THE EDSA traffic is becoming more horrendous each day, and in this day and age of technology and rationality, one would assume that government could use all its resources and sovereign power to solve a big obstacle to the country’s economic growth and relieve its citizens of their daily hell.
The traffic is a veritable crisis, and it is long past the time for debating that it isn’t. Metropolitan Manila consists of 16 cities and one municipality. Even if EDSA traverses only six cities (Caloocan, Quezon, San Juan, Mandaluyong, Makati and Pasay), any solution to the avenue’s gridlocks would have to involve nearly all of Metro Manila’s 17 local governments, all of which have the authority to pass “ordinances” that tend to hinder efforts to solve this huge problem.
One solution, for example, would involve opening up the posh “villages” — parts of Forbes, San Lorenzo, Wack Wack and Greenhills, among others — but their rich residents would certainly get the courts to stop it.
It is a no-brainer that a solution to the EDSA traffic mess requires the grant of emergency powers to the country’s chief executive, the President. After all, extraordinary problems require extraordinary solutions.
But then because of our Republican set-up, it is Congress that has the power to grant the President such emergency powers, or authority beyond what he normally has to fulfill his duties.
And because of the rules of one chamber of Congress, the Senate, the proposed bill giving the president emergency powers hasn’t moved at all since it was first proposed in 2016 because the chair of the public services committee that would have to process the bill for deliberation by the entire Senate, Grace Poe, doesn’t like it.
And how she has struggled to justify her position. In the past 16th Congress, she claimed that granting emergency powers to the President would lead to corruption, just as she claimed that the Electricity Crisis Act of 1993 had led to graft.
What is she saying? The crisis did grant huge advantages to the Yellow oligarchs, but that was according to the provisions of the law. There hasn’t been any charges of corruption, nor convictions, related to that Electricity Crisis Act.
Recently, Poe changed her justification for dragging her feet, claiming that proponents must present a master plan first. But several plans have already been submitted to Congress, Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade testified in congressional hearings. I bet she’ll claim next time that she isn’t satisfied with these plans.
The bottom line is this: solving a crisis that has made hell out of the daily commute of three million people is being blocked by one senator, voted into office by 20 million voters. And just how did Poe, who had decided before to pursue the American dream as an immigrant, get the support of such a huge number of Filipinos?
Because of, and only because of, the tremendous popularity of her father, the most beloved Filipino action star ever, Fernando Poe, who died a few months after he lost the presidential elections in 2004. As in the case of Benigno Aquino 3rd, Filipinos vote with their emotions — and their superstition that the child is the reincarnation of his or her parent. In Poe’s case, the masses even confused her father for “Panday,” the movie hero.
But that’s democracy. No wonder that even Plato, one of the founders of Western rationality, viewed democracy as mob rule in disguise.
In this era of technology and the primacy of rationality, what should be a government’s approach to solving the EDSA traffic crisis, or for that matter any problem confronting the nation, such as poverty? It doesn’t require rocket science to outline it:
First, organize a group of experts — totally independent from any outside influence, especially from politicians, and even from government and its agencies–to study the problem with all the state-of-the-art tools of natural and social sciences, and come up with solutions, which would include what the military calls the “operation plan.”
Second, before implementing the plan, test it on a small scale, a “pilot project.” Draw lessons from that pilot project and incorporate these into the original plan.
Third, implement the plan vigorously, without interference from any other entity.
Am I just up in the clouds?
Not at all. While probably also done by the US and other countries, this three-step approach has been demonstrated more transparently by the People’s Republic of China (PROC) since the early 1980s.
The “group of experts” I mentioned is known in China as a “think-tank,” which explains why it now has the third biggest number of such entities, 507, next to the US’ 1,871 and India’s 509. I suspect though that many of the US think-tanks, are more academic-oriented, or even Central Intelligence Agency fronts.
In contrast, Chinese think-tanks are problem-oriented, usually attached to, but independent of, a government ministry.
Former PROC president Hu Jintao had called for improving intellectual support to policy-making, leading to a “fourth generation” of think tanks around 2007 to 2009. In 2012 and 2013, President Xi Jinping called for the buildup of “think tanks with Chinese characteristics.”
China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative was formulated by a group of think-tanks. In July 2004, China’s State Council (its equivalent of a Congress) upgraded its Hainan Research Institute of South China Sea set up in 1996 to a national-level agency and changed its name to the National Institute for South China Sea Studies to address China’s territorial disputes in that area. By contrast, our foreign affairs department doesn’t even have a team to act as a think-tank to study and propose solutions to our territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
China’s use of think-tanks has been a big factor in its economic growth. No wonder that even World Bank president Robert Zoellick declared in 2004: “Between 1981 and 2004, China succeeded in lifting more than half a billion people out of extreme poverty. This is certainly the greatest leap to overcome poverty in history.” The latest World Bank figures show that China has lifted out of poverty 850 million people, which one economist gushed over as the miracle of this century.
Oops! All these think tanks of course operate under a one-party rule, and they aren’t blocked or bothered by some politician whose motives are almost entirely in pursuit of her ambitions in a future election.
Let’s face it, democracy is so overrated. The likes of Poe more and more convince me that it is so. Ask anybody trapped for an hour in that EDSA tunnel in Makati — as I was recently, which almost triggered a panic attack — and he will certainly be more than willing to give up his right to vote, just as long as he arrives at his home in even half the time that it usually takes.