Metro Manila traffic is a riddle that’s tough to solve. Just ask anyone who has spent a few hours mired in gridlock. Heavy vehicular volume and chaotic pedestrian activity merely scratch the surface of the problem both undoubtedly complex and deep.

In the middle of metropolitan thoroughfares are the men and women of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). They enforce the rules, act as scarecrows to would-be violators, and decisively deal with motorists who disregard the law. It’s a headache like no other but Jose Arturo “Jojo” Garcia Jr. took on the challenge. Just as MMDA Chairman Danilo Lim did not turn President Duterte down when he was offered the agency’s post, Garcia could not say no Lim.

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“He has a very good stature and is very well respected,” the MMDA general manager says of Lim. “He was incarcerated for seven years just to fight corruption. How can you say no when a person with that kind of dignity tells you he needs your help?” Lim is a retired brigadier general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who faced rebellion and attempted coup d’état charges during the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presidency. He and other comrades staged a standoff to oust the former president and call attention to corrupt activities in the AFP.

Garcia left the private sector and was appointed assistant general manager for planning before President Rodrigo Duterte assigned him as general manager of the MMDA on February 2017. His marching orders: Do public service and take care of the people.

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Traffic is the MMDA’s most pressing concern in its mandate that includes development planning, solid waste disposal, flood control, health and sanitation, and public safety. “It’s a daily concern of the public,” the San Beda College alumnus declares. “It did not happen overnight. It did not start last month, last week, or last year. It started decades ago because of a lack of proper planning. So, the solution will also not happen overnight.”

According to the general manager, Chairman Lim is implementing short-, mid-, and long-term solutions to address the metro’s road challenges. And to be able to find a solution, the problem-solver has to know what lies behind the surface of our road woes.

What causes these difficulties? Garcia identifies two key things: the volume of vehicles and the limited infrastructure in place. “Every year, the number of vehicles increases, but the roads we have do not,” he explains.

According to Chairman Lim, the metro’s infrastructure is lagging behind by 30 years. To illustrate, there were 450,000 brand new vehicles in the country last year. Sixty percent of these traverse the streets of Metro Manila. This year, the MMDA expects 500,000 new automobiles adding to the volume. Garcia predicts that around 300,000 of these will travel in the city.

Adding to our misery are the misutilization of roads. Garcia avers that illegal parking and illegal vendors obstruct pedestrian walkways. If they occupy these, people will walk on roads, thereby taking another lane away from traffic.

The bottom line is, no matter how good the policy of the government is, if the citizens do not want to follow, we will have a hard time. The government can’t do this alone. We really need the cooperation of the people

 

“These (vendors) will dare to sell in these areas if they are paying off someone to enable them to,” he adds in the vernacular. “Buses will not have illegal terminals, or load or unload passengers in prohibited areas if they are not giving money to someone. These are activities we really need to stop.” Garcia reports that under Chairman Lim, around 1,000 enforcers charged with alleged corruption have either been fired, placed on floating status, resigned, or have on their own volition been absent without leave.

Is there a way out of our current traffic situation? Anyone who has seen Garcia on television or read about him in the media will have a good premise of what he envisions. He has also probably explained it a million times.

“Let me explain so I can convince you,” he begins. “First is the infrastructure which the government is addressing right now through the Build, Build, Build infrastructure program,” he says. “But projects like the Skyway connector, C-6, and other new roads will take years to be completed. We have to do something in the meantime.”

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