Civilians caught in the crossfire

DISTURBING news worldwide is how civilians are caught in the crossfire, whether between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza, our Overseas Filipino Workers in Libya, Malaysian Airlines flight 17 over Ukraine or plain folk held hostage in the Zamboanga siege.

Being in the crossfire doesn’t necessarily mean getting caught between flying missiles and bullets. Here in Manila we dodge bullets between warring political and socio-economic factions everyday, and always we civilians suffer the most casualties.

Casualties of war: MRT commuters try to live as politicians wage their war.

Casualties of war: MRT commuters try to live as politicians wage their war.

Just look at the way the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has been handling itself, messing about with its adjunct agencies like the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). To date the vehicle registration and licensing system has had multiple bidding failures affecting the most basic transaction. New car plates were more than a year delayed and even now still gets released in trickles. Renewal stickers from last year are still missing.

Mass murdering bus operators are allowed to ply their routes, suspensions just lifted as if nothing happened.

In the light rail front, the LRT-MRT common station continues to be problematic, not because the project proponent has failed to deliver but because the DOTC has decided to arbitrarily pull out of a perfected contract to award it to another who the politicians favor.

Here’s the latest on that from the Inquirer:

The former head of the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) defended the stand of Henry Sy’s SM group to set up a railway common station at the SM City North Edsa, saying it offered the most convenient design for commuters and would not require any partial shutdown of the busy Metro Rail Transit Line 3.

The statements were the latest in an ongoing row between the SM group and the Transportation department, which decided this year to locate the common station for MRT-3 and Light Rail Transit Line 1 near the Ayala Group’s TriNoma shopping mall.

SM Prime Holdings sued the department last month for breach of their 2009 agreement.

Mel Robles, LRTA administrator during the term of President Macapagal-Arroyo and under whose watch the agreement with SM was signed, yesterday told reporters that a common station in front of SM City North Edsa was decided upon years ago given legal issues that arose over the TriNoma location.

“It’s still the best and most ideal,” Robles said, noting that the common station was designed to accommodate LRT-1, MRT-3 and eventually MRT-7 “side to side.”

The SM Group also paid the government a P200-million grant, which was meant to secure naming rights and also the location.

The Department of Transportation and Communications earlier said the amount only covered the right to name the station. It added that it would be more advantageous for commuters to have a station near TriNoma given its proximity to a Quezon City business district being developed by Ayala Land Inc. Robles, however, noted that the agreement with SM was a “firm” contract.

“It is expressly stated. It was clear that [the common station] would be there,” he said.

Robles noted that technical and operational issues over the new location had since been identified, including halting about half of MRT-3’s operations for about 45 days.

SM Investments Corp. vice chair Teresita Sy-Coson also said last week that she hoped the matter of the common station would be resolved given that changes to long-term infrastructure plans like this could spell uncertainty for the company.

SM Prime, meanwhile, was preparing for a long legal battle after the Pasay City Regional Trial Court turned down its request early this month for a temporary restraining order.

The situation was also complicated because the common station’s location was bundled into the auction for the P65-billion LRT-1 Cavite extension public-private partnership deal, likely to be won by the tandem of Ayala and Metro Pacific Investments Corp.

SM Prime said it would focus “on its main and more important case for specific performance, where it seeks to enforce its rights under the valid and legally binding MOA [memorandum of agreement],” an earlier statement showed.

Meanwhile, civilians suffer the long queues in the pouring rain and hot and humid sun just to get a decent ride to work.

What did PNoy say again? “You’re alive, aren’t you?”

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