Ex-MMDA chief questions Poe for 'sitting on' emergency powers for Duterte

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 7) — Senatorial candidate and former Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chief Francis Tolentino took a swipe at Senate Public Services committee chair Grace Poe for supposedly "sitting on" the proposal to grant emergency powers to President Rodrigo Duterte to solve traffic in Metro Manila.

The administration Senate bet told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday that Poe must have misunderstood the proposal.

"Some persons equated emergency powers with bidding procedures, procurement, abuse of power. Baka mali lang 'yung intindi nila sa nomenclature [Maybe they misinterpreted the nomenclature.] It's not that," he said.

He added that Poe's committee only focused on infrastructure and technicalities but failed to gauge the opinion of stakeholders on the proposal to change office hours, among the things which he said could be done through Duterte's emergency powers.

But Tolentino said he is not taking it against Poe, saying that she must have just been advised by her lawyers about the proposal on emergency powers and was just doing her job.

The former MMDA chief said had Duterte been granted emergency powers, he would have been able to enact sweeping changes which could have eased traffic congestion.

He said these include overriding conflicting city ordinances and contracts of bus terminals along main thoroughfare EDSA, moving office hours and school hours at different times to lessen people on the road, fixing salaries for bus drivers, and relocating houses along the Philippine National Railway line.

But Poe's committee did not sit on the proposal. Her panel began hearings on the measure in August 2016 and submitted it for consideration in plenary just four months after.

The bill is currently pending on second reading in the Senate, while the House has passed its own version of the measure last December.

In previous press statements, Poe acknowledged that there is a need for "extraordinary powers" to solve traffic as present laws could not quickly and effectively provide solutions.

"Unfortunately, the bill should have passed already but is being hindered by extended debates. Though the President initially asked for emergency powers, he said later on that he does not need it. This sent mixed signals to members of the House and the Senate," Poe said in a February 2018 statement.

She earlier stressed the need for transparency in granting Duterte emergency powers.

In a speech on Tuesday, Duterte said he gave up on the proposal as some people were raising concerns about the possibility of corruption should he be granted emergency powers.

"Ayaw ko narinig ko sa kanya na, 'Alam mo malaking pera ito. Ibibigay namin pero I am afraid of corruption, baka nakawin ganun, ganun,' Eh 'di noong narinig ko sabi ko, 'Wag na lang.' Kung ganun lang naman ang duda ninyo sa akin, baka talaga akala ninyo magnanakaw ako, huwag na lang," he said.

[Translation: I don't want to hear from them, "You know, this is huge money. We will give it, but I am afraid of corruption, maybe it would be stolen, this and that.' When I heard that, I said, 'Nevermind.' If that is your doubt about me, maybe you really think I am a thief, nevermind.]

The Transportation department would still like for Duterte to get emergency powers, but will do their best to address traffic even without it.

"Kung ayaw ibigay, we will not go in desperation and raise our hands and say, 'No we cannot solve it.' Sa paraan na kaya at tugma, maski walang emergency power, gagawin po namin 'yung nararapat at nauukol, which is infrastructure, enforcement, discipline," Tugade told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon on Wednesday.

[Translation: If they do not want to give it, we will not go in desperation and raise our hands and say, 'No, we cannot solve it.' In whatever way that is feasible and appropriate, even without emergency powers, we will still do what is right and proper, which is infrastructure, enforcement, discipline.]

The measure seeks to grant emergency powers to the President as provided for in the Article VI, Section 23(2) of the Constitution which states that the Congress may, in cases of war or national emergency, authorize the President "to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy" for a limited period of time.

Tolentino is running under the administration party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino  Lakas ng Bayan and is endorsed by the administration-aligned Hugpong ng Pagbabago. Meanwhile, Poe is running for re-election as an independent bet, albeit having been endorsed by several groups.