Legarda: Free Our People from Oppression of Immobility, Outdated Thinking

June 12, 2020

“What we want now is nothing less than the liberation of the 88% of Metro Manila households who, because they do not have the fortune of owning cars, remain imprisoned by the lack of inclusive sustainable mobility options. And as long as we in government prioritize the minority, which is only 12% of households who own cars, how can we call ourselves free?” said House Deputy Speaker and Antique Congresswoman Loren Legarda.

Legarda made the statement during part two of the sustainable urban mobility episode of “Stories for a Better Normal: Pandemic and Climate Pathways,” streamed online on June 11, eve of the Philippine Independence Day.

“It is high time that we support a holistic approach in the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program by ensuring that it translates into building bicycle lanes and sidewalks, as well as promoting sustainability and green and blue economies. This is how we can honor the efforts of our ancestors to free our people today from the oppression of immobility and rigid, outdated thinking,” added Legarda.

Mr. Red Constantino, Executive Director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) and Legarda’s co-host for the episode, shared the study that 88% of households in Metro Manila and the rest of the Greater Manila Area do not own cars, while only the remaining 12% own at least one.

“The keyword is mobility. It’s not just about cars, not about cycling, not about mass transport. It’s moving people, not cars. It’s providing policy means, budget, and government support for the majority of the population or the 88% of people within Metro Manila —instead of the minority who actually have the means to move around in a protected way because they own cars,” said Constantino.

The episode’s resource speakers included Dutch Ambassador Saskia De Lang; Mr. Benjamin De la Peña, Advisory Council Member of the Roddenberry Foundation and a global expert on urban development, transportation, and planning; ICSC Urban Transitions Analyst Celine Tabinga, The Climate Reality Project (TCRP) Philippines Branch Manager Nazrin Castro, and Climate Reality Leader Len Jamandores. Reactors from the government included Undersecretary Frisco San Juan, Jr. of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Assistant Secretary Sheilah Napalang, Department of Transportation (DOTr), and Director Anna Mae Lamentillo, Chairperson of the ‘Build Build Build’ Program of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Ambassador De Lang shared the culture of cycling in the Netherlands, saying that it is the decision of the Dutch government to support safe biking infrastructure and veer away from cars to prioritize cyclists, pedestrians, and public transport.

“For the Dutch, cycling is for everyone. It is a great equalizer. You can even see the Prime Minister going to work on his bike. It gives the feeling of freedom, to be in contact with the surroundings, the sights, sounds, and smell of the city. That’s one of the reasons why Dutch children are considered the happiest in the world,” said Ambassador De Lang, who also mentioned the Dutch Cycling Embassy organization’s efforts to hold Think Bike workshops, already piloted in Iloilo City, to help urban planners develop cycling route maps within a city.

De La Peña meanwhile stressed that traffic is just a symptom and that the country needs to focus on transportation. He added that transportation is not just a technical concern but also a political one.

“As Bogotá (Colombia) Mayor Enrique Peñalosa said, having a protected bike lane on a major road is a moral statement that says, “People who can only afford a one or two-thousand-peso bike are as important in our infrastructure as people who can afford half-a-million-peso cars.” If you believe that we are facing a climate crisis, you have to be for protective bike lanes. There is no way that you can hold these two truths in opposite,” said Dela Peña.

ICSC Urban Transitions Analyst Celine Tabinga presented findings on the PH Mobility survey their group conducted with MNL Moves and the University of Twente, including the top proposals to improve walking and cycling in Metro Manila.

“Active mobility (walking and cycling) can and should be made easier and safer in Metro Manila. We have to enable cycling and pedestrian infrastructure; change mindsets, priorities, and policies to move people, not cars; and generate more data to support planning and policies.”

Ms. Nazrin Castro shared how The Climate Reality Project Philippines is supporting this movement and cited initiatives that can help encourage and cultivate a culture of biking, such as extending bike loans to employees; installing showers, lockers, and dressing rooms; having coaching programs to accompany beginners from home to workplace; and incentivizing workers to bike to work.

“Our potential for sustainable urban mobility initiatives to address air pollution and curb greenhouse gas emissions is really massive. We need to grab this window of opportunity to plan, strategize, and actually implement our policies to transition our local government units to a better normal, to have a better reality for the Filipino people,” said Castro.

Climate Reality Leader Jamandores also shared how her organization and the government collaborated on the proposed Metro Manila bike lane network map, which aims to establish bike infrastructure along major roads, and provided insights on how LGUs can visualize and sustain bike lanes.

“Delegate which roads to designate as bike lanes. They don’t have to be permanent immediately, but there must be conviction from LGUs that these are lanes to cater to our vulnerable commuters. Aside from converting roads, we should also target connecting critical infrastructure, such as hospitals or schools. It’s not about how long your bike lane is, but about how many of these infrastructures are connected and servicing the people,” Jamandores explained.

While the DOTr, DPWH, and MMDA expressed support to the establishment of bike lanes and other sustainable mobility initiatives, Legarda invited them once again for another episode to clarify which agency should be leading in the planning and implementation of bike lane programs.

“The words dignified, fair, and equitable should be applied to bikers and pedestrians. The roads are our common areas, which must be shared with people who cannot afford a million-peso car. Those who walk five or more kilometers have rights just like anyone who can afford a car,” said Legarda.

To conclude, Legarda greeted the viewers with: “Happy Independence from fossil fuel! Happy Independence from rigid, outdated thinking!”

As an online discussion to promote health, environmental consciousness, and climate-adaptive practices, Stories for a Better Normal aims to change the mindset of individuals, families, and communities to lead sustainable lives towards a healthier, safer, and much better normal than we used to have.

This online discussion is organized in partnership between the Office of Deputy Speaker Legarda and the Climate Change Commission (CCC), with support from the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), The Climate Reality Project-Philippines, and Mother Earth Foundation.##