The Sixth Philippine International Motor Show opens with Senator Ralph G. Recto as Guest of Honor last September 14, 2016 at the World Trade Center Metro Manila.
Magandang umaga po. Thank you very much for that kind introduction.
I suddenly felt like a car whose specs were being read out aloud.
Lengthy as it was, it didn’t, however, mention about my first job, and the one that I am eternally proud of.
I was selling cars when I was in high school, and volume was good, so the first line in my CV should read: car trader, which is a fancy term for a used-car salesman.
And you know what, and I say this will all honesty, being a used-car salesman gives you the best training for a career in politics. If you can sell lemons, you can easily sell the laws you are proposing.
Selling cars by the time I was a teenager was the next logical step after learning how to drive the ripe, old age of 10.
And in the Recto nationalist tradition, I practiced driving in a 100-percent Philippine-made car – the iconic Harabas, whose remnants still ply the route from my school, La Salle, to my office, the Senate.
Because the fancier cars in the family garage were off limits to me, I have to raise money so I can have, to use a 1970’s term, “my own wheels.” And true enough, before I graduated from high school, I was driving around in a Datsun 240Z, the katas of my buy-and-sell acumen.
Today, I am still in the buying and selling of cars. The only difference is that it is only Pepito here who makes money out of it. He sells cars to me at a profit, which I later sell back to him at a loss.
My friends, my relationship with cars is emblematic of our race’s love affair with the automobile.
We are brought into this world by mothers rushed to delivery rooms by cars, and to our resting places in motor hearses.
And for some of us, the romance with cars could have even started earlier, if we were conceived in the plushy backseats of sedans.
This year marks the 116th anniversary of the introduction of the four wheeled, internal combustion engine-drive vehicle in our land. The first automobile arrived in the Philippines in 1900, a “Georges Richard” imported from France by the store La Estrella del Norte for its customer, a certain Dr. Miciano.
When the eight-horsepower buggy sputtered along Escolta, a priest in the nearby Santa Cruz church was said to have wagered the bet that the day will never come that the mechanized curiosity will be more numerous than carabaos.
Boy, was the Padre wrong!
Because exactly 100 years later, in 2000, four-wheeled vehicles playing the streets finally overtook beasts of burden plowing the fields in number.
And a decade and a half since the new millennium, the number of motor vehicles had more than doubled, from 3.7 million to more than 8 million, proving that the Mathus’ theory on population didn’t apply on carabaos, but on Camaros.
There in now one motor vehicle for every 12 Filipinos, more than enough to form a single line that will stretch 31,00 kilometers, equal the length of national roads.
Our 116-year-old love affair with the automobile has brought us pleasure, but also pain; happiness, as well as headaches; and relief and grief at the same time.
There’s traffic, there’s pollution, there are accidents – things we cannot deny. And daily, we pay a sin tax for using our cars – the biggest additive to fuel prices is the excise or sin tax, and the biggest add-on to a car’s sticker price is also the same tax.
While expanding incomes have led to the expansion in car sales, the infrastructure to accommodate more automobiles did not expand. The other aggravating factor for the traffic congestion in our midst is that mass transport systems did not expand as well.
The result is that to solve our air-land-sea-rail transport crisis, we will need emergency powers.
The Departments of Transportation or the DOTr has prepared a P1.15 trillion wish list of traffic solutions. And that is just the minimum.
The motor vehicle industry must have a say in crafting the nation’s traffic battle plan. Your inputs are needed. It will be assembled through crowdsourcing, and you are expected to supply some of the parts.
And I am sure that when you give them, it will not be from the perspective of car sellers, but as patriotic Filipinos.
As we travel the road ahead, badges do not matter; the common good is what is important.
You are adept in soliciting customer feedback. The nation needs your feedback on this important matter now.
Let me touch very briefly on what I call Tugade’s Trillion-Peso Plan.
The road sector’s share is about five percent, or nearly P58.6 billion, the bulk of which will go to Bus Rapid Transit Lines costing P44.2 billion.
Two bus-related projects, an integrated terminal in Paranaque and Taguig, will cost P5.4 billion. DOTr is also asking P3.3 billion to jumpstart the setting up and operations of the proposed Single Traffic Authority.
And, I know this is important to you, to all of us, about P1.9 billion is being proposed to end the shortage and regularize the supply of vehicle license plates and driver’s license cards.
Ninety-three percent or about a trillion pesos will be on rail projects. There will be an allocation for ferry service in the Pasig River and monies to decongest our airports. And I see Pepito smirking because his jets will be relocated to Lipa or Sangley.
My point is that for this plan to evolve into a set of fast and feasible cures, ideas must be crowdsourced, and you must not shrink from this duty.
On my part, I have asked the DOTr to segregate projects by order of priority, from the super urgent to the slightly urgent.
I have also reminded them that not all solutions require the pouring of concrete; many require a small dash of common sense. Before we burrow a tunnel underneath Manila, can we not remove traffic obstructions first?
Another example, can we not have a 24/7 pothole patrols to patch small cracks on the road before they supersize into traffic jam-causing craters?
When perpetually-parked cars narrow the three lanes of a highway into two, the solution is not to widen that road so it can be used as a parking lot, but to dispatch a tow truck to restore that road’s full carrying capacity in minutes.
Indeed, long-gestating subways and airports will take years to complete, but ready-to-roll ambulances for emergency medical teams, and tow trucks for road clearing operations can be bought in months.
My point: Before we dream of big things, which we should, we must first achieve the easily doable.
My friends, for politcos, speaking is like learning how to drive – hard to begin, but when it gets going, harder to stop. It is at this point that I should slam on the brakes and stop. I hear Waze telling me that I have reached my destination.
Thank you very much, magandang umaga po, mabuhay tayong lahat, and safe journeys ahead.