequate capitalization.

The bill also promotes use of alternative forms of working such as telecommuting, carpooling and ride-sharing schemes, flexible working hours and school days and staggered schedules of attendance.

The bill is a consolidation of various measures filed by Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon and Senators Joseph Victor Ejercito, Alan Peter Cayetano and Sherwin Gatchalian. The committee also took into consideration inputs from all concerned government agencies, the academe, and stakeholders; and recommendations from transportation and urban planning experts.

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