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Why Tolentino must go

Even before a government worker-commuter group asked for Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino’s head at a Senate hearing last Monday, a House committee looking into the traffic mess had already sought his ouster.

Buhay Party List Rep. Lito Atienza, as early as a month ago, grilled Tolentino on what he was doing to ease the traffic problem in the metropolis but got no satisfactory answer except the stock reply of  “lack of funds.”  Atienza found Tolentino’s answer unacceptable considering Tolentino’s costly TV commercials promoting his senatorial bid.

“A 30-second TV spot costs at least P250,000 every time Tolentino comes out on your screen. He or MMDA must have already spent millions for these informercials in the guise of public service for earthquake disaster preparedness,” said Atienza, adding “this is the height of insensitivity when  Metro Manila commuters have to suffer the daily grind of going to and from work.”

Atienza, a three-term Manila mayor, questioned where the billions of pesos in the road-users’ tax had gone. While the fund is supposed to be used for road repair and maintenance, a lot of the money went into buying trees and plants for the constructed islands in the middle of the roads, while road repairs are usually started and then left unfinished impeding the flow of traffic, said Atienza.

That President Benigno Aquino III assigned the task of easing traffic along Edsa to the  Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group, Atienza said, only goes to show Tolentino failed in his job in his five years as head of the MMDA.

Yet, Palace Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma described Tolentino as a hands-on manager. Coloma must be considering a post-government job as a stand-up comedian for giving this laughable description.

Atienza proposed that in managing the myriad problems of Metro Manila, which is not traffic alone, the next MMDA chairman should be elected in a metro-wide poll instead of just being plucked out of somewhere. Tolentino for instance was a former mayor of Tagaytay, a two-lane city.

Atienza added that the monstrous traffic problem can be traced to mismanagement of three other  work-related government agencies aside from the MMDA—the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Transportation  and  Communications, and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board. At the local government level which is under the DILG, barangay captains should be assigned the task of clearing streets of illegally parked vehicles and sidewalk vendors. These streets, sometimes used as neighborhood basketball courts, could be alternate routes to major artery roads, he said.

The LTFRB for its part should stop issuing franchises and licenses to provincial buses that allow them to enter Metro Manila. Atienza suggested the construction of bus terminals in the outskirts of every city in Metro Manila as a solution to the traffic congestion.

The DOTC under Secretary Jun (“traffic is not fatal”) Abaya bears the blame for the inefficient public transport railway system. Taking over from Mar Roxas who assumed the DILG post, Abaya has not done anything to address the daily breakdown of the Metro Rail Transit  and the Light Rail Transit in the four years he has been in charge. The arrival of several new train carriages from China is a case of too little, too late.

The MRT under Abaya’s watch has been embroiled in an extortion attempt of a Czech company bidding to upgrade and supply equipment for the ailing rail system. Although Abaya was not indicted in the case, former MRT manager Albert Vitangcol is facing  graft charges for attempted extortion including the awarding of a lucrative contract to a local company without any track record in railroad maintenance.

“An efficient public transport system defines great cities and we do not even have a semblance of it,” rued Atienza, as he cited nearby Hong Kong and Singapore’s underground railways which give residents a hassle-free commute.   

***

The continuing saga of migrants in Europe

As someone who had spent a total of 16 years of diplomatic postings in London, Brussels, Budapest and Warsaw, I cannot help but feel empathy for the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into Europe to flee the conflicts in Syria and Iraq made unbearable by the terror group ISIS.

This was not the Europe I know whose culture of liberalism and tolerance was renowned. Today, we are witnessing a Europe fearing  a threat to its way of life by the human tide that is sweeping the continent. The migrant crisis has opened a deep divide among European Union members. Germany and Austria agreed to take in their share of migrants but there are EU members like Greece and Hungary  who are hesitant to host the migrants because of their fragile economies.

Prime Minister David Cameron, bowing to public pressure and international outcry, announced that the UK would take in some migrants without giving a specific number. France, already hosting thousands from its former colonies in Africa, has yet to announce whether it still has room for the newcomers. 

The migrants who refused to be herded to a Hungarian detention camp just outside Budapest  for processing traveled on foot to the Austrian border. Some 6,000 migrants—their families including pregnant women and young children—were euphoric upon setting foot on Austrian soil after completing the nine-hour trek or 215-kilometer journey to Vienna. Some of them might settle there while others are determined to continue their quest for a better life in Germany.

Other migrants were not as fortunate like the Kurdi family from Syria whose boat capsized while crossing the Mediterranean to Turkey. The mother and her two young boys perished when huge waves swept their boat. The photo of one of the boys, three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who was washed ashore and found lying face down on a Turkish beach, went viral on the Internet moving millions in Europe to demand their governments give the migrants refuge.  Aylan’s lifeless image was published on the front pages of every  major European newspaper. It is the great tragedy of our time that the death of Aylan has made him an iconic poster boy of the humanitarian crisis engulfing Europe. 

Unless I missed it, I have yet to hear the Vatican express grief and compassion for the migrants. While Saudi Arabia, Kuwait  the United Arab Emirates and Qatar donated millions of dollars, they did not offer to resettle the migrants. 

The US, while not offering asylum to the refugees, has taken the lead in the fight against ISIS, hitting them with air strikes in the terrorists strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

The saga of the migrants into Europe will probably continue to the end of the year. It might even spill over to 2016 unless  the United Nations and governments take decisive action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. At the rate Syrians are fleeing from the  four-year civil war, the tyrant Basshar al Assad might not have anybody left to rule except a handful of loyal praetorian guards.

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