Senate body OKs granting emergency powers vs traffic crisis

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Sen. Grace Poe

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Declaring the traffic situation in the country as a "public calamity," the chair of the Senate public services committee — along with her colleagues — has given the nod to grant emergency powers sought by the Duterte administration to fast-track solutions to the traffic mess.

Committee chair, Sen. Grace Poe, presented the recommendation on Wednesday — the last session day before the Christmas break — for plenary consideration.

"We are granting emergency powers because Congress needs to do its part in helping address traffic," she said.

Aside from Poe, thirteen other Senators signed the report.

"Philippine transportation infrastructure at present has been unable to keep with the demands of a rising economy and growing population," Poe said. "The traffic and congestion crisis in Greater Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, as manifested in the debilitating long hours of daily commute, has assumed the nature and magnitude of a public calamity. It is a crisis of national significance requiring urgent, immediate, and focused actions from the government."

Related: Drivers: Easier traffic on first 'no window hours' day

The proposed measure authorizes President Rodrigo Duterte, through his appointed Traffic Crisis Manager, to use alternative methods of procurement such as selective bidding, direct contracting, negotiated procurement and other modes under existing laws to speed up implementation of key transportation projects.

Except for the Supreme Court, lower courts are barred from issuing temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against the government in implementing the projects under the expanded powers.

Losing billions of pesos everyday

Poe cited a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study that said the economy was losing about ₱3-billion a day due to traffic jams.

She also took to task the executive branch for not having  any ready plans to address the "intolerable, costly and unhealthy traffic."

Related: Metro Manila has 'worst traffic on Earth'

"A long train of bad ideas, bankrupt programs, botched projects, and lack of meaningful foresight has made it an accident waiting to happen -- the perfect train wreck upon which the well-being and welfare of the Filipino people is fighting for survival.

"It is now time to untangle the mess, one that is so grave and great that it needs emergency powers to straighten it out," she said.

The Senate is expected to debate and put the bill to a vote when sessions resume in January next year.

The bill has set the parameters on how to exercise the emergency powers. Metro Manila and cities near the capital and Metro Cebu are covered by emergency powers. The Traffic Crisis Manager may also include other areas such as Davao, Cagayan de Oro and other highly urbanized cities and municipalities suffering from heavy traffic.

The emergency powers, if approved, shall be valid until  June 2019.

CNN Philippines' Cecille Lardizabal contributed to this report.