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An Unsolicited Advice on Managing Metro Manila Traffic (Part 4)

First and foremost, we would like to thank the numerous readers who sent us messages asking why we have not posted the next part of our “unsolicited advice” on managing traffic in Metro Manila. We intentionally delayed this part, which will deal with the third E or Enforcement of the 3 E’s of Traffic Management, because we know that we will be stepping on some rather big toes when this Opinion piece comes out. This part will definitely hurt the ego or the pride (or both) of some people in government, but as the Biblical saying goes, “Truth hurts but the Truth will set us free”. So, here goes nothing.

As we explained in Part 2 of this series, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) was created as a political whim during the Marcos administration and NOT as a real engineering solution to handle the growing traffic in the metropolis. Thus, despite its long existence, it has become inept and ineffective in fulfilling its mandate, which is to “develop” the metropolis. Thus, we recommend that the MMDA be repurposed to manage something else other than traffic because it has proven to be woefully ineffective. We strongly recommend that traffic enforcement should be reverted back to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and handled by policemen. Yes, you read that right: Traffic management must be reverted back to the police, who should be enforcing it in the first place, for traffic enforcement to become effective.

Constitutional Law Enforcement

We strongly recommend this move because policemen are the real law enforcers. They are mandated by the Philippine Constitution to uphold the law, whether these are civil laws, criminal laws, international laws, or mere traffic laws. Plus, policemen have guns. Errant drivers seldom argue a traffic violation with an armed policeman, unless of course, they’re suicidal or stupid (or both). Now, the only reason that policemen were removed from traffic duties in the 1980s was when armed traffic enforcers were targeted and assassinated by the New People’s Army (NPA) Sparrow Unit while directing traffic to grab their firearms. It was a cowardly act by the communist rebels to amass weapons, but for them, it was simple guerilla warfare. So, to minimize fatalities among the cops, the Marcos administration replaced the armed traffic policemen with unarmed MMDA Traffic Aides, who were immediately disrespected by road users because of the absence of a legal and constitutional mandate. Plus, of course, Traffic Aides don’t have guns.

The MMDA has long declared that they continue to serve their mandate under a Presidential Decree. Well, because of the MMDA’s ineptness, we think it’s time that said Presidential Decree should be reviewed, repealed or rescinded. Just look at the MMDA “constables” or enforcers waving traffic along during rush hour and simply waiting to catch a violator of the UVVRP or Numbers Coding for that day. They are blind to the often dangerous traffic violations committed by other road users such as driving against the flow of traffic, weaving in and out of lanes, reckless driving, jay walking, and other moving violations. Moreover, since the MMDA enforcers are civil servants, they only work during “government office hours”, thus, they disappear during the most critical hours like during early morning (before 7 AM) and late evening rush hours (after 7 PM). Those enforcers who stay at their posts after 6 PM are often paid for “overtime”, which the MMDA can hardly afford. If there are duty rotations within the MMDA that assigns enforcers certain schedules to continually man the traffic, we don’t see any enforcer being effective at the task.

Corruption Within The Ranks

Col. Edison “Bong” Nebrija has confided that one of his frustrations with the MMDA enforcers is that a large number of them have succumbed to corruption. He thinks that the “constables” themselves are simply continuing a traditional course of action or SOP (standard operating procedure) since the Marcos era without understanding why. They’re doing it just to get along with everyone else. Nebrija narrated that some MMDA enforcers can make as much as P400 a day or P10,000 a month extra income simply by just looking the other way. Nebrija said that he himself was offered several millions by syndicates not to shoo away sidewalk vendors or clear illegally parked cars in certain areas. Otherwise, he gets death threats. Truly, corruption is one of the major reasons why most laws directed at improving the lives of a large majority of Filipinos are not implemented and enforced. Greed dictates that the needs of a few outweigh the needs of the many.

Career MMDA personnel also have the tendency to scoff at new directives being implemented by the new “appointed” chiefs at the agency. Some effective key MMDA officers are assigned into “limbo” when the new appointees don’t like them while corrupt officers and staff often hide behind the Civil Service laws after they get caught or while their cases are pending. It seems that nobody in government has the decency to resign or step down when implicated or even proven to be involved in a scandal or corrupt activity. Thus, enforcement of the most menial of all laws, the traffic laws, gets waylaid and people become wanton law breakers without actually realizing they have broken the law. Many have forgotten that enforcement is also a tool to educate the people about existing laws. As a law enforcement agency, it is clear that the MMDA gets no respect.

Increased Police Presence

Reverting traffic duties back to the PNP has many benefits. For one, it provides assignments or deployments to rookie cops. Before deploying the rookies to the traffic beat, they should be mandated to learn the traffic laws by heart, knowing violations by sight, and meting out penalties from memory. By doing so, rookie cops will be trained to be proficient with the law by starting with the existing traffic laws. Once rookie cops are trained to know the law by heart, they will be constrained from violating it, and will be compelled to follow it to the letter. The reason many of our policemen are not respected by the citizenry is because they are probably the most notorious violators of traffic laws. We even have the slang term for it: “paradang parak” or parked like a policeman, especially for those cops who feel they are exempt from the law just because they have a badge and a gun.

To avoid a repeat of the ‘80s massacre of traffic policemen by the NPA Sparrow Unit, rookie policemen who are assigned to the traffic beat should not be issued guns but be issued tasers instead, in case of an unprovoked violent attack by an apprehended traffic violator. When a traffic violator decides to drive away instead of stopping, responding policeman can take a photo using his phone camera of the violator’s vehicle, capturing the make, model and plate number plus the time of violation, and then sending it to the PNP traffic bureau where a team of motorcycle policemen, deployed strategically, will be dispatched to intercept and apprehend the offender. By doing so, police presence is also increased, which can help lower criminality within the cities. Furthermore, traffic police assignments can be rotated in 8-hour shifts, ensuring that there are always policemen manning their traffic posts and eliminating absences and lapses in enforcement, especially during rush hours and in cases of traffic accidents.

Minimizing Graft and Corruption

Assigning traffic beats to rookie policemen will also help eliminate corruption within the PNP. We’ve heard of rumors about how applicants are asked to pay anywhere between P200,000 to P300,000 to be able to join the police force. With such a high “entrance fee”, applicants are forced to borrow money from unscrupulous sources such as criminal enterprises or corrupt politicians, who will eventually employ these rookies as their protectors, body guards, or henchmen upon their appointment as policemen. By assigning rookies to the traffic beat and not being issued guns immediately, rookies will become more useful to the force and see the traffic beat as a “stepping stone” for their promotion within the ranks. No rookie can be immediately assigned to the “security detail” of a government VIP or a private citizen, thus making the corrupt “entrance fee” system inutile.

You might be thinking that the rookie cops will then be making money by mulching money from traffic violators, right? Well, not necessarily. You see, we’d like to propose a system where traffic cops will be entitled to a “share” or “commission” or percentage of the penalties for the traffic citation tickets that he has dispensed. This “share” will augment the rookie cop’s meager income and hopefully steer him away from corruption. Thus, even when some police superintendents require a “quota” from the policemen under his command, the money will come from legitimate sources and not through corrupt means.

Traffic Courts      

To discourage traffic cops from dispensing traffic tickets indiscriminately, we also suggest the creation and installation of Traffic Courts, which are judicial venues to question or oppose unjust traffic violations meted against a motorist. Like the Small Claims Courts, these Traffic Courts will be mandated to hear traffic-related cases exclusively so the hearings will be swift and short. The complainant, which will always be the ticketed motorist, will have to show just cause for challenging the traffic citation ticket. He or she must have sufficient evidence to counter the traffic penalty levied against him/her by the apprehending officer, who must also show evidence of the violation committed. The hearings will require no lawyers since the accused (motorist) will be facing their accusers (traffic enforcer) directly to present their case and available evidence.

If the Traffic Court finds the offending motorist liable and the traffic citation justifiable, then the motorist will have to pay the Court’s fee in addition to the traffic fine he or she has to pay. That way, offending motorists will be compelled NOT to challenge traffic tickets just to harass the apprehending police officer because of the expenses. If the Traffic Court finds no cause in ticketing the motorist and the apprehending police officer is at fault, the PNP will pay the Court’s fee and the “share” or commissions of the apprehending officer will be suspended for a period of six months. This will teach traffic officers NOT to apprehend any motorist arbitrarily and without basis or evidence. Traffic Courts will also teach people and police officers about the workings of the legal system, their rights, how to properly present accusations based on evidences, and how to properly defend themselves in court. Traffic Courts will act as training grounds for the legal profession, generating arbitration and litigation experience, and inspire people to take up law, become Traffic Court judges, and then eventually move on to become Municipal and/or Regional Trial Court judges.

Vetting Repeat Offenders

Traffic Courts can help rid the nation of scalawags on the streets. The judges can revoke the driving license of motorists who are repeat offenders, as well as demand the suspension or dismissal of rookie police officers who are repeatedly brought to court for unjust traffic apprehensions. This way, Traffic Courts can help cleanse the streets of wanton traffic violators and cleanse the police force of undesirable elements within their ranks at an early stage through documented and legal means. Traffic Courts can also help identify motorists who are perennial “risks” on the road, which can justify the recorded classification of motorists during the renewal of their driver’s license and proposed driver’s insurance.

As we mentioned in the previous chapter, we proposed that each driver should be covered with Third Party Liability (TPL) insurance instead of the vehicle so the insurance covers the driver and any vehicle that he is driving. When the driver is cited or apprehended for a moving violation and found guilty in Traffic Court if he/she challenges the violation, his/her driving record will be marked and his/her insurance premium will become more expensive in the next year. To lower the premium again, he/she must not have a traffic citation or apprehension within six months or the premium will become even higher. If he/she cannot afford driver’s insurance because it has become too expensive, then his/her license will be suspended or revoked. Thus, all drivers will become more careful and more law-abiding when they know that their pockets will be hard hit every time they violate traffic laws.

Effective Use of Government Funds

The salaries and operational expenses of the police force are paid for by our taxes. The penalties and fines for justified traffic violations will able to generate new sources of revenue for the police force to acquire new equipment like tasers, light batons, body cameras, CCTV systems, motorcycles and pursuit vehicles, and the like, as well as pay for continuous training for the traffic officers, which will directly affect the improvement of the traffic around the country’s major cities. With the commissions earned by the traffic officers from the justified traffic citation tickets they issued, our rookie cops will earn a decent living so they won’t be tempted into corruption. Traffic enforcement will become an honorable profession and will earn respect from all road users, which will compel everyone to practice discipline on the roads that can help alleviate the traffic mess we constantly find ourselves into.

Going back to the MMDA, we strongly suggest its repurpose as the Sanitation and Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) of the entire country and not just of Metro Manila. The government agency will be elevated into a national body with its own police force that will enforce environment and sanitation laws, apprehending violators who indiscriminately throw garbage into the streets or into creeks and rivers, and cite those who throw cigarette butts and plastic wrappers and bottles from their vehicles, or even those who just spit on the sidewalks. The SEPA will be tasked to file cases against establishments that were proven to dump their waste directly into the water system instead of sewerage and recycling system and against mining companies which dump toxic waste into the water table. The SEPA can eventually take over the management of the garbage collection of the entire country to systematize the segregation, recycling, conversion to energy or disposal of wastes and the protection of the environment. Imagine a clean Philippines with uniformed SEPA officers roaming the streets, apprehending violators and teaching people to care for the environment. There is definitely money in trash so funds for the SEPA will not be hard to generate.

In the last part of this Opinion column, we will discuss the difference between Traffic Citation Tickets (TCTs) and Temporary Operator’s Permits (TOP), the need for a National Transport Safety Board (NTSB), why we think the “No Contact Apprehension” is unconstitutional, and why our collective indifference is causing chaos on the streets. Stay tuned!