PNoy’s passing must jumpstart dignity’s return to our roads
Since President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III stepped down from the highest elected position in the republic in 2016, the people rarely heard from him, even when the ruling party and its minions played the blame game at his expense throughout all these years.
Such was the character of the man who, by blood and fate, played a key role in arguably the most storied family in Philippine history. Let my track record speak for itself, he seemed to say in silence, in life, and especially now, in death.
Despite the prominence of his surname, and the power his position carried, then-President Aquino—given the moniker “PNoy”—took on the more restrained path in his years in government service.
The tagline of his presidency, “Daang Matuwid”, meant that his administration intended to do its job with no frills, fuss, nor fanfare; all business, and none of the theatrics and saber-rattling.
The most discernible manifestation of this “Daang Matuwid” was PNoy’s uncompromising disdain for the use of sirens—“wang-wangs”—in his convoys. He saw the use of sirens by politicians as a shameless abuse of power, an abhorrent sense of self-entitlement. Thus, he adamantly forbade his aides and close-in security from using sirens and flashing police lights whenever they would be on the move. He ordered the same for his cabinet and the rest of his staff.
This move was completely within reason: Why would a public servant act like a bully on the road? Why would he or she be given the VIP treatment by the very people who were paying his salary? For PNoy, ending the “wangwang” mentality was also a refresher on Public Service 101, or a remedial class in Humility.
This move also reset the moral compass of the Palace. By ditching the siren and uttering the legendary “Kayo ang boss ko (You, the people, are my boss),” PNoy made it clear who served whom. By serving as Example Number 1, PNoy compelled all other public officials (elected or appointed) to follow the same. His message was clear: Remove your wang-wangs, because your Big Boss has done so.
This move also followed the law. Presidential Decree 96 states: “It shall be unlawful for the owner or possessor of any motor vehicle to use or attach to his vehicle 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.”
PD 96 also says that gadgets or devices mentioned above may be attached to and used only on motor vehicles designated for official use by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Bureau of Investigation, Land Transportation Office, police and fire departments, and ambulances. A n of this decree would result in fines and prosecution; and the confiscation of the gadgets.
The “silent convoy”, thus, became a hallmark of the PNoy administration. And for some time after his term, VIP convoys stayed relatively quiet. Lately, however, some instances of convoys using sirens and flashing lights were again being seen and heard. Old habits, it seems, do die hard. Perhaps it needed more than six years of stern rehabilitation for the silent convoy to work.
In my 2010 interview with Raymond Landingin, then executive chairman and operations commander of the non-government organization Citizens Traffic Action, a civilian volunteer group organized during President Corazon Aquino’s term, he described that the original design and purpose of the siren, which was “tabi kayo, may emergency po” had become “tabi kayo, importanteng tao ako.”
By the time PNoy had assumed his role as the 15th Commander in Chief of the republic, the blatant abuse of the wang-wang had resulted in the public’s utter disrespect of the instrument, to the extent that even legitimate users of sirens—ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars on life-or-death emergency runs—were not given way on the road. Landingin recounted then that it took a longer time for emergency services to arrive at the scene of accidents, since many motorists even intentionally blocked the responding vehicles’ path.
In another instance of siren abuse back in those days, lensman Alex Loinaz witnessed a black SUV, wang-wang in full blast and with plates suggesting it belonged to a congressman—beating the red light as it crossed Edsa in the Makati City area, and then ramming into a bus crossing the intersection. Lionaz recounted that he saw the driver of the vehicle—who turned out to be a member of the security detail of the congressman—pull out a long firearm, approach the bus driver, and grab him by the collar. It was at this point that Loinaz said he started taking pictures of the SUV driver. “He lowered his firearm and made an excuse that he was just transferring his weapon to another vehicle.”
PNoy’s successor to Malacanang has, to a much lesser degree, discouraged the use of wang-wangs by public officials. Lately, however, some opportunistic individuals have found a way to circumvent PD 96, and that’s by hiring police on motorcycles (hagads in the vernacular), and using them and their wang-wangs as advance parties to clear traffic ahead of the VIPs’ arrival. Old habits not only die hard, but like the Coronavirus, seem to evolve rapidly to avoid extermination.
I don’t know about you, but come May 2022, I am truly inclined to pay a closer look at any presidential candidate who could map out concrete plans to bring dignity, sanity, and respect back to our roads—and that includes “reloading” PNoy’s anti-siren policy with a vengeance.
It’s about time the silent majority reclaims the streets.