Thomas M. Orbos

142 posts

Road emancipation

Land emancipation was the battle cry of many revolutions in the past two to three centuries. From lands across Europe to the Americas and in Asia to include our country, it was agrarian reform or the emancipation of the masses from the hold of the landowners whose lands they toiled for generations that brought about many a nation’s journey to democratic change and economic development. And while we have achieved much progress in freeing our farmers from land slavery, there appears to be another platform of societal disparity that is now heavily burdening the greater majority of our people.

Revisiting the MMDA Worker’s Inn

What I consider was a good initiative from my predecessor when I was still in government was the MMDA Worker’s Inn. Operating as a low-priced lodging facility, it was a self-sustaining project with its occupancy at any given time close to 100 percent. Priced at P100 per night at that time, it was a no-frills dorm type set-up with no air-conditioning and with spartan facilities. But patrons never complained.  Rather than spending 30 percent of their wages on the daily 4-5-hour public transport commute from their homes in Cavite, Laguna or Bulacan, they would stay at the inn for the workweek and go home during the weekends. This resulted in substantial savings for the workers, not to mention the quality work time they provide to their employers in Metro Manila. It was a good project with lots of benefits. Unfortunately, I found out that the program was discontinued sometime after I left the agency.

Deconstruction for a better Build, Build, Build program

California, the great American state of freeways, made a historic turnaround last week with its decision to ban the sale of gas-fed cars by 2035. This is expected to trigger a domino effect on other US states, as well as other countries and will result in the hastened pace of the evolution of non-carbon transport and an environment friendly transport infrastructure.

The Battle of Dunkirk, cable cars and Senator Robin Padilla

We are in a transport crisis and we need to harness all the possible resources and alternatives. And out-of-the-box ideas such as that of Senator Robin should be welcomed and encouraged rather than dismissed. It is better than waiting for the help that is yet to come. All options need to be considered, just like at Dunkirk, to bring our commuters home.

No-contact apprehension and the No Garage-No Vehicle bill

Two street related events made headlines recently. One is the No-Contact Apprehension Program (NCAP) now being implemented in several Metro Manila cities and is being met with complaints especially from the public transport groups. The other one is the proposed “No Garage-No Vehicle” bill coming from the House of Representatives. Both programs definitely are alleviation measures to our present transport situation, but honestly both of these would need a second pass and might need some implementation and orientation re-alignments. Sometimes good intentions are not enough but rather an honest in-depth dive into the hearts and minds of the constituents they do want to help must also be in order.


They say that the roads are a microcosm of the state of a society, a culture, and a nation. I was in Jakarta last week and I must say that their roads, the motorists and the commuters there generally reflect their state of well-being. As we are now in the midst of a transport crisis, one can only begin to envy our neighbors and wonder why, despite our cultural and social similarities, our situation is vastly so different from theirs. It would do well for us to once in a while take a glimpse and learn from our Asian neighbors.

Transport woes: Focusing on simple solutions

The problems of traffic and public transportation have been with us for the longest time, but some of us do not realize this fact maybe because we are already so used to them. The travel and waiting time remain tedious. The PUVs are packed making travel undignified. Commuter stress remains high because of the absence of public transport schedules. And yet year in and year out, at least for the past 40 years, administrations have embarked on mega infrastructure projects that supposedly would change the lives of Filipino commuters and motorists for the better. We are told about the subway, the rails, transport modernization, the many airports and ports, etc.; yet we wonder—have we not been told about similar ambitious projects in the past and still the streets are as confusing, hostile and overall problematic as before? What do we still need to do? We have already spent so much and built bigger and bigger, yet it is as if nothing has improved on our lives on the road.

Transport rationing to address the transportation crisis

The opening of full face-to-face classes in August will put much stress on our already burdened transport situation. With a pandemic-diminished public transport fleet, further affected by the current fuel hikes, the influx of more than 27 million students (3 million in Metro Manila alone) will require not just boxful of attention from our government but also out-of-the-box solutions as well. What happens when there is a shortage that needs to be addressed immediately and there are no supplies that can suffice in the short term?  Rationing.

Illegal phishing activities in the Philippine digital sea

AS if we don’t have enough problems already, but now we are suddenly subjected to a barrage of SMS spam messages ranging from job offers, selling of items at super-low prices, to winning lotteries we know we did not join. Irritating, indeed, and we dismiss them as today’s version of yesterday’s telemarketing nuisance, testing our patience and always eating up our mobile data space. However, unlike phone marketeers in the past, this digital invasion goes beyond just aggressive selling. Most of these spam messages are phishing activities that attempt to access our personal identification, which then can be exploited by cybercriminals to include our bank details, credit cards and our financial history. We now ask—how did these senders of spam messages get our mobile phone information? Is this just simply random and sporadic? And what have the telecoms companies done to combat this? What about the government agencies tasked to regulate the digital highway and guarantee our digital privacy, in particular the National Telecommunications Commission and the National Privacy Commission?


Last week saw the demise of the Metro Manila BRT Line 1 project after the World Bank granted the Philippine government’s request to cancel its loan agreement amounting to $64 million. This is unfortunate considering that the BRT project could have greatly alleviated our current transport crisis in Metro Manila, especially in the perennial bottleneck of a corridor that is Quezon Avenue-España Boulevard, connecting the two most populated cities of Quezon City and Manila. The BRT project was projected to shelve half the present travel time from the two city halls of Manila and Quezon City, with a projected ridership of 300,000 passengers per day. This would practically almost equal the same ridership as that of the Metro Manila subway (370,000), which costs a staggering 100 plus times more ($7 billion).  Unfortunate because the cancellation could have been avoided.

The 15-minute city concept as a crisis mitigation measure

I write again about the 15-minute city urban development concept as I firmly believe that this is the way for cities to survive and sustainably deal with problems such as traffic congestion, pollution, rising costs of deliveries of goods and services, and the declining general health of the population, among others. Adoption of this concept becomes even more practical in times of crisis or calamity, such as the current pandemic when we were all forced into lockdowns. Even more relevant is how this concept will help mitigate our current transport situation, which is greatly threatened by the spiraling prices of gasoline. With our mobility affected, we will be dependent all the more on our communities—hence the 15-minute city concept coming into play.

An opportunity for Marcos to do what’s right in foreign policy, security

IN a move that pleasantly caught many by surprise and contrary to his campaign rhetoric, President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has vowed to assert the territorial rights of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea. With this, the President-elect has that opportunity in his hands to immediately establish that he is different from his predecessor in the critical areas of foreign policy and maritime security. This was the assessment of experts during a virtual town hall discussion organized by top think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.

Attending to road transport, finally

Among the four modes of transportation—air, land, maritime and rail—that are under the purview of the Transportation department, the land transport or the road sector is considered as the most complex in terms of the challenges that it presents. This does not mean that the other modes of transport are less complex or less important. In fact, they require more specialized planning and budgets given the infrastructural requirements (ports, airports, rail networks), but managing  these sectors  is not as challenging as that of the road sector.  And if there is one area that the government   has neglected, admittedly it is the road sector.

The new admin’s possible transport roadmap

Now that we have Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as our incoming president, we all need to end our partisan political engagement and go back to being citizens of the republic. The government needs all hands on deck, especially with our ship Philippines facing such stormy seas up ahead. And all of us, regardless of political color, need to do our part in the democratic process that we promised to uphold. In this journey our country is now in, let us not be barriers but rather guardrails to ensure that we are on the right track.

Take out the number coding scheme

For us Metro Manilans, it is obvious that the dreaded Metro Manila traffic has reared its ugly head once more, though not as bad and worrisome as before. In a way, it is a good sign that the capital region is back on its feet, after the two-year pandemic hiatus, but the thought of going back to those days when traversing Edsa would take hours would give the new administration, especially our new set of transport and traffic managers, its work cut out when they take over. My unsolicited advice—no need  to re-implement the United Vehicle Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP) or more commonly known as the “number coding” scheme.

Transport for all

The elections are over and it’s understandable that sentiments are not the same across the spectrum. There are winners and losers in every election, with the May 9 polls probably one of the most participated and emotionally charged political exercise in recent years. Yet we have a country to take care of and we need to be part of its solution especially in these tumultuous times.

The integrity of the surveys

Can surveys be manipulated, tweaked or bought? Such a question, given the importance of surveys or political opinion polls in our electoral processes, needs to be brought out in open discussion and maybe later for serious consideration for the government to regulate or at least ensure the total integrity of a mechanism that apparently can dictate a country’s future.

People power

There is hope in the Filipino. I say this to myself, having witnessed the genuine show of support of many, when I attended the birthday rally of Vice President Leni Robredo last Saturday. It is selfless giving and positive volunteerism that I have not seen in my lifetime.

Provincial buses and Metro Manila

There’s a fairly heated discussion in the public transport sector about a proposal to re-allow provincial buses to enter Metro Manila. With the pandemic almost over, provincial commute has returned close to its pre-Covid situation, with much of the provincial routes resuming and a 100 percent passenger capacity now allowed. There is, however, one stark difference—there is now a need for the these buses to utilize the government mandated provincial terminals at both ends of Metro Manila, namely the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange for the South/Southwest corridor and the North Luzon Express Terminal for the North corridor.

Global dependence on fossil fuel needs to stop

The Ukrainian crisis has only highlighted the global dependence on fossil fuel. With Russia controlling close to 20 percent of the world’s oil supply plus the apparent lukewarm response of the other oil-producing nations to stabilize the market, global price of oil has skyrocketed and is affecting all economies. Immediately following suit are the increases in logistics and transport costs, as well as in prime commodities and services, which will then have a tremendous impact on the purchasing power of the individual. Bracing for the worse is a given. And while we need to address this situation head on, we also need to fast track our timelines in drastically reducing such global vulnerability and our shift to renewable energy and low carbon initiatives. Otherwise, similar occurrence of the Ukrainian crisis will happen again and again. Global fossil fuel addiction must stop and it should involve collective policy actions from governments but with us individuals as well.

Creating cycling cities

Because of the pandemic, the so-called 15-minute city model that is trending in many urban centers globally has become more relevant. This model revolves around the idea that communities are set up in such a way that residents have all the goods and services that they need—groceries, schools, church, clinics, park, etc.—within 15 minutes of walking and cycling. Traffic congestion and pollution are lessened, while the quality of life improves. Pandemic lockdowns made the need to have all our necessities within reach plausible. Cities needed to be independently resilient in order to survive.

The search for our next captain, revisited

IT was around this time last year that I wrote about our country’s search for the next president, likening the Philippines to a ship on a perilous journey. What are the necessary traits of a good captain or a president that would assure us of not just a chance of survival but a better future for our children and us?

Dissecting the no-vax, no-ride policy

Covid is real. And there is nothing mild with having mild symptoms, regardless of what we have heard is a plus factor once vaccinated. I tested positive for Covid and I say it is not a pleasant experience. My takeaway: take the vaccine, yes, but continue religiously practicing the pandemic mantra—especially the wearing of masks and social distancing. If you need to meet others face to face, then do so, but try to do it al fresco with much caution. We are still in a pandemic and we should not let our guard down.

Fixing conflict in government

Two transport-related items caught my attention last week that would show how government functions in the real, and not ideal, world. Both of these items, one local and one overseas (though this will surely land on our shores), emanate from government policies that capture intertwined interests from two separate government agencies and how, in the end, they could be resolved.

Dissecting the no-vax, no-ride policy

Covid is real. And there is nothing mild with having mild symptoms, regardless of what we have heard is a plus factor once vaccinated. I tested positive for Covid and I say it is not a pleasant experience. My takeaway: take the vaccine, yes, but continue religiously practicing the pandemic mantra—especially the wearing of masks and social distancing. If you need to meet others face to face, then do so, but try to do it al fresco with much caution. We are still in a pandemic and we should not let our guard down.

Omicron: Back to the Covid drill

The global spread of the Omicron variant is real, and it has already reached our shores. Though our number of daily Covid infections, be it Delta or Omicron, are way below the 100,000 plus daily upticks in other countries, we still need to be very conscious and cautious, lest we find ourselves in that predicament.

Toll interoperability and other tollway musings

I just got back from a trip up north. And what could have been a smooth and amazing Christmas journey given the infrastructural marvel of the highways that used to take several hours to traverse and now whittled down to a few, was unfortunately hampered by the long lines at the toll gates. It’s unfortunate that our tollways, despite the roads being interconnected now, remain to be inefficiently not interoperable.

Provincial buses and spending Christmas on our streets

Christmas as we know it is definitely here this year. With our Covid numbers down and restrictions relaxed, we are experiencing the holidays the way we used to: Parties, reunions, and last-minute shopping all add up to the excitement and the rush, as well as to the traffic congestion that we now see on our roads that some are saying are now back to pre-pandemic numbers. I would say that we are still far from that level, but it is good to be aware of it at this point.

Statements on transport by our presidentiables 

What are the transport policies of our presidential candidates? Or, what statement or acts have they made that would reveal their transport agenda? Given how vital transport is to our country’s overall development, such a question should be on our list of considerations in discerning who among our candidates should get our vote.

The great transport divide in our land

There exists in our country a great divide in transportation that is of course very much reflective of the gap between the rich and the poor in our society. It is there, regardless of the many roads and bridges built, the rails expanded and airports modernized. Such gap needs to be pointed out for our policy-makers to begin doing steps to close it. So far, the gap is getting wider, and it may tear our society apart unless the government does something real and immediate to solve it.

Thinking twice about the number coding scheme

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority recently announced that it is considering again imposing the number coding system as a way to address the sudden congestion of vehicles that has hit close to pre-pandemic numbers. As noted by the MMDA, the flow of traffic on Edsa has slowed to 19 km/hr from its pandemic pace of 23 km/hr. The number coding scheme would be the logical go-to solution as it was in the past. But given that we already have tasted how life on Edsa is without such a volume reduction measure, as well as with public transport still not in full gear, maybe we can still push the envelope further without going back to the number coding scheme. It won’t hurt to try given that there are still some work that can be done to improve traffic along Edsa.

Reviving the MMDA Worker’s Inn

Metro Manila is home to close to 15 million residents, which balloons to close to 20 million during the day with the influx of transient workers, students and employees from nearby communities of Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna. This adds unnecessary stress to what is already one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world, increasing traffic congestion beyond its present road capacity. Meanwhile, our transient brothers and sisters see their quality of life suffer as they shuttle back and forth, spending an average of three to four hours on the road. Those who can afford would rather buy or rent an apartment or condo; precisely why rental or purchase costs of condos and apartments have remained to be exceptionally high despite the pandemic. But for the working class, which comprise a greater majority of our population, they practically have no choice but to toil the beaten commuting path daily.

From weekend cycling to bicycle commuting

Without a doubt, the number of Metro Manilans cycling their way on our city streets have increased tremendously in recent times with 3-5 thousand cyclists recorded daily on Edsa alone. Bicycle sales dramatically increased with close to 2 million bicycles sold this year. Whether as a form of transport due to fear of virus infection, a means of staying healthy, or as a personal way of beating that lockdown feeling, cycling has become one of the rare good news in this pandemic with its key benefit, the lowering of harmful carbon emissions that take their toll on public health. And for all intents and purposes, we need to make sure that this newfound collective good habit that we now have will stay permanent.

The ‘rewilding’ of Metro Manila

Arroceros Park, home to more than 3,000 trees of diverse variety, is said to be the green lung of the City of Manila; and, together with the La Mesa Watershed in neighboring Quezon City, represents the last remaining true forested area in the National Capital Region. It does not have to be. There are many pocket open spaces across the metropolis that can be converted, not just to green manicured parks but more of forested areas where concrete jungles are converted to real jungles and where biodiversity is allowed to grow in its natural state.

The 2022 elections and the road transport sector

Recently, a group of transport leaders—friends of mine—came out strongly to endorse a presidential candidate, calling him the most suitable candidate to represent the interests of the road transport sector. Not that it should matter, as that is their opinion. We have just started our political fiesta, where all sectors of society are either wooed or are already out there campaigning for their chosen candidates, especially the presidentiables. Even candidates for local positions have it in their playbook to court the local tricycle communities or TODAs into their fold. This just goes to show how road public transport is very much integral in our lives and therefore a necessary sector to be enticed by the candidates come election time.

Still on the Pasig River Expressway

Just to be clear, my views on this project is independent of any outside influence. No one has approached me, nor am I on the employ to defend this. I am just speaking my mind. For those who know me, I have always pushed for sustainable transport. I believe in moving people not cars. When I was in government, I pushed for sustainable mass transport leading me to my stint with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as their low carbon transport advisor. Why do I need to say this? Because I believe the Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) project can work towards sustainable mobility and I see that those opposing the project, most of whom are my friends and allies in many noteworthy environmental transport-related causes, might be barking up the wrong tree.

My two cents take on the PAREX Project

Currently hogging the headlines is the brewing opposition to the Pasig River Expressway Project, which intends to provide a better access of the long neglected east-west corridor of Metro Manila and Rizal. On one side of the table is the proponent, the San Miguel conglomerate, which has lately been undertaking milestone projects to include Metro Rail Transit 7, Tarlac–Pangasinan–La Union Expressway (TPLEX), Star Toll and the soon to take shape Bulacan International Airport. On the other side of the table are several environmental and transport mobility groups that have bonded together to oppose this project. Their concern basically covers two points: Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) will environmentally damage the already almost lifeless Pasig River and that the project will not really solve the lack of road corridors that it intends to address and will in fact exacerbate the situation.

Why we continue to see rising pandemic numbers

WE are now close to two years in this pandemic and seeing how our situation has developed, it seems we have not learned to live fully with the virus. There were adjustments of course—wearing of masks, social distancing and washing of hands became our mantra. Our shift to everything online—to work, study, shop, etc.—is now part of our way of life. Then there is that longest ever imposition of lockdowns, with levels that are, I am sure, as confusing to most of us. But apparently all of these are still not enough for us to prevent the spread of the virus. In fact, the numbers are growing, though we have the Delta variant to blame for the increasing surge of infections. The truth is, we are also at fault for the high cases that we have. Yes, we are fully aware of the dangers of Covid; we know what to do, but the way we live our lives in the pandemic remains to be halfhearted as far as bringing down those numbers is concerned.

A hundred cities more!

I came across an article about the need for more cities in the Philippines, approximately a hundred cities more if we are to avoid the mess in urban planning that we now see happening in Metro Manila. This statement by the renowned architect, Manong Jun Palafox, is indeed true and should be taken to heart by our policy makers as well as those with money that are heavily invested in real estate. Manong Jun even alludes that the present infrastructure craze of this government will not serve its purpose if all roads will remain leading to Metro Manila.

Delivery riders–Our lifeline to normalcy

A common sight in our streets nowadays is the proliferation of delivery riders that very well could describe the kind of closeted world we now live in. With Covid-19 now on its second wind, these delivery riders bring to our homes the needed connection to the outside world, from our favorite dish from the restaurant we used to dine in, to items we bought from the many online stores currently operating. And thanks as well to this development, the delivery business has provided valuable employment to quite a lot of Filipinos in these hard times when most of their old jobs are gone or on hold. Yet the delivery business is in its infancy stage, with much of its foundation still being formed.

Townships and transport

A recent trend in the global real estate industry is the building of so-called townships, where mixed-use development becomes the focus as well as its attraction to potential investors and occupants. In such a concept, public or private developers offer a self-sustained community or a “15-minute city” where one can live, work and shop for their needs and wants. In some cases, such mixed-use projects incorporate schools, hospitals and even churches. In these pandemic times, where isolations and lockdowns force us to be reliant on our immediate environment, such a concept makes perfect sense.

Why not a National Traffic Authority?

We all know, worry, complain and argue about how our traffic affairs are being managed in Metro Manila; maybe sometimes to the extent of being overmanaged with the various agencies that are involved, including national agencies and their local government counterparts.

Metro Manila floods and what we can do

Several days of continuous downpour has left most of Metro Manila flooded, with thousands of residents finding themselves in evacuation centers amid this pandemic. And it seems that this has become the norm every time we hit the monsoon season, especially with the recognized effects of climate change upon us, which is now more pronounced than ever. We are one of the countries that are most vulnerable to natural disasters. Preparedness, therefore, is a must, more so for us in Metro Manila.

The Parex project: Oppositions and the need to seek common ground

Currently confronting the planned Pasig River Expressway  project of San Miguel Corp. is the opposition by various groups, among which are the “Move as One Coalition,” a transport and people mobility group, and the Renacimiento Manila (Rebirth Manila), a group pushing for preserving the historic sites such as the old bridges that will be affected because of the Parex project. For these and other groups as well, Parex will not in the long term be beneficial to Metro Manila and will not work along its planned traffic mitigation objective.

Road transport groups as one voice in 2022

Among the key issues that propelled then candidate Duterte to his presidency five years ago were transport problems that plagued the country at that time—the worsening traffic congestion and lack of transport, the metro rails that were breaking down constantly, the shortage of vehicle license plates, and the “laglag bala” incidents at the airports; all of which the Duterte administration committed to resolve. To be fair, all of these were indeed attended to successfully by this administration, adding to a long list of their other achievements in the field of transport: The many airports and seaports built, the many kilometers of rail lines added, the transport modernization program, among others.

Pasig River: A gauge of who we are

The DENR last week disputed a report by Oxford University’s Our World Data, which estimated that the Philippines accounts for an appalling 26 percent of all ocean plastic refuse coming from rivers worldwide, with 6 percent purportedly being contributed by the Pasig River. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, of course, acknowledges that plastic pollution is still a serious problem insofar as the Pasig River is concerned, but such condition had gotten better in recent years, with the national government, local government units and civic organizations pitching in to help. Whether the report is accurate or not, we still have a long way to go in reviving the beauty and life of our dear Pasig River. The good news is, it can be done and it will be done. All that is needed is the consciousness, cooperation and the will of everyone to see this through.

Bike lanes work!

Yesterday morning, I tried first-hand the bike lanes that have sprouted since the pandemic. From Bonifacio Global City, I took Edsa and biked all the way to SM North where I turned right on North Avenue towards Quezon Circle and to UP, then to Ateneo on my way back to BGC. My verdict—the bike lanes work!!

MMDA’s early move to decongest traffic

IT is heartening to find out that the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority is intent on finding ways and means to decongest traffic even as we are still in the midst of pandemic-induced traffic conditions resulting in a lessened number of vehicles on the road. This forward-looking direction had been mentioned by no less than MMDA Chairman Benhur Abalos who noted the increase of motor vehicles on the road as nearing that of pre-pandemic numbers; as well as his pronouncement to adopt several measures soon to decongest traffic.

Street Talk, 2022

AS 2022 draws near, we will again have a cacophony of voices promising us a better tomorrow. We cannot blame these candidates, as their promises of doing good once elected have always been the hallmark of our elections. Whether they fulfill these promises or not once elected is another matter. We can try to be different this time around. Why don’t we, for once, tell these candidates what we expect of them once elected, and give them a sort of our wish list? It can be general in nature or sectoral. For our purpose, let’s talk about transport. Admittedly, the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build program has accomplished much improvement; its infra accomplishment is definitely unprecedented. With this to begin with, let’s “build” on that, literally. What then is our wish list for our next president and legislators to consider in further addressing our transport concerns?

Private car ownership and climate change

IN just a matter of one month, we had temperatures rising to the high 40s to 50s, which was never heard before, and then we experienced heavier rains than usual at the start of the rainy season. Our energy policy-makers even blamed the rising temperatures for the power outages, allegedly because of so many air conditioners running on full capacity. Whether this is true or not, it just goes to show that global warming is real and we are now experiencing its adverse effects. We need to do something about it immediately and not just plan for the long term.

Waterfront challenges

Last week, I began discussing about the many challenges that logistics firms in the Philippines continue to face, such as the truck ban, number coding, the various and redundant national and local government permits that need to be secured and the so-called checkpoints, legal or illegal, by the many enforcers on the road. This week, I will dwell a little more on what logistics companies face at the waterfront, where containers of goods are either picked up or delivered. Together with the discussions we had last week, this all adds up to making the cost of the delivery of goods in the country more expensive—the highest in the Southeast Asian region.

Making deliveries better

The long line of trucks coming from Sourth Luzon expressway all the way to the endpoint of North Luzon expressway has become a regular scene along C-5 road. This line represents the active commerce  we have despite these difficult times, for which we should all be thankful. These trucks carry supplies, raw materials, agri-products, or just about any item that needs to be delivered. But the long line of trucks, moving slowly, also gives us an insight of  the difficult state of the cargo and logistics  sector in our country.

When the private sector moves for sustainable dev’t

Aside from writing this weekly column, I am also currently an advisor for an international organization on low carbon transport. And part of the work that we do, in partnership with the Philippine government, is to push for sustainable mobility or a mobility that is efficient, equitable, and more importantly, less harmful to our environment; definitely an issue that has become more pronounced in these pandemic times. Suffice to say that the needed legislation to institutionalize clean and green transport is moving, including the standardization of electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem. But it is a slow process, notwithstanding the pandemic, with the House version still  consolidating related proposed bills and the Senate version having just passed the committee level. This is understandable, as low carbon transport will need to overhaul a  global transport model that has been ingrained in our economies.

The 15-minute city model revisited

I had written earlier about the 15-minute city model and how we, especially in Metro Manila, will need to look at this given the pandemic we are now in. For those who did not get to read my previous article, the 15-minute city simply refers to re-designing quickly our cities into pockets of self-sustaining communities wherein mostly everything you will need—your grocery, school, the open space and parks, and hopefully your employment—is within 15 minutes of either walking or biking from your residence. This ensures not just lesser congestion and pollution, but as I have mentioned in my previous article, will lead to a better level of survivability during lockdowns, which, from the looks of it, we will see again in the future.

Time to take care of ourselves

One glaring revelation in this pandemic was our country’s overdependence on many things foreign. Foremost are the jobs of millions of our countrymen that help keep the Philippine economy afloat. Millions of them work overseas, or work at night at the call centers answering customer queries from abroad. Equally worrisome is our dependence on foreign goods to feed the demands of more than 100 million Filipinos. At a time when countries worldwide are prioritizing the need of their citizens by regulating the flow of their exports or worse totally closing their borders, plus the restrictive logistical barriers brought about by the pandemic, the Philippines still relies heavily on imports. And we are not just talking about our oil importation but other essential items such as food and medicine. If we are to move with a better chance of surviving in this new normal times, then we need to work on our self-reliance—and the sooner we do this, the better.

The gentrification of our countryside

There is now a silent but steady move of Filipino urbanites, especially those residing in Metro Manila, to the provinces. We can see this happening now, especially in the outlying areas of Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Batangas, as well as in the provinces of Pampanga and Tarlac. What used to be weekend retreats or planned retirement homes are now being occupied for the long haul. Many almost empty rural nests of grandparents are now filled with the families of their children on extended visits. We know that this can be attributed to our urbanites fearing the exponential increase of Covid cases that has hit our nation’s capital this past month. But this rural migration or gentrification needs to be carefully studied by our government policy-makers. It offers a unique opportunity to resolve many of our urban-related concerns that has plagued us before and will re-appear again once we cross over to the new normal times.

‘Lugaw’ and deliveries dissected

Going viral last week was the “lugaw” incident at a barangay checkpoint where one lady tanod official lectured a hapless food deliveryman on what are considered “essential” food items. The incident became the talk of the town, meriting even the attention of Malacañang, in virtual unison on how this pinoy porridge is very much an essential comfort food for us Filipinos. The incident, however, should also lead our attention to the plight of our delivery service men that has now become a part of our daily lives in the Covid world we are in.

The gentrification of our countryside

There is now a silent but steady move of Filipino urbanites, especially those residing in Metro Manila, to the provinces. We can see this happening now, especially in the outlying areas of Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Batangas, as well as in the provinces of Pampanga and Tarlac. What used to be weekend retreats or planned retirement homes are now being occupied for the long haul. Many almost empty rural nests of grandparents are now filled with the families of their children on extended visits. We know that this can be attributed to our urbanites fearing the exponential increase of Covid cases that has hit our nation’s capital this past month. But this rural migration or gentrification needs to be carefully studied by our government policy-makers. It offers a unique opportunity to resolve many of our urban-related concerns that has plagued us before and will re-appear again once we cross over to the new normal times.

‘Lugaw’ and deliveries dissected

Going viral last week was the “lugaw” incident at a barangay checkpoint where one lady tanod official lectured a hapless food deliveryman on what are considered “essential” food items. The incident became the talk of the town, meriting even the attention of Malacañang, in virtual unison on how this pinoy porridge is very much an essential comfort food for us Filipinos. The incident, however, should also lead our attention to the plight of our delivery service men that has now become a part of our daily lives in the Covid world we are in.

Back to where we started, but still in the game

Today is the first day in Metro Manila and nearby areas that are placed back on hard lockdown or enhanced community quarantine. If this was a road trip, we are practically back to where we started, with all the time and effort of the past year all gone for naught. It is tiresome and frustrating and, even worse, heartbreaking as we see the virus hitting closer to home with people we personally know falling ill or losing in this battle. And humans as we are, we cannot be blamed for doing the blame game. Blame the government; blame the institutions; blame ourselves and everyone else who relaxed and thought we had our lives back in our control. Let that sink in, but not for long. Let us move forward and be thankful to have reached this far. Let us also bring back that needed cautiousness and fear and learn from our mistakes. We may be back to square one, so to speak, but we are still in the game. Let us make sure we stay the course and win this time around.

Leadership and learning

ON to my leadership series as part of our continuous re-awakening moving into the 2022 elections. Today we are going to talk about leadership and learning. In a speech that was never delivered on that fateful day in 1963, US President John F. Kennedy was to say that “leadership and learning are indispensable from each other.” There was an initial disconnect on my part when I first heard about this during my fellowship program at the Harvard Kennedy School, primarily because one of the principal traits we look for in a leader is his/her supposed expertise and air of authority in all concerns that affect us as his/her constituency.

Remembering a year of Covid-19

I first wrote about Covid-19 on January 26, 2020, approximately two months before the WHO declaration of a global pandemic and our government’s imposition of a national lockdown. It has been more than a year since. I am reprinting my article to remember that initial fear of uncertainty and remind ourselves to be vigilant given the current rise of infections and with vaccination still a dream away for most of us. With your indulgence, here’s what I wrote on January 26, 2020:

Evaluating our elected officials

Aside from my usual discourse on our urban and traffic woes, I will begin a series of articles on leadership, which I feel is very relevant at this crucial time in our history. I previously wrote about the search for our next president, the next “captain of our ship” and the national leadership traits we need. Today, I will discuss about choosing our other leaders.

Road safety is the LTO’s reason for being

Drowned out in all of the noise that erupted against the motor vehicle inspection program of the Land Transportation Office is the fact that the LTO primarily exists to take care of our road safety. Think about it—all the core activities of the agency, be it the registration of vehicles, issuance of driver’s licenses, the enforcement of  traffic rules and regulations, the rest of its regulatory functions are at their very core geared toward ensuring the safety of the public and upholding the needed accountability to ensure such safety. And assuring the roadworthiness of vehicles is in line with this mandate. To let go of roadworthiness will be to let go of road safety. LTO will then be nothing more than a moribund agency if it cannot guarantee the roadworthiness of vehicles on our roads.

Philippines in 2022: Searching for the next captain of our ship

Approximately one year from now, the campaign to seek the next president of the Philippines will commence. It will be very different from past political exercises. Whoever is chosen, the next president will have a tougher job than before. We are entering probably the most difficult phase in our country—the worst contraction of our economy since World War 2; growing national debt; poverty levels and unemployment rate unprecedented with waning prospects of traditional overseas and local employment strongholds; the resulting probability of a rise in criminal activities; looming food shortages; a weakened purchasing capacity and regional geopolitical boundaries aggressively being challenged, among others.

What is wrong with the Motor Vehicle Inspection System?

There is nothing wrong with the Motor Vehicle Inspection System or the MVIS. Technically and legally, or MVIS that is now being implemented by the Land Transportation Office has the needed legal and technical basis for it to be made mandatory for all motor vehicle registrations. And yet, a month after its awaited implementation, all sorts of complaints and opposition coming from various sectors have unified into one voice that has reached the chambers of Congress, begging for its suspension, if not a review. What gives?

Driving growth and enriching human experience

Human history is all about travel, exploration and discovery, leading to much growth and the deepening of our collective and individual human experience. From Roman times when an organized network of roads propelled not just trade and commerce but the exchange of ideas, to this age of motorized vehicles, the level of condition and extent of roadways is directly connected to the growth of any city or country.

The Ram and the Tiger

The Ram and the Tiger. Two creatures of strength—signifying resolve and fortitude in the face of challenges and the unknown. They also symbolize two personas—Danny Lim, the beloved “Supremo” of RAM or the Reform the Armed Forces Movement; and Benhur Abalos, the mayor behind the making of Mandaluyong as the Tiger City. Both are the main characters at the helm of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which recently went through an unexpected change in leadership just as this pivotal year of 2021 was unfolding. Both characters coming in and transitioning at the most crucial time. With Metro Manila at the throes of survival in this pandemic, they both provide the needed direction in the road to recovery.

The MVIS program: Assurance of roadworthiness

This year will mark the re-implementation of the Motor Vehicle Inspection System or MVIS program of the Land Transportation Office. The MVIS program will require all motorized vehicles to undergo and pass a series of tests as a requirement for registration. For anyone who has seen the conditions of our vehicles, it is undeniable that this program is long overdue and is greatly expected to provide safer and more efficient transport on our roads.

Low hanging transport and traffic fruits in 2021

New Year would always have 12 kinds of fruits—the round varieties—on dining tables to signify thanksgiving for the past and the wish for prosperity in the future. To start off this year in our local world of transport and travel, allow me to suggest having fruits of another kind—low hanging fruits that can be executed immediately, without much cost and fanfare but can have great impact on the road to the relief of  motorists and commuters.

Public service, public convenience

Thomas M Orbos

Recent news headlines were about local transport problems that arose because of policies that were primarily put in place to make things better for the public but instead made things worse—at least in the initial phase. One of these was the move to push for cashless transactions at the expressways, and another, though less pronounced, was the closure of Edsa U-turn slots. These policies, on paper, were well meaning and met with initial public acceptance. In the case of the cashless payments at the tollways, people knew it was for their safety and convenience, while the need to close the Edsa U-turns was for a better flow of traffic for the high passenger capacity buses of the Edsa carousel. However, the outcome was the opposite, eliciting much complaints from the public. This prompted the implementors to rethink their programs.

Rethinking public spaces in Metro Manila

Thomas M Orbos

One realization that has emerged in this pandemic was the importance of public spaces in Metro Manila, such as parks, town centers, libraries and playgrounds. With most of us caught in extended community lockdowns, public spaces became the place that gave us that needed breathing space and the respite from being locked in our homes. It was our venue for that limited human interaction, albeit with social distancing, that we never knew we sorely needed before.

The Edsa Skywalk

Thomas M Orbos

EDSA remains to be the transport and traffic barometer in the country for the simple reason that it is the most congested local roadway, even in these pandemic times. Hence, government interventions such as the number coding, the truck ban, as well as the recent Edsa bus carousel were intended to have vehicles and commuters move faster in this roadway. But one area that is wanting for improvement in this all-important corridor is the plight of pedestrians. Metro Manila Development Authority estimates more than 2 million pedestrians crisscrossing and traversing Edsa daily.

A tree for every vehicle program, and urban reforestation

Thomas M Orbos

Recently, the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board issued Memorandum Circular 2020-06, requiring all public transport operator-applicants to engage in tree planting in order for them to be granted their franchise. This is welcome news considering the environmental damage due to the carbon emissions from fossil fuel fed vehicles. Based on the directive, franchise applicants need to plant one tree for every public transport franchise applied for. Following their lead, I have some further suggestions.

The 15-minute city model coming soon to cities near you

Thomas M Orbos

I was invited last week to speak before a forum on the state of transport and mobility in these times. Rather than discuss relevant transport models or required travel protocols, I thought it best to share a mobility mindset that I believe is most suitable in this pandemic and thereafter. This is the “15-minute city” model, which, in its simplest form, is securing most of what you need within 15 minutes of walking or biking from your residence. This means the school your kids go to, the market for your essentials, the hospital or place of recreation, and yes, hopefully, your employment, would be just 15 minutes from your home. This is more than just about mobility. This is a paradigm shift in the way we live in our cities.

How a Biden presidency will impact Philippine transport

Thomas M Orbos

America has a new president with former VP Joe Biden securing the necessary 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.  And America being what it is to the rest of the world, the leadership change will affect the whole world. More so in the Philippines, as we are historically, politically, culturally and economically connected to the United States. A Biden presidency will have an impact on many aspects of our lives. Even in our climate change, transport and mobility policies. How so?

The ‘almost’ walking dead

Thomas M Orbos

Walking is the most basic form of mobility. It is the first and last mile that we take toward any destination. Walking is free and good for our health as well as for our environment. It then should follow that any mobility plan should prioritize walking. Unfortunately, that is not the case. How our laws are intended, how our cities are set up, and how the general psyche of our populace is conditioned—walking is undoubtedly a dangerous activity. We might as well be walking dead when we go out and exercise this basic right in the street jungles of Metro Manila.

Enjoying the sound of silence in the city

Thomas M Orbos

In the early days of the pandemic lockdown, when authorities had everyone confined in their homes, a unique thing pleasantly happened in Metro Manila. In that period of time, we rediscovered the sound of nature in our city with the birds singing in the early mornings and the crickets chirping in the evening, as if reminding us of our Angelus obligations to our Almighty. Previously drowned out because of the traffic noise, these sounds are Mother Nature’s way of talking to us. We heard the silence, and we listened.

Sleeping with the enemy

Thomas M Orbos

What happened last week? In one fell swoop, the government relaxed a series of mobility restrictions. The move was seen pushing the economy along a long road to recovery. On the other hand, naysayers are worried that such a move might result in worsening the already precarious number of infections, especially in the metropolis. Although our numbers are going down, the country is still posting high infection rates. This can worsen anytime, negating whatever gains made in the past months.   Indeed, the balancing act of saving the economy against saving lives is a difficult one. The question is, do we honestly have a choice? If this is the bitter pill we need to swallow, we do what we need to do. But we should not come out worse than where we are right now.

Batang Frisco

Thomas M Orbos

I am a bona fide “Batang Frisco.” I spent my childhood years in San Francisco Del Monte. I remember the tricycle rides to the Frisco market. I can still see the memories of a clean Del Monte River, the rice fields nearby and that old cigar factory in Roosevelt. Most of all, I cherish the memories of those Sunday family masses at the San Pedro Bautista parish, followed by a quick stop at that old bakery in Del Monte Avenue. San Francisco Del Monte or “SFDM” is forever carved in my memories as well as in the history of Quezon City.

Issues on terminals and cashless transactions

Thomas M Orbos

AS Metro Manila is set to enter the “new normal,” with hopes of being placed soon under a modified general community quarantine status, two significant news involving bus transportation came out last week. One was the resumption of provincial bus transport operations to and from Metro Manila. The second pertains to the implementation of automated fare collection system for the Edsa Bus carousel. These two events highlight the government’s efforts to operate under the new normal with emphasis on providing Covid-safe transport while recognizing the need for convenience of our commuters. There are, however, some concerns regarding their implementation. And they need to be noted and acted upon, even if such policies have already been implemented.

The Manila Bay sand trap

Thomas M Orbos

IN the game of golf, landing your golf ball on a sand trap is a most unfortunate event. It would test not only your skill but also your fortitude while all eyes are on you. Such is the case of the Manila Bay white sand project. Now, everyone is watching what is going to happen—whether it will get caught deeper into the sand trap or it will get out and prove its validity and viability to the total rehabilitation of the bay.

Smart nationally equals smart city

Thomas M Orbos

Unfortunate is the recent news on the ranking of Manila in the 2020 Global Smart City Index. Conducted yearly by the Institute for Management and Development, this year saw Manila slipping to 104 out of 110 countries worldwide and last when compared to our Asian neighbors. Though unfairly that it was Manila the city that was surveyed, it would be right to assume that this would also reflect how other Metro Manila cities would fare. I am sure this survey would cause concern for all city administrators in the metropolis, but it is not entirely their fault. Rather than acting in haste to address the need to improve their smart city conditions, it would be more prudent for all of us to take a step back and reflect on the situation.

An invitation for RSA to expand the PAREX dream

Thomas M Orbos

A welcome development is the recent pronouncement by San Miguel Corp. on their Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) project, which is now undergoing review by the national government. This project, estimated to cost P95 billion, intends to connect the western and eastern side of Metro Manila utilizing the banks of the Pasig River, via a six-lane elevated expressway. This will contribute immensely to traffic decongestion as well as spur economic development, especially in the eastern Metro Manila communities. Included in this project is San Miguel’s commitment to dredge the river—a gargantuan task that many past government administrations tried but failed to do. With San Miguel’s visionary leader, Mr. Ramon Ang or “RSA” at the helm, such a task is now believable and achievable. The impact of the project does not stop there. Now open for the taking are other potential projects associated with the Pasig River that only someone like RSA can initiate and realize.

A bubble that we don’t like to burst

Thomas M Orbos

WE have all heard about the so-called “bubbles” across the globe in this time of the pandemic. A “bubble” under current circumstances is loosely defined as a specific area that is supposed to be sheltered from the pandemic with the basic resources to last a good period of time, available for all occupants. A “bubble” may be as specific as the NBA bubble in Florida allowing the league to resume its games, or “bubble” countries such as New Zealand and Palau with their distance to the world serving as their natural barrier to the pandemic. “Bubbles” also exist in major urban areas, mostly in the suburbs, leading to a silent migration of city dwellers to the confines of the outlying areas of their cities. This phenomenon might very well dictate the design of future cities in the post pandemic world, and might be the way to ensure better future for our children and grandchildren in a much-damaged world they will be inheriting from us.

The jeepney’s road to perdition

Thomas M Orbos

Passing through Katipunan Avenue near the UP campus, one would see a number of jeepney drivers huddled together, waving their handmade signs asking for financial assistance from passing motorists. With their old jeepneys parked nearby, these men—like other groups of jeepney drivers all over Metro Manila—have been out of work since the lockdown started almost five months ago. They were forced to resort to begging for themselves and their families.

A year of  ‘street talking’ 

Thomas M Orbos

Today would mark my one-year of writing “Street Talk” in this paper, the BusinessMirror. My sincerest thanks to those who have made this happen, most especially to my good friend, Mr. Edward Cabangon, who also sends me my daily dose of spiritual reminders; our dear editor, Mr. Angel Calso, whom I bother every Sunday morning for my weekly article submission, and Ric Alegre, a former fellow civil servant who was the one that introduced me to the wonderful world of journalism.

Deliver us from Covid

Thomas M Orbos

A shared social-media post caught my attention, supposedly originating from a local TV personality who concluded that the only way he could have been infected with Covid-19 was through deliveries made to his residence. This is quite alarming and worrisome as most of us are staying home and heavily relying on deliveries to secure our essentials. The question then that we need to ask: Are our deliveries safe?

Fixing the road at this time

Thomas M Orbos

Despite the tragedy that is the Covid-19 pandemic, many nations around the world have taken advantage of this time to adopt policy changes in their transport sector; changes that are difficult to implement and achieve in normal times. Hence, we are seeing welcome initiatives in sustainable transport mainly focusing on achieving low carbon footprint and pedestrian/commuter prioritization. Bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, and green parks are taking over what was once the domain of motorized vehicles.

The State of the Nation’s Transport Address (SONTA)

Thomas M Orbos

Today will mark the fifth time that President Duterte delivers his State of the Nation Address, his penultimate Sona. Of particular interest is what he would say about the national state of our transportation. If this were a transport journey that our country took four years ago, it would be to our best interest to know where we are right now, what had been achieved and the plans for the remaining two years, notwithstanding the effect of the pandemic that caught all of us flat-footed.

The travelers that we are

Thomas M Orbos

Last week, I wrote about the significance of the number of ships that are currently anchored off Manila Bay and how the Philippines can become a maritime power hub in a post pandemic world. As I have mentioned, being the second-largest source of merchant marines that man the world’s fleet of ships can serve as a good reason for our “pivot” to make the Philippines a marine transport hub this side of the globe. Hence, it would do well if our government provides the infrastructural as well as institutional support to make this happen. This week, I would like to pay tribute to that indomitable spirit of the Filipino; the same spirit that makes us leave the comfort of our motherland to find better opportunities for ourselves and our families and endure the hardships that go along with it.

The Philippines as a maritime power hub

Thomas M Orbos

Off the waters of Manila Bay are now parked several of the biggest cruise ships that ply the various oceans of the world. These ships, including the notorious ones barred from other ports because of Covid-19 infections among its passengers and crew, have found refuge in the Philippines for the very simple reason that most of their crewmen and officers are Filipinos. And this pandemic revelation should not go to waste. Instead, it should lead our policy-makers to position the Philippines as one of the leading hubs of the global maritime industry; not just in terms of human resources but in other aspects, comparable to neighboring Singapore and the North Atlantic European countries.

When the pandemic is gone II

Thomas M Orbos

IN our column last week, we provided a probable picture of how life will be in the post pandemic world, particularly in Metro Manila. As we have mentioned, the picture will be a toss-up between the urban planner’s dream city of wide greenery with human-friendly infrastructure and the stark reality of seldom used or boarded up establishments. But life will go on and we in Metro Manila will find ways and means to cope up and survive.

When the pandemic is gone

Thomas M Orbos

IT has been more than a hundred days since the Luzon-wide lockdown was first implemented. Still, from all indications, this global tragedy is far from over. From the looks of it, life in Metro Manila as we live it right now will cross over to next year at the very least. It will do well then for us to get used to it and accept that our Metro Manila of tomorrow will be very much different from what we once knew.