Why punish poor for govt’s inefficiency?

>> Wednesday, December 14, 2016

By Val G. Abelgas  

I just came from a brief trip to the Philippines with my wife to be with her mother on the latter’s 89th birthday, and like most who have recently been to the homeland, the horrendous traffic marred an otherwise eventful visit. A trip from a western point in Manila and Quezon City to the Makati Financial District would take at least two hours almost at any given time, except perhaps very early in the morning or very late at night.
A happy surprise greets a visitor at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, where despite its being tagged the fifth worst international airport in Asia has many better things to offer. For one, there seems just half of the crowd that used to hang around at the terminal – no porters who pressure you into letting them push the cart for you; no shady characters who offer their services for a fee, of course. You are let alone to get your own cart, which are a-plenty and for free and to wait for your baggage.
The lines at the immigration section are not as long, officers are polite and look friendly and do not make hints of a “pasalubong” or “papasko.”
At the customs section, I was surprised that they did not bother to ask what was in the baggage nor, again, hint at tips. They look at your passport and let you go.
“Am I in Manila?” I asked myself. Wha, no “tanim-bala” or “laglag-droga”? No words like: “Sir, ang dami mong chocolates, baka pwedeng maambunan ng isa?” “Sir, magpapasko na, Merry Christmas, sir!”
In any case, it was a pleasant surprise and for that, we should thank President Rodrigo Duterte. Give credit where credit is due. Whether it was caused by fear or just strict implementation, it just goes to show that many positive things could be done in the Philippines if the national leadership would just fully and strictly implement existing laws.
But once outside the terminal, the nightmare begins. No, not because the shady characters had just moved outside where there are less enforcement. It’s the horrible traffic right outside NAIA all the way to wherever you are going. Suddenly, you forget the happy experience you just had at the airport because traffic was almost at a standstill, far worse than I last visited three years ago.
And to top it all, motorists continue to be the same undisciplined, reckless drivers they have always been. And yet, you can’t blame them because if you stayed on your lane throughout your trip, it would probably take you another 30 minutes or so of driving. Then, there is also the problem of motorcycles weaving through traffic like kamikaze drivers.
By the time you get to where you are staying, you’ll be so tired from the two-hour traffic after squeezing yourself in that tiny Economy seat and trying to sleep sitting down for close to 16 hours, you’d want to postpone the niceties of family welcome till the next day, and just fall down and sleep!
Let me cite one example of the traffic situation. On a Tuesday, we decided to take a taxi at 6 a.m. from The Fort to Sampaloc, Manila. It took us just 30 minutes and P198 in fare. Going back around 3 p.m., using exactly the same route in my brother-in-law’s car, it took us close to two-and-a-half hours! That means a trip that can be made in 30 minutes before heavy traffic sets in can take more than two hours longer in normal Metro traffic.
The obvious reason for the ever-growing traffic problem is that Metro Manila is too congested. With almost 13 million people living in an area of only 620 square kilometers, Metro Manila is the 9th most populous metropolitan area in Asia. But we all know that in recent years, the metropolitan region has basically expanded into the nearby erstwhile farm areas of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Batangas for a total population of more than 24 million, making it, according to Wikipedia, the fourth most populous urban area in the world!
While Metro Manila’s population has doubled since 1980 and quadrupled if counting the extended provinces, the construction of roads and skyways, and the development of mass transportation system such as the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) and the LRT (Light Rail Transit) systems has lagged further behind, not helped by the fact that rampant corruption has derailed the systems literally and figuratively.
As the population painfully awaits the construction of more roads and skyways and the addition of more MRT and LRT routes and trains, the monstrous traffic jams in virtually all Metro Manila roads (yes, including small back roads and alleys), the number of cars and other vehicles crawling on Metro’s narrow roads continues to increase exponentially.
Can the people afford to purchase cars? Normally, no. But car dealers and finance companies have made it much easier for even ordinary people to buy new or used cars. All of my brothers and sisters, and many of their children, for example, now have cars. When before they rented jeepneys or mini-vans to attend the traditional family reunions whenever somebody from abroad arrives, they now arrived in different cars and could not find parking in the neighborhood because most of my brother’s neighbors now have two cars each themselves.
Parking has also become a problem in many neighborhoods because of this situation, which also contributes in making minor roads more congested.
For as a low as a down payment of P15,000 to P30,000, one can buy a new or used car, without credit check and minimal requirement on monthly income. You can just imagine how many families would jump at such an offer! You can also imagine how many thousands of cars this liberal financing has added to the traffic jams and how many more it would add to the monstrosity of the situation!
While it takes just a sign of the pen to add cars to the streets, it would take years before those skyways being built all over the metropolis could even be finished and more trains and routes could be added to the mass transit systems. Go figure it out.
Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez thinks he has a partial solution to the problem of expanding vehicle population. He wants to restructure the excise tax on automobiles not only to partly ensure the financial sustainability of the government’s 10-point socio-economic agenda on inclusive growth, but also to help deal with the worsening traffic crisis in Metro Manila and other highly congested urban centers.
“What’s the point of buying a new car and not moving in the streets? The point of the matter is we want to direct the people to go to public transport, and we are making big investments in public transport, particularly the bus rapid transit system, and we’re fixing up the trains, whose maintenance has been neglected over the years,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez said a highly progressive tax on automobiles will discourage the purchase of new cars, which, in turn, will help stop traffic congestion from getting worse, and reduce air pollution and the carbon footprint.
Makes sense, but will it discourage people from buying cars? The poor, maybe. To the rich, it doesn’t matter. They’ll still buy all the cars they want. They’re driving away the poor from the streets to take the LRT and MRT trains that are packed like sardines, stink, and so ill-maintained one needs to take insurance before taking the sweaty, bumpy ride.

Why punish the poor for government’s inefficiency? Why not fix the mass transport system first before depriving people of the privilege to buy their own cars? But Dominguez says the government needs the money to fix the mass transport system and to build more roads. It’s a simple case of the chicken or the egg. What do you think? (valabelgas@aol.com)


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