The blame game
With elections over and a near clean sweep to boot, the Pnoy administration, in typical 'all hands on deck' one-track-focus now faces the rains, floods, traffic and a stock exchange plunge. As is the case of looking for someone to blame under the guise of 'command responsibility', heads were due to roll, so what's new?
It also rains in Seattle
It rains every year in the tropics and when you have cities where any piece of land bigger than a thousand square meters, right astride a main thoroughfare, it instantly becomes a marketable mid rise or high rise condo, so where will all that rain water go? Don't forget that besides the limited number of waterways that nature provided our Metro, now clogged with the detritus of congestion, there have been no new man made water channels to drain it all out to a nearby bay or lake.
Wait for 2035
Thankfully the government rolled out its flood master plan of dredging and clearing river systems around the Metro, which will unfold for the next several years until completion in 2035. But what about for immediate traffic relief? The Metro, for sheer lack of any ring roads beside C5 and EDSA, is already congested even during the dry season.
Help was supposed to be on its way in the way of not one but two, elevated cross town expressways. The Skyway Stage 3 from Buendia to Balintawak and the NLEx Connector from NLEx Harbor Link to a Skyway Stage 3 junction over PUP in Manila was scheduled for delivery by the end of the Pnoy term, hence burnishing his image as the PPP President. But as of this writing, the Swiss Challenge to the NLEx connector has not yet happened while Metro Pacific is rushing to build the NLEx extension towards MacArthur Highway in Valenzuela, which will then be the starting point of the Harbor Link from Valenzuela to Letre, which will be joined to the NLEx connector.
Stuck by sticking to details
And the Skyway Stage 3? All set up raring to go ever since 2011, after all, the Skyway system was approved long ago during the FVR era. So why isn't there any pile boring on C3 or preparatory ROW purchases going on? There are supposed to be issues as to PNCC's involvement in the project, considering that the PNCC has ceased to exist. But PNCC was once the sole government monopoly for toll roads for many decades. Would that be sufficient cause to delay the start of Skyway Stage 3 construction, considering the Pnoy administration's own legacy deadline?
Skyway Stage 3 [and NLEx connector] is even more important considering that increasing air passenger traffic in the four NAIA terminals and DMIA is forcing the government to coordinate operations of both airports. The envisioned DMIA-NAIA rail link is still a pipe dream which will nevertheless still have to go through the DoTC wringer which seems to be setting a new record in snail's pace approval of transportation projects related to rail.
San Miguel's Optimal Infrastructure pricey PPP winning bid for the NAIA toll Skyway, which will incidentally use Citra-Skyway's 'Sosrobahu' rotating pier-head design, makes it more imperative to get Skyway Stage 3 going if only to ease daily North-South traffic that crosses Metro Manila. To emphasize the NAIA Skyway's importance, DPWH postponed construction of their own EDSA roller-coaster Skyway [toll free] from Malibay, Pasay to Roxas boulevard so as not to aggravate the already awful traffic conditions in this southern portion of the Metro.
No easy trip
The Skyway Stage 3 delay, is not the only puzzle obvious to us outsiders. There's the NLEx-SCTEx O&M integration, which has been revised ad nauseaum since 2010. Meantime, BCDA shoulders the interest payments of the JBIC loan that built the SCTEx while Metro Pacific Tollways, the operators of the NLEx were more than willing to shoulder/subsidize those payments, partly with the larger operations income of the NLEx. To us north bound travelers, President Aquino included, integration of the NLEx with the SCTEx will not only mean being able to use the Easy Trip electronic toll payment system in Subic and Tarlac, but also means the elimination of the NLEx Dau and SCTEx Mabalacat toll plazas. And if all goes to plan, even the Skyway's E-Pass may soon be honored in the north with Easy Trip being interoperable in the South too.
Coming into the last thousand days of the Pnoy administration, presumably a preparatory prelude to the 1st thousand days of a Mar one, will we see a smooth turnover of working infra projects? A seamless NLEx-SCTEx where Pnoy, the PPP President, just barrels thru the Dau and Mabalacat toll plazas - as both will no longer be standing - on his way to beloved Luisita? Not likely. So what new highway can Pnoy pass on to his buddy Mar, if he does become nation's 5th president post '86 people power revolution? Daang Hari Expwy? Perhaps a quarter portion of TPLEx and the Plaridel bypass highway, started under GMA's term. Sadly, many of the hopeful infra projects projected and started in 2010 might have to wait for the next president to even get them going.
We know, we know
But we all know what happened. Instead of fast tracking whatever infra projects were in the pipeline, most were frozen by a newly installed amateur/trainee bureaucracy aimed at scrutinizing study and endless postponement. And casting out programs and people of previous administrations except Cory's. And since then the tinkering with the Build Operate and Transfer concept never ceased. Endless revisions and postponements only sap the zeal and eagerness of any infrastructure investor in our creaking infrastructure, whether PPP or government project procurement bidder. The list is a long one and some, unfortunately, are a throwback to Mar's tenure at the DoTC. Ticketing, maintenance and train additions at the MRT. The Cavite extension of the LRT-1. The LRT-MRT link at SM-City Trinoma. The LRT 7 that shadows the North Luzon East Expressway through Commonwealth Ave., La Mesa Dam Parkway all the way to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan.
So in the meantime, while traffic reaches grid lock all across the flooded Metro, MMDA is again considering counterflow lanes on EDSA, spurred by the success of the morning counterflow on the Rockwell flyover. Historically, Gov. Mel Mathay of the Metro Manila Commission tried that in the 70s on an EDSA that had less lanes, less cars, less buses and lots of traffic light junctions. Recall too that EDSA still didn't have the MRT in the median nor the inspired Bayani U-turns called Lee Kwan U. But it didn't work. How would it work now that the MRT is in place and all those U-turns have replaced the traffic light junctions?
Though it may be difficult to pull it off today, it may still be worth a try if only to assuage Pnoy's underlings who would like to hand him some kind of traffic experiment success. The counterflow can start in the morning at 8AM and last up to 11AM. It will only serve as a counterflow express lane for Ortigas Ctr/C5 bound traffic, starting at an opening under the MRT somewhere near the median fronting Phil Am Life homes, returning to the regular EDSA lanes just before Ortigas flyover. Only HOV or High Occupancy Vehicles can be allowed. These are cars or Utility vehicles with one driver and at least 2 passengers. There can be no stopping on the counterflow lane and MMDA should be vigilant against illegal left turns or U-turns into the numerous side streets from NIA road, New York, Main Ave., White Plains Ave, etc. Rescue vehicles must be at the ready to clear any blockage on this one lane express lane. Just think of all the traffic cones that need to be planted and uprooted everyday. The opposite direction, in the evenings is difficult to counterflow as EDSA Shaw is always packed with vehicles in both directions from 5PM to 9PM. There may be light traffic on the Balintawak bound direction from EDSA Shaw to Phil Am Life Homes, but it is not a daily certainty.
So what can the PPP President claim to leave behind in 2016? An economic growth model based on high exchange rates and high interest rates, an endless stream of self congratulatory press releases and surveys stoking and raising business confidence to an all time high. Indeed, we did need and many of us rode the long feel good wave, skimming the boundaries of irrational exuberance. And indeed, such an economic model was only for the short term as the US Fed pulled the plug. Thus it proved to be only a short term distraction after being obsessed with winning the mid term election, then looking for someone to blame for the annual rainy season floods and then further moving on to a soaring/plunging stock market.
It was too good to last for it is a given that this economic model will only attract hot money and not FDI [foreign direct investment], which is the kind that increases jobs, builds factories, infrastructure and expands the local manufacturing base. It seems that protecting the purchasing power of OFW remittances, the biggest dollar earner, was not a priority. Neither is expanding exports and employment. Or giving the BPO industry a leg up. No. The priority seemed to be to keep country borrower/credit ratings up, keep the stock market on a boil – as if it wasn't volatile intrinsically – pamper the gambling industry and churn the BOT into a highest bidder auction now called the PPP.
Deserve failing marks?
But it wont matter to the clique that has the Presidential ear as what counts are the spinmeister spun favorable press releases. What is preferred is hubris, product of fawning loyalists, over the expert criticism from genuine and sincere economists. Along with this pride, comes blindness to the truth. Yes, the lawyers, CPAs and MBAs will say that it's a valid economic model. Especially if you want exclusion of the unemployed which no CCT program can ever afford to dole out too. If they can be capable of being honest, much as they are inclined to be the biased judge of their own work, would they dare give themselves a passing grade in introductory Economics?
Let him drink/drive in peace
Considering our high hopes and the steady and almost unassailable popularity of his administration, we wouldn't be surprised if the nation will be grateful for what looks a like a picayune infrastructure heritage, the high cost of battling the corruption ghosts of administrations past.. Well, at least Pnoy made most of us feel good about ourselves. Besides, he can be credited with planting the infrastructure seeds for harvesting by the next administration, whether it be Mar, Jejomar, Grace and, why not, Erap again. And by then, no one should begrudge Pnoy the right to enjoy owning and driving his Porsche, whether pre-owned or otherwise, for a quick late night 'easy trip' dash to Luisita via SCTEx or to Consulado for a night cap.