MANILA (UPDATE) - Transportation Secretary Art Tugade on Tuesday appealed to lawmakers to pass a measure granting President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to deal with road congestion, as he guaranteed it would not be “absolute” and “forever.”
At a Senate hearing, Tugade said things would have been different now for the country’s traffic management system had the emergency powers been given to the President.
“Kung napagbigyan lang sana ng emergency powers noon, dapat ngayon nirerepaso na natin ang nagawa,” Tugade said.
(Had the emergency powers been given before, we would have been at the review stage now.)
“Kami ay umaasa na mabigyang tugon, pansin, at katunayan ang emergency powers na aming hinihingi.”
(We are hoping that our request for emergency powers will be granted.)
Tugade allayed concerns that the emergency powers would be prone to abuse.
“Ito ay emergency power na ‘di pang forever, ito ay sukat sa dalawa, tatlong taon,” he said.
(This is an emergency power that is not forever, as it will only last for two, three years.)
Neither are the emergency powers also absolute, he added.
“Naiiwan ang oversight power sa Kongreso na tingnan at silipin na tibayan ang pagganap ng ating emergency power,” he said.
(The oversight power is left with Congress to look ensure proper use of the emergency power.)
Tugade said granting the emergency powers for Duterte would allow him to avoid the “long process of legislation” in coming up with durable solutions to traffic.
But Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, said there are many things the government can do to alleviate traffic even without emergency powers.
"Kung talagang kailangan ang emergency power e bakit hindi ibibigay, pero wag sisihin na kaya hindi nagagawa ang trabaho dahil wala ‘yan,” she said.
She added the administration must ensure that the emergency powers must be tied to "a traffic action plan with targets and deadlines."
She added the government must be mindful in the exercise of emergency powers on traffic, saying "this bill is not a credit card for DOTr’s Christmas wish list."
"It is closer in nature to a Public Works Acts which contains a detailed list of projects and sources of appropriations. Hindi tayo dapat mabaon sa utang na hanggang sa ating mga kaapu-apuhan ay ating babayaran (We should not drown in debt which our grandchildren will also have to pay)," she said.
Poe noted that while the transportation department previously gave her committee a list of projects related to the emergency powers, these included ones that she believed were not really aimed at solving traffic congestion.
She cited a proposed refurbishment of perimeter fences in Subic, procurement of facial recognition software for the Office of Transportation Security, and purchase of fire truck and ambulance for the Clark International Airport.
She also said all the projects under the emergency powers bill must be freedom of information-compliant.
"These conditions are not unreasonable. We have to make sure that any grant of emergency powers is placed in responsible hands. Even better if our existing laws can be harmonized with creative transport plans without need for new powers," she said.
In the Senate, Duterte’s staunch ally Sen. Francis Tolentino filed a bill seeking emergency powers for the President.
Under Tolentino's measure, the transportation secretary will serve as the country's traffic crisis czar, who will follow Duterte's orders.
The traffic czar will implement and complete projects under the government’s massive infrastructure program and deal with site and right-of-way acquisitions and procurement.
The czar will also be tasked to reform the transportation system and ensure that the use of the country’s roads, bridges, and infrastructure are maximized.
Under the proposal, the czar may also enter into direct contracting and alternative modes of procurement for priority infrastructure projects. It also suspends the protest mechanism provided under the procurement law.
The bill also seeks the creation of a Traffic Crisis Action and Mobilization Plan, which will lay down the duties of various agencies on traffic management, list priority projects, produce an integrated traffic management plan, rationalize the route of land, sea and air public transport, and clear sidewalks, among others.
Private roads, including those within villages and subdivisions, may also be opened for public use, according to the bill.
The bill also states that only the Supreme Court can issue halt orders on the acquisition of sites for infrastructure projects, execution of transportation projects, opening of private village gates, and termination of any transportation project.
The emergency powers granted to the President shall only last for two years from the effectivity of the measure. The bill also creates a congressional oversight committee on the implementation of the measure.
A 2017 study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency said the Philippines loses P3.5 billion a day due to traffic and congestion in Metro Manila.