EDITORIAL: What is happening in Coron is beyond reasonable

The Land Transportation Office suddenly launched a crackdown on colorum vehicles, apparently as an offshoot of President Duterte’s impulsive policy statement against unregistered vehicles following a passenger bus crash in Mindoro a month before, killing many of its passengers. The bus was a colorum bus.

Suddenly, the national transportation agency is all over the place gunning after colorum vehicles and for some reason they had to do it in Coron, an isolated town that is a major tourism hub of Palawan. The campaign has crippled the town’s transport sector, as practically all erstwhile public conveyances were affected, most specially the critical service between the airport located in Busuanga and Coron town.

Local officials have tried to resolve the problem with the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB), which prompted the LTFRB to announce it would open franchise lines in Palawan, which it hadn’t done in many years. Press reports however indicated that the agency will only grant new franchises to 2018 vehicles, which given the reality in Coron where public vehicles are not all necessarily brand new, does not address the critical transport problem.

Shooting from the hip is the typical approach of President Duterte whenever confronted by an important policy issue. This has been proven time and again with his declarations over a range of issues of national import — from foreign policy to the Sereno impeachment, and to Boracay and beyond. In many instances such as in the case of the Kuwait labor crisis after he suddenly declared a total withdrawal of Filipino workers there, his subalterns in the Cabinet had to scramble to minimize the impact of his outbursts, by offering benign context that at least kept other interpretations open for them.

In Boracay, the government had to design and implement a comprehensive intervention plan while appearing to get busy on the ground, caught unprepared by the unwavering direction for a total closure dictated by the President. Many of these interventions are facepalm-worthy including the deployment of riot police on the empty beaches and collecting by hand the green algae that are strewn on the shorelines, without realizing they will keep coming back until their root causes are addressed.

The exasperating part of the President’s style of governance is when his subalterns take his unfiltered outbursts and turn them into kneejerk initiatives either to ingratiate themselves to the Palace or out of fear they may be sacked for not doing their jobs in the first place. At least that was what happened to the head of the Bicol LTFRB after the bus tragedy.

The fact of the matter is in Coron, as in many parts of the country, the LTFRB is mainly to blame for the proliferation of the colorum vehicles. They had not opened franchise lines there in the first place.

The solution to many problems besetting Palawan needs to be comprehensively addressed not primarily by the national line agencies like LTFRB and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) but more importantly by its local stakeholders who can be less mindful of the president’s rant. Local and provincial officials need to step up to the plate and systematically address typical problems like Coron and El Nido and not allow the agencies to take the ball and run, and leave everyone in despair.

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