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More lies from Noynoy

You’d think that, with the national conversation already shifting inexorably to the people seeking to succeed him in office, President Noynoy Aquino would just quietly leave the podium. But like a bad actor hell-bent on flubbing even his very last lines, Aquino insists on jarring everyone with his outlandish statements in the little time he has left before he finally exits.

And so, during the acceptance ceremony for Liberal Party vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo, the latest of the party’s regular “gatherings of friends,” Aquino unveiled another of his alternative truths. This time, he warned the political opposition against grabbing credit for projects started by his administration but which only happened to be completed beyond his term—including his solution to the traffic jams in Metro Manila.

You may want to read the previous sentence again. But here’s what Aquino actually said:

“Even those who are criticizing the government due to the traffic, once the Skyway Stage 3 is inaugurated, as well as other of our projects, [will attempt to grab credit for it]. Just think about this, when they are the ones inaugurating [the projects of the Aquino administration], they might be readying a marker as early as today, stating that they are the ones who built [the project],” Aquino said.

As Aquino’s now-famous alternative truths go, this one is really world-beating. Just like the traffic in Metro Manila, according to the recent survey conducted by the people who created the Waze mobile application.

But I’m glad that Aquino used the example of the Skyway Stage 3 project, also known as the Balintawak-Buendia Skyway, which will connect the North Luzon Expressway to the South Luzon Expressway. This important toll road, currently under construction and scheduled for completion in April 2017, will create an arterial highway that will allow up to 55,000 vehicles to bypass the perennially clogged Edsa daily as they travel from Northern to Southern Luzon and vice versa.

The 14.8-kilometer toll road is a project of a joint venture between diversified conglomerate San Miguel Corp. and Citra of Indonesia, which built the original Skyway over SLEX. Work on the six-lane elevated expressway, which will cut travel time between the two expressways from more than an hour-and-a-half (if you’re lucky) to about 15 minutes, was started in January this year.

And thereby hangs a tale of credit-grabbing, official pussy-footing and last-minute corporate maneuvering that Aquino would never tell his “bosses.” And it’s not one of those newfangled alternative truths, but the old-fashioned kind that the President has never really gotten used to accepting.

* * *

The truth of the matter is, the Skyway Stage 3 was conceived during the Ramos years. And the final engineering plans for the new skyway were completed during the evil (to Aquino, anyway)  Arroyo administration.

But Citra, the company that proposed it, did not have the funds to start building the overhead highway as scheduled in 2011, in the second year of the current Aquino government.

Also, Citra was under intense pressure to give up the Balintawak-Buendia Skyway project to the Pangilinan group, which had already purchased NLEX from the Lopezes and which wanted to take Skyway 3 from the impecunious Indonesians. Citra was forced to look for a “white knight,” not only to bankroll the skyway’s construction, but also to be able to fight the political pressure being applied by the operators of NLEX to take the project away from them.

Citra found its partner in cash-rich SMC, which was already going full-tilt into tollway construction with the new TPLEX (Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway) and other such projects. But the Indonesians also had to deal with the unwarranted demands and legal impositions (in the form of seeking legal opinions through the Justice department, for example) made by the Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio “Babes” Singson.

(The DPWH secretary looked suspiciously like he was deliberately delaying the start of construction by Citra. Perhaps, sources in the construction industry said at the time, because he really wanted NLEX to build the skyway.)

As a result, the original three-year construction schedule for Skyway 3 was delayed for nearly three years. And a toll road that should have been completed in 2014—and eased traffic on Edsa as early as last year—was green-lighted by the DPWH for construction only that same year.

And that’s no alternative version of the events that led to the delay in the building of Skyway 3, something that may have directly led to the worsening of metropolitan traffic. Of course, Aquino has already told his story—and I’m assuming, like always, that he’s sticking to it.

That doesn’t mean he’s telling the truth, of course.

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