By Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema
MANILA/DAVAO, Philippines (Reuters) – The Philippines’ tough-talking president-elect has vowed to wipe out crime – and now he plans to tame the grinding traffic gridlock of Manila through the imposition of emergency powers.
Nicknamed “the Punisher” for his crime-busting crusade as mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte may have his work cut out to defeat the traffic chaos of the Southeast Asian nation’s capital.
A survey by the GPS-based navigation app Waze last year found that Manila had the worst traffic on Earth, with Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Jakarta not far behind.
“The image of the Philippines has been damaged because of the traffic,” said Arthur Tugade, who will become transport minister when Duterte takes office next week. “If this is not a crisis, what is a crisis?”
He told a gathering of business leaders in Davao that under the emergency decree authorities will be able to open gated residential neighborhoods to siphon vehicles away from clogged main roads.
They would also be able to bypass bureaucracy to spend directly on upgrading highways and on property for new roads.
He gave few other details of the plan, which he said was being prepared by legal experts for presentation to Congress, but assured his audience it would not be applied “whimsically or capriciously”.
Duterte won last month’s presidential election on a platform of crushing crime, corruption and drug abuse, impressing voters with his unapologetic vows to have offenders killed. Brash and openly scathing of the political establishment, he has been likened to U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.
There have been many attempts and proposals over the years to tackle Manila’s traffic misery but most have come to nought.
A daytime ban on trucks plying the roads of the capital in 2014 was called off after seven months because it led to a pile-up of containers at Manila’s main port, which handles more than 80 percent of the country’s foreign trade.
The plan also includes unspecified measures to try to rectify chronic delays in flights in and out of Manila’s overrun airport, which has only one runway and a terminal that was only partially completed because the firm carrying out its renovation quit having not been paid.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency estimated in 2013/14 that Manila’s street snarl-ups cost the country 2.4 billion pesos ($52 million) a day in lost productivity and income, and that this would more than double by 2030 if nothing is done.
The Philippines’ economy is one of Asia’s most buoyant, notching up average annual growth of 6 percent so far this decade.
Karl Kendrick Chua, senior economist of the World Bank for the Philippines, said that growth could be as high as 8 percent if 15-30 percent of people’s productive time was not lost in traffic jams as it is today.
Judith Sanano, an accountant who commutes 13 km (8 miles) to the center of Manila, says she leaves her office at 6 p.m. and arrives home three hours later exhausted.
“You do not get tired from work but you are tired from the commute,” she said. “Even when you are seated in the bus, you can’t feel the air conditioning because it’s jam-packed and your back hurts from sitting for so long.
“Duterte is not god who can miraculously fix this mess. It will take time before traffic is resolved.”
Tugade, incoming transport minister, acknowledged the uphill task his department faced, telling business executives in Davao: “Give us your prayers because we don’t want to fail.”
(Additional reporting by Martin Petty; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Nick Macfie)