Aquino, Binay split on ‘wangwang’ ban

07/02/2010 - MANILA, Philippines — Pedestrians standing on Araneta Avenue and Aurora Boulevard in Quezon City erupted into a loud cheer when they saw the white Land Cruiser of the country’s most powerful man drive by without any siren, blinkers and unruly police escorts.

“That is how it should be. There should be no sirens,” one of them was heard saying in Filipino by media staff members trailing the convoy of President Benigno Aquino III on his first day of work in Malacañang.

In his inaugural address on Wednesday, Mr. Aquino expressed disgust over seeing private vehicles using sirens (“wangwang” in Filipino street lingo) and blinkers, as well as traffic counterflow, to get past ordinary motorists on the road. He promised that he himself would not use sirens.

At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the President left his house on Times Street with four, black sport utility vehicles and a clutch of police escorts on motorcycles.

From Quezon Avenue to Araneta Avenue, Magsaysay Boulevard and the J.P. Rizal gate of Malacañang, the convoy stopped on all red traffic lights and passed through all U-turns and left turns.

Mr. Aquino reached his office in 20 minutes at a comfortable cruising speed.

Binay disagrees

But Vice President Jejomar Binay is not impressed at all at the President’s inaugural order.

“Can you imagine a President stuck up in traffic for hours?” he told reporters during a thanksgiving dinner he hosted on Wednesday in Makati City.

Binay said that being the president, Mr. Aquino should enjoy the privilege of having sirens and escorts on his way to an urgent appointment.

He cited protocols in the United States saying that the moment the president’s convoy leaves the White House, all traffic lights along its route take turns going red to stop motorists.

“He is the President. We don’t want him to be always late,” Binay said.

But he clarified that he was not against the order. “I just want them not to totally ban sirens and qualify when it should be used by VIPs and public officials,” he said.

The ban, Binay said, must apply only to officials who wake up late and then use the sirens to squeeze their way out of the traffic. “Who are they? They are the ones to be disciplined,” he said.

‘Not a minor issue’

The issue is not as minor as it may seem, Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez said. The strict implementation of the rules on using sirens could very well lead to the stoppage of bigger displays of arrogance and abuse of power, he said.

Mr. Aquino’s call against “wangwang” and traffic counterflow “is probably the boldest part” of his inaugural speech, Golez told the Serye forum in Quezon City. “It is measurable. It addresses something that’s very visible and very audible. It’s something we witness every day.”

Golez said he was reminded of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who waged a war against graffiti. In going after those who defaced walls and building, Giuliani also helped stop crime because some of the people responsible for the graffiti were also involved in other transgressions, he said.

Some of those who use sirens illegally may also be from the underworld and could be drug lords or illegal gambling czars, he added.

PD 96

Law enforcers Thursday reminded the public that the ban has been in force since 1973 when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 96.

The decree prohibits the use of “any siren, bell, horn, whistle or other similar gadgets that produce exceptionally loud or startling sound, including dome lights, blinkers and other similar signaling or flashing devices” by vehicles other than that of the military, police, hospital ambulances, fire trucks, the National Bureau of Investigation and the then Land Transportation Commission, predecessor of the Land Transportation Office.

Offenders caught for the first time will result in immediate confiscation of the devices, while subsequent violations will be prosecuted before a military tribunal, which can impose a penalty of six months imprisonment, a P600 fine and revocation of the owner’s vehicle registration.

Unmarked government vehicles are also included in the ban, said Angelito Vergel de Dios, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) executive director. He said that his agency would be stepping up the drive against blaring sirens.

De Dios said the ban should have been implemented “a long time ago,” but the MMDA had difficulty stopping particular vehicles because drivers were not yielding to authority. The least its enforcers could do was to list the violator’s license plate and transmit it to the LTO so that the offense could be recorded and its owner fined prior to the renewal of its vehicle license.

Unusual order

Col. Ramon Mateo Dizon, chief of the Presidential Security Group, said that Mr. Aquino’s orders were unusual and difficult to enforce, especially when his main concern was security. “But we have no choice since that is what he wants. We will adjust,” he said.

Immediately after Mr. Aquino’s inaugural speech, the Philippine National Police (PNP) directed its officials to prohibit escorts of public officials from using sirens in their convoys.

Commenting on the PNP’s directive based on Aquino’s statement, Binay said: “I am telling you, they cannot implement it. How can you arrest an official who is on his way to a shooting incident? Everyone will be dead by such time that official arrives.”

Binay, who had served as Makati mayor for over 20 years, said Mr. Aquino should make an exemption to officials responding to emergency situations.

“I was a local official myself and I use sirens whenever somebody calls me up and tells me there’s a shooting incident or a fire or hostage-taking incident. I needed to be at the scene on time,” he said.

Impact on masses

In a press conference, Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the speech of the President on sirens and counterflow had really made an impact on the masses.

He said the President would not only be a stickler for the rule of law but would also be a “workaholic” and a “hands-on” manager. Mr. Aquino has already told his Cabinet members that they would meet only once a month and that he trusted them to run their departments properly, he said.

Although Mr. Aquino used to be a late riser, Lacierda said his boss has changed his daily routine after the campaign where he was forced to wake up early to cover as many provinces as he could in three months.

Waiting for Pangarap renovation

With his decision to stay at Times Street until the Bahay Pangarap renovation is finished, Lacierda said the President would have to wake up much earlier in order to beat the traffic going to Malacañang.

Lacierda said he had not yet been apprised on how Mr. Aquino intended to juggle his time between Malacañang and the office of the Department of the Interior and Local Government which he has decided to hold in an interim capacity. (Inquirer)

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