WHAT is Bayani Fernando trying to prove? That Filipinos are animals that need to be controlled, manipulated through cages, bullying cops and physical barriers?
At the rate he is erecting visually intrusive iron cages in every corner of the metropolis, we will wake up one day to find our cities destroyed and freedom of movement curbed liked chicken trapped in a wire.
When President Arroyo appointed Fernando chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) in 2001, many residents hoped he could replicate, albeit on limited basis, what he has achieved in Marikina. Until now, Marikina is tidy, orderly and well-managed, proving to the world that Filipinos could actually clean up their surroundings, provided they elect leaders with common sense and with the will to implement zoning ordinances, rules and regulations. It ranks among those well-governed places like Puerto Princesa and Naga, cities smart enough to elect innovative and effective leaders.
When Fernando started cleaning up sidewalks by removing physical barriers to human traffic we applauded him. Here was a guy who means business, who doesn’t care about being unpopular if only to bring comfort to pedestrians.
We supported him when he started going against those grimy, topless drunks drifting around, vexing passersby. And, even if it looked so much like a publicity stunt, companies supported him by donating deodorants in his efforts to rid the streets of sweaty, stinking sando-wearing jeepney drivers. Surely, we need cleanliness in the streets and the drivers’ armpits are the most strategic places to start if we have to bring Metro Manila into the 21st century.
In an urban setting people should respect their fellowmen by behaving accordingly. That’s the essence of urbanidad (urbanism), the catchphrase with which Fernando justifies his actions. In simpler terms, urbanism means people should be taught the sophistication needed to live in crowded urban areas. It means people should not litter, not urinate against the wall, use the traffic lights; pedestrians should cross only on pedestrian lanes, should not engage in long, loud karaoke sessions in the neighborhood, or let their dogs relieve themselves on sidewalks. Most important, drivers should follow traffic laws. In all this, public education would play a big role.
Under Fernando, we had higher expectations that—together with Manila’s mayors and barangay chairmen—he would embark on a serious campaign to promote this behavior among Metro Manilans. He had the support of well- meaning citizens and the corporate world to catalyze an Urban Revolution.
We knew he did not have the charm of a Juan Flavier when he was at the Department of Health, but at least we expected even a fraction of Flavier’s ability to get things done without bullying people. Who can argue that Filipinos are among the most hard-headed people, and our drivers are always held up as models of road barbarism? But Flavier proved that even a hard-headed populace, if educated and motivated enough, could be prodded to act for its own sake. Defying skepticism, he organized the world’s first multivaccine national immunization campaign, and achieved universal coverage for it, drawing praise from the UN no less. Flavier succeeded even with modest resources because he multiplied his charm—he got private firms and other state agencies to help; got the military and communist rebels to honor a nationwide cease-fire just to let health workers reach remote villages; and got mass media to give free services and air time.
Since Fernando was an organization man and seemed to have the right vision, people reposed hope in him as they did with Flavier. Instead, he embarked on inane projects that distracted people from their noble purpose: pink urinals, the wet blankets to force people into using the sidewalks, U-turn slots, and lately, the pink cages to herd weary commuters into buses. The pink urinals are ugly and stink, the wet blankets downright fascistic, and the cages visually intrusive and mean—all of them don’t achieve the desired results.
Citizens thought Fernando’s pink urinals were just temporary, to be replaced later by better comfort rooms, and complimented by a massive awareness program. It turned out later the pink urinals are the end-all and the be-all—institutionalizing an inappropriate behavior that should have no place in an urban context. If he wanted to eliminate pissing against the wall, all he had to do was look at Manila Mayor Lito Atienza who eliminated the pink urinals and installed clean comfort rooms in the right places in Manila.
Metro Manila is going against the trend of modern urban traffic management. Instead of computerizing the traffic system, and educating traffic enforcers and pedestrians, Fernando had a simple solution: the U-turn slot. Without consulting traffic planners, he erected them all over the metropolis, causing traffic chokepoints at strategic areas. Traffic engineers say that installing a U-turn slot creates more traffic-flow conflict and therefore prone to traffic accidents.
But the nastiest of them all are really the pink cages. You could see them quickly expanding all around Metro Manila now, especially in central places like Quezon Avenue and Edsa and Baclaran. Garish and ugly, these cages restrict a pedestrian’s movements, causing inconvenience among people at peak hours. A commuter who disembarks on Quezon Avenue—especially the MRT station—during rains will have to suffer long walks through the cages if only to get a ride. The junction at the corner of Edsa-Quezon Avenue itself, a public space, is now an ugly parking garage for taxis and jeepneys peddling their services to passengers who walk along the narrow, caged and crowded pathways.
Why do they need the cage? Because the U-turn slot at the intersection of Quezon Avenue and Edsa has become a chokepoint, so they’d rather control people if they can’t control the vehicles. So here is a case of one silly measure, a U-turn slot, being compounded by another silly one like the cage. We are not even talking here of aesthetics, which those pink cages have totally destroyed. Come to think of it, Binay’s Makati also has fences for traffic control, but they are nowhere near as repulsive as the pink chicken cages at Edsa. Beyond aesthetics and inconvenience, there’s also safety: not a few people complain that the “cages” make them easy prey for robbers, who can easily stick a knife into them in certain dark, narrow parts of the cages.
These cages signal a certain mean-spiritedness, or a complete insensitivity to those who can’t afford cars. Chairman Fernando seems to have a dim view of humanity; he looks at ordinary people as creatures who need to be controlled through physical barriers and violence at all times, when in truth there are ways by which he could get them to stop jaywalking, if that’s his purpose.