Petition filed to give half of PH roads to commuters
MANILA, Philippines – On the first day of construction of new major road projects in Metro Manila, citizens walked to the Supreme Court protesting traffic, alarming levels of air pollution, and inefficient public transport.
They demanded not for more roads but for roads to be divided in half: one half for motor vehicles and the other half for efficient forms of public transport like covered walkways, bike lanes, bus rapid transit, and trains. (READ: Commuters to gov't: Limit cars to half of the road)
About a hundred concerned citizens – bikers, joggers, students, elderly, persons with disability, doctors, lawyers, environmentalists – walked from the Rizal Monument in Luneta to the Supreme Court amid the early-morning traffic rush on Monday, February 17.
The group, calling themselves the Share the Road movement, walked and biked along major Manila roads, like Kalaw Avenue and Taft Avenue, to deliver their petition to the Supreme Court's Docketing Office.
The petition was for a Writ of Kalikasan against 8 government bodies, including the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
A Writ of Kalikasan is a legal action demanding to take government agencies to task for failing to protect Filipinos from alarming environmental damage – in this case, urban air pollution.
The petition also asks the Supreme Court to demand the government agencies to implement road sharing, a principle already found in our laws. Specifically, Executive Order 774 requires the government to create a system that "shall favor non-motorized locomotion and collective transportation systems (walking, bicycling, and the man-powered mini-train)."
The group then proceeded to the Senate to submit the petition to the Office of the Senate President in the hope of initiating a Road Sharing and Sustainable Transport Law.
The start of construction of Skyway Stage 3 on Monday only strengthened the determination of petitioners who see the road projects as another manifestation of the government's bias for cars.
While the road projects may ease traffic in the short term, petitioner Clariesse Chan asked, "But what happens then when we have again more cars and traffic once again ensues? Do we continue to widen roads? Use millions for what may seem to be a short-term solution?"
Share the roads
Participants in the march said they showed up because they were fed up with the air pollution, traffic, high fuel cost, and dangerous commute spawned by a Philippine transportation system that has given all the roads to motor vehicles.
Twenty-six year-old Mario wants more of the road given to bikers like him who prefer the mode of transport for its speed.
"Mas mabilis talaga kumpara sa LRT. Sa train kasi, inaabot ako ng dalawang oras, pero sa bike ko wala pang isang oras from Marikina to Quirino," he told Rappler. (It's really faster compared to the LRT. When I take the train, it takes me two hours, but on my bike it takes less than an hour from Marikina to Quirino.)
But the current system does not favor bikers.
"Problema diyan 'yung usok eh, pati yung stress kasi yung jeep gilid nang gilid. Gusto ko mabawasan 'yung mga jeep. Pati bike lanes sa Marikina sinasakop nila," he said. (The problem is the smog and the stress from jeeps that always stay on the side. I want less of these jeeps. They even take over the bike lanes in Marikina.)
Car drivers who participated were aware of the negative aspects of the petition – less road spacefor their cars – but looked forward to its more positive impact: more space for alternative forms of transportation that would ultimately lessen traffic congestion of cars.
"Most people would then choose to commute [instead of drive]. If there were more walkways, less fear, more personal safety, in such case, even I would commute," said Niño, a San Beda Alabang student who spends P1,500 weekly on gas to drive from his Cavite home to school.
Senator Pia Cayetano, though not present in the walk, also expressed support for the movement, saying their petition goes hand in hand with the Sustainable Transportation Act she and Senator Cynthia Villar filed last July 2013.
The bill seeks the establishment of efficient public transportation systems, bike lanes and walkways in urban centers, promotion of non-motorized transport, and the revival of river ferry systems.
Air pollution and public transport
Dr Virgilio Lazaga of the Philippine Medical Association wore his white coat proudly as he walked in front of the line to represent doctors all over the country.
"The PMA is really fighting against the top 4 causes of death of Filipinos. The top 4 are diseases of the heart, diseases of the vascular system, carcinoma, and lastly chronic respiratory diseases – all are linked to air pollution." (READ: Air pollution boosts lung, heart risks)
Up to 80% of air pollution comes from motor vehicles, according to data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The DENR, as one of the implementing agencies of the Clean Air Act, is a respondent in the petition. But this didn't stop Environment Secretary Ramon Paje from welcoming the citizens' demand.
“The petition is a welcomed challenge for the government because if it succeeds, it will surely help boost the ongoing concerted effort to improve the quality of the air we breathe," he said in a statement.
Paje is even grateful for the petitioners because the movement "injects new vigor into the DENR’s implementation of policies that bear directly on the people’s right to breathe clean air.”
Representatives from the public transport sector also gave their support for the movement.
Edgar Velayo, representing the pedicab and tricycle drivers of Manila, said devoting more of the roads to public transport vehicles would make things easier for his constituents.
"Mangyayari kasi, magkaka-terminal ang mga pedicab. Isa sa kahilingan namin, bigyan sila ng mga maayos na terminal na hindi naman nakakaharang," he said. (What will happen is, pedicabs will have terminals. One of our wishes is, give pedicabs terminals that will not block the way.)
Often blamed for causing traffic in the metro, pedicab and tricycle drivers said they deserve some of the roads too for the service they provide to car-less people.
"We need to have a share in the roads. Eh gusto nila kami ang buburahin 'tas yung mga motor vehicles lang ang nasa kalsada," continued Velayo. (They want to erase us and only motor vehicles will be on the roads.)
Sweaty but smiling, petitioners gathered in front of the Supreme Court gate as only a few of them were allowed inside to physically submit the petition to the docketing office.
A few steps away, cars, buses, and jeeps crowded Taft Avenue, where pedestrians, with handkerchiefs covering their noses, warily crossed the street.
The state of affairs is far from that envisioned by 2008 Executive Order 774, which directs the DOTC, DPWH, and DILG to "transform the road system to favor persons who have no motor vehicles."
The Share the Road petitioners only ask the government to do as they did that morning: walk the talk. – Rappler.com