By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Underscoring that the current problem of traffic congestion must be recognized as a “national emergency”, a House leader is proposing that the President be granted emergency powers for a limited period of time to address the crisis.
Cavite Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, chairman of the House Committee on Accounts, filed House Bill 3175, seeking to declare the existence of a national emergency following the traffic congestion crisis in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and other highly urbanized cities.
“This declaration is in accordance with Section 23(2), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, which authorizes the President, for a limited period and subject to restrictions, to exercise powers necessary to effectively address the said national emergency,” he said.
Noting the detrimental effects of worsening traffic congestion to the nation’s productivity, economy and the general welfare of the public, Tolentino said the President should be given emergency powers “to employ all necessary government resources, exercise or employ executive actions and measures—necessary and incidental, unhampered by existing laws, regulations, and procedures—to solve this escalating problem.”
Under Tolentino’s HB 3175 or the proposed “Special Emergency Powers Act”, the President will be granted emergency powers “to adopt short-term, mid-term, and long-term development plans for a sustainable and efficient transport system.”
“As such, the President is hereby granted emergency powers to urgently utilize all necessary government resources, exercise police power and the power of eminent domain, and employ executive actions to ensure effective procurement, implementation, reconfiguration, harmonization, and completion of national and local transportation projects intended to address traffic and congestion crisis,” the bill said.
The proposed emergency powers cover Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, and other highly urbanized cities. The national emergency shall include land, air, and sea traffic, according to the bill.
“The existence of emergency powers shall be limited to acts that would resolve the traffic and congestion crisis,” Tolentino said.
Under his proposal, the authority granted to the President shall be valid and effective for a period of two years from the effectivity of the proposed Act, unless sooner withdrawn by Congress through a resolution.
HB 3175 designates the Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) as the “de officio traffic crisis czar” who will exercise all powers granted to the President. The traffic czar shall be under the direct control and supervision of the President.
Under the measure, the Transportation Secretary is mandated to implement and complete the transportation and public works flagship projects under the government’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program. The traffic czar shall also work for the immediate resolution of issues and bottlenecks in transport infrastructure, including the acquisition of right-of-way.
Negotiated sale shall be the primary mode of acquisition and must be concluded within 10 days from notice to the property owner, and after a failed negotiation, the czar shall authorize the immediate filing of a case for expropriation.
HB 3175 allows the traffic crisis czar to enter into direct contracting, repeat order and direct negotiation and other alternative modes of procurement under the current law for priority projects.
Local government units (LGUs), under Tolentino’s proposal, may also enter into agreements with private sectors for transportation projects subject to the czar’s approval.
The bill also provides that traffic crisis czar may also take over or direct the operation of any kind of public utility vehicle as may be necessary to implement the proposed Act.
Private roads, including those within villages and subdivisions, may be opened for public use subject to security and limitations that shall be agreed upon between the czar, the relevant LGU, and the affected residential association, or be the subject of expropriation.
The bill also allows private and public entities, as well as educational institutions, to adopt alternative work arrangements or flexible school hours. The czar, in consultation with the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Department of Education (DepEd) to implement staggered working or school hours for government offices and public schools, respectively.
Under the bill, no court, except the Supreme Court, may issue temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against the government for exercising the emergency powers.
In the Senate, Tolentino’s brother, Senator Francis Tolentino filed a similar bill.
During the previous 17th Congress, the House of Representatives approved the bill on third and final reading to address the worsening urban traffic problem.