Habal-habal … at the crossroads

Sometimes, we often get too engrossed with our own positions that we neglect to see the overall picture.  Worse, we forget the what or who really matters.  Oftentimes, I am guilty of this.  That’s why we need to stop for a while and reflect on some of those positions and ask ourselves if what we espouse, especially for us in government, is really for the common good. 

I have always been supportive of the inclusion of two-wheelers as a mode of public transportation, at least, in this day and age and level of our development.  A simple research on situation around the world will show we are not alone.  Some countries and cities have even legalized two-wheeled public transportation.  Many have not, but have tolerated their existence.  And the reason for the tolerance is government cannot provide an alternative.  In both developing and even the developed world. 

Are there safety issues with two-wheelers as public transportation?  Definitely.  Nothing that we cannot address.  But definitely, also, not that they don’t exist with the other modes.  These might be of different natures or different intensities but safety issues exist in all modes.  And it is incumbent upon government to address these all the modes.  And by address we mean decrease.  As much as possible. 

The issue is beyond safety, no matter how valid this might be.  The issue is on the provision of a service – and especially the kind of services on which the lives of people depend on.  And this so important that government literally has to turn a blind eye on the issue of habal-habal in the last 3 to 4 decades.  The reason is simple – there is no alternative that the government is able to provide.  There are 81 provinces, 38 municipalities, and 1,488 municipalities in the Philippines.  In all of these local government units, habal-habal operations exist, providing services especially to the poor, usually in plain view of government authorities.  In some towns, habal-habal terminals may be seen near town halls, markets and police stations.  Many government employees use habal-habals as part of their daily routine, or even in the actual performance of their jobs.  If we sum up the total number of trips in the country, a significant portion are on habal-habals, and majority for our poorer brothers and sisters.  If and when government suddenly pulls the plug on this crucial basic indigenous service, do we have a safety net to replace it with?

“If and when government suddenly pulls the plug on this crucial basic indigenous service, do we have a safety net to replace it with?”

Cebu City is just a typical example.  There are at least 7,000 habal-habal units at the latest estimates, operating in the city, majority of which serves remote and inaccessible areas in 73 of its 80 barangays.  25 barangays have no public transportation of any sort and there are 29 public schools in the mountain barangays where teachers and even students use habal-habal as their mode of transportation.  Do we want to deprive these people access to their livelihood?  Do we want public school teachers to walk their way to work or even stop teaching altogether?  The reason habal-habal persist is not that people like it so much but because there is really no other choice at all!  And we want to deprive them of the chance of living a life and working to make it a little better? 

Multiply the situation in Cebu City by 1,500 and you have the picture in the entire country.  Name one LGU where habal-habals do not exist.  They’re all over the place and they will continue to exist, clandestinely if forced.  That’s why I believe it is a better proposition to regulate them rather than persecute them.  They will simply disappear as they do in developed countries, once government can provide an alternative or when our development status progresses to a point where they are no longer relevant or needed. 

The issue of Angkas is a side issue but which distracts us from the real one, to a point that we might neglect the overall picture and forget the what or who really matters.  Angkas is an app, one among many others, which makes using habal-habal better.  It’s alone in the limelight because it’s the biggest one and the most visible.  Besides offering an “online” access which allows more direct services (you don’t go to a terminal, the motorcycles goes to you), it offers a variety of other services which addresses safety – for the driver and the passenger.  But it doesn’t operate vehicles nor even attempt to transport people.  It’s the same as Booking.com or Agoda or Trip Advisor which helps you book a hotel, but which do not even own or operate a single hotel.  So, when government runs after Angkas or the other online apps, in reality, the government is now attacking the habal-habal frontally, something which it refused or neglected to do in the last 30 odd years!  It does not matter whether it’s Angkas or not, or just a plain Habal-habal, when government forces apprehend a driver and confiscates his vehicle, they are depriving that driver of a means of living and depriving many more of their access to work or means to a better life.  Without an alternative to offer.  Years have passed where bill after bill were filed in Congress for the habal-habal to be properly regulated and allowed to serve the people but until now, not a single law was passed.  And in deference to the poor and those in most need, government had been patient and lenient in allowing these services.  Now the Supreme Court has spoken.  Congress has to go double time to enact the necessary regulations.  But I sincerely hope the entire government machinery remembers its 
responsibility – to serve its people.  The greatest good to the greater number.  While arguing which is correct and which is wrong.

Abraham Lincoln epitomized the reality of democracy – “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

Abraham Lincoln epitomized the reality of democracy – “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  I am fairly confident that our government is “of the people” and that it is “by the people.”  But I am still in deep introspection on whether it is “for the people.”  There will be literally millions of Filipinos out there who will be deprived on their only means of mobility once National Government starts cracking down on habal-habals, armed with a Supreme Court TRO, and in the absence a law in Congress.  I remain hopeful, however, that cooler heads and reason will prevail, that the common good remain supreme in our leaders’ mind.  Some might insist on the illegalities or illegalities of it all, but I hope we take note that the same were already there in the last 30 years.  Now is not the time to hurt our people.  Sometime modus vivendi is still a preferred option.        

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