By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Despite the Aquino government’s claims to the contrary, there are a lot of things that are terribly wrong now. And the government doesn’t seem to have a comprehensive, integrated plan to address these. What we hear are excuses, justifications, and calls for the people to be patient; what we see are stopgap measures that always come late, when the problems are already worsening. Let us start the list.
1. Traffic – As it is, there are no more rush hours and light traffic times, gridlock areas and open roads. Traffic seems to be bad everywhere you go and at any time of the day. When it rains, the traffic goes from worse to worst.
What has been the government response? Initially, the Aquino government said that it is a sign of progress. Whoever thought of that inane answer should be exiled. If that were the case, then Thailand should be the most economically powerful country in the world, next is the Philippines. Now the government is telling us to be patient. There have also been new government experiments. For example, the government reinstalled the traffic lights that former MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando removed along Quezon Ave. It did ease a bit the traffic near the former U turn slot after West Avenue but it made traffic worse along Roosevelt Avenue. A similar experiment is reportedly being done along the Libis area in Quezon City. The government either acts in a hodgepodge manner or it ignores the problem until it gets worse.
The traffic situation was made even worse by the conflicting policies of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), and the city government of Manila regarding the truck ban. The Manila city government implemented a total truck ban, the LTFRB loosened the implementation of the truck ban, while the MMDA has been insisting on its schedule of the truck ban.
Unsafe, insufficient public transport – Before, if one arrives at the MRT station before 7 a.m., there are still no long queues. But this is not the case anymore. The lines are long by 6:30 a.m.. And the MRT has been breaking down with increasing regularity.
What has been the government response? Initially, it told the people to take the bus. Have government officials taken the bus? A less than an hour’s ride at the MRT is doubled, and sometimes even tripled, when taking the bus. And every week there are news of accidents involving buses. Jeepneys are no less dangerous. Also during rush hours, one has to be good at boxing out other commuters to be able to get a ride.
Now the government is telling the people to be patient, as new MRT coaches would supposedly arrive next year. The questions is, Can’t these breakdowns be foreseen? Why didn’t the government plan ahead and order the new coaches earlier? Why is there no efficient and sufficient public transport system in the country?
2. Flooding – Every year, the country is being hit by eight to nine typhoons. And every year, at the onset of the rainy season, one sees government contractors hurriedly dredging drainages and esteros. But a mere one hour of continuous rain already results in flooding in the metropolis, even if the downpour is not at the level of record rainfalls such as during Typhoon Ondoy. Why is the country nowhere near solving or even mitigating the flooding problem?
During Martial Law, the dictator Marcos imposed a tax that increased the prices of movie tickets purportedly to finance flood control projects. That was four decades ago.
Disaster risk reduction and rehabilitation – The Philippines is within a typhoon belt and the Pacific rim of fire. And yet, the forces of nature always seem to catch the country unprepared. Despite all the strong typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that hit the country before, there still is no comprehensive risk reduction plan that would reduce people’s vulnerabilities, equip and prepare them for potential natural calamities.
When Typhoon Haiyan hit the country, it left more than 10,000 dead; when it hit Vietnam, 13 people were killed. Worse, the victims of typhoons Pablo and Yolanda, and the strong quake in Bohol last year are still suffering as there is no comprehensive, integrated relief and rehabilitation plan for them and the areas destroyed by the typhoon. Local and international NGOs have been implementing their own plans, so are the local government units concerned, while the national government has been busy convincing the media and the people that everything is on track and that it has been doing its job well.
3. Power crisis – During the mid-1990s, the country was hit by a power crisis when a lot of government-run power plants conked out. The Ramos government asked for and got emergency powers, then frantically invited investors to enter the power industry, sweetening the deal by entering into onerous contracts with independent power producers (IPPs). This resulted in a spike in electricity rates as consumers are made to pay for the amount of power generated by these IPPs even if these were not consumed.
Last year, the Aquino government announced a spike in electricity rates being charged by power distributor Meralco, which it justified by saying that the Malampaya natural gas facility would undergo a maintenance shut down. The maintenance shutdown was not the result of an emergency but was a regular, routine process. Why did the government not prepare for this?
Now, power producers and the government have been announcing the probability of a power crisis again next year because reportedly a lot of power plants are expected to conk out. Aren’t we now entering the same situation as two decades ago? What measures has the government instituted to prevent another power crisis, which already happened two decades ago?
As it is, the country has one of the highest electric rates in the region.
4. Water crisis – This one is for the books. An archipelagic country like the Philippines is projected to experience a water crisis next year, as the rains are reportedly insufficient to fill up the country’s dams in the island of Luzon. The shortage in water is being attributed to the mild El Niño the country is experiencing right now. But this is not the first El Niño weather disturbance the country has experienced. What is the government doing right now to avert a crisis? Does it have to wait next year when the shortage is already being felt before acting on the problem?
5. Tax burden – Why does the BIR run after professionals and SMEs (small and medium enterprises) while at the same time, it justifies why the country’s top 10 billionaires are not the country’s top taxpayers? Why is it making the people suffer the tax burden while providing a lot of incentives for big foreign and local corporations? Why does it issue policies then set deadlines for compliance a mere days after, such as its policy requiring all corporations to change their receipts? Why does the government refuse to reduce or remove the value added tax especially on essential products such as oil to temper skyrocketing prices?
The list could go on and on. These are just some of the serious problems the country is facing and would be facing. One of the reasons for the government’s inability to provide an efficient, sufficient, and safe transport system, and to invest in improving power and water services and reducing rates of basic utilities is its insistence on pursuing privatization schemes. But there is also a sore lack in government planning, its policies are incoherent, and the Aquino government refuses to accept its weaknesses and shortcomings resulting in its inability to address these problems comprehensively and in an integrated manner. And instead of listening to criticisms and learning from them, the Aquino government has been dismissing these and has branded its critics as anti-reform.
Even its belligerent insistence on maintaining the Disbursement Acceleration Program so that it could fund programs that it favors at a whim is reflective of the Aquino government’s inability to plan; but of course, a lot of money could be had by acting in an ‘emergency’ or based solely on the discretion of a government official such as the president because it allows them to circumvent processes meant to check corruption.
Despite these problems, President Aquino is still contemplating on seeking a second term, even if the Constitution prohibits it, purportedly to defend and ensure the continuity of its ‘reforms.’ If this is the face of reform that the Aquino government is implementing then something is terribly wrong with it. Also what President Aquino fails to realize is that genuine reforms, if it benefits the people, need not be defended, it merely needs to be pushed forward. It is also not contingent on one man, it, in fact, is dependent on the acceptance and sense of ownership of the people. If only a few government officials or politicians resist reform, they could easily be pushed aside by the people. But if it is the people who are resisting it, then it is not genuine reform; and acts in its defense could not be called as ‘defending reform,’ it is in essence, defending the status quo.