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Worries rise over NCR being placed on Alert Level 3; low displacement motorcycles being allowed on expressways and skyrocketing fuel prices

After a month experimenting with a new quarantine classification system, Metro Manila has finally been placed under Alert Level 3. This  is just two steps away from having close to no movement or quarantine restrictions at all. And already, the dreaded traffic, something we never really missed, is already back in full song. 
Total daily new Covid-19 cases in Metro Manila has gone down steadily from 30 days ago. And while the positivity rate too has gone down to 14% and the vaccination rate is supposedly up to 50%, we wonder, is it a little too soon to open up sectors of the economy that are known vectors of Covid-19? 


While other countries that have earlier reopened their economies proclaimed that they will only do so once a 70 to 80% vaccination rate of its citizens has been achieved, here we are so eager to get back out on the streets and begin living life like there is no pandemic. 


Unfortunately, mobility, and the lax enforcement of and loose compliance to minimum health standards since even the last ECQ, has been playing a major role in perpetuating the virus. And we wouldn’t be surprised if it will be the reason that Covid-19 positive cases will once again rise in number in the next few weeks.


We have seen this before, and always, Covid-19 has managed to bring us down from our high.  In our government’s haste to get the economy going, we become willing subjects in a cat and mouse experiment of catch me, Covid, if you can. Only prolonging the agony, that could have been nipped in the bud, had that been the plan. 
Now that the Department of Health, the people’s supposed champion and protector of their  well-being,  has proclaimed that the declaration of alert levels is “not subject to discussions, or debate” and “not even subject to appeal”, we commuters, motorists, cyclists and even pedestrians alike have been once again thrown in front of the bus. 


We have been left to fend for ourselves yet again as we are made to observe minimum health standards in the name of helping our economy get back on its feet. Standards which we will be forced to ignore when we find ourselves in a full capacity jeepney or bus, or shoulder to shoulder on a snaking line up the MRT. Standards that give a false sense of security when all the while, those in their highchairs knew, it is far from being safe outside. 


Test of tolerance
One fine Sunday morning a few years ago, I was driving leisurely  along NLEX, at the speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour, going to Clark when I saw on my rear view mirror a few headlights coming closer from behind. I knew they were sport bikes as I could faintly hear their exhausts as they weaved from one lane to overtake cars. Within a couple or so seconds, the sport bikes caught up to me and they overtook me both on my left and right. The move was so effortless for them that my car looked like it was parked on the highway as they zoomed past. 
I knew I was at 100 km/h, the speed limit, and still I was overtaken like I was just sitting pretty. The sport bikes looked big and expensive, aside from being fast and loud. So one could easily assume these were ridden by those who could afford them. And for these riders, the speed limit was nothing more than a number painted on a metal plate. 


There has been an ongoing clamor to finally allow motorcycles that have engine displacements that are below 400cc to use the expressways. It has been more than 10 years since the Department of Transportation and Communication issued Department Order 2007-38 banning these particular motorcycles on limited access facilities such as expressways. But with the advent of faster, more capable motorcycles with displacements south of 400cc, this so-called discriminatory ruling is finally seeing the end of its relevance.


Many motorists are averse to having small displacement motor bikes in the same space they occupy on our highways. The proliferation of “kamote” riders, or those who flout road rules for kicks and thrills, or even those that are clueless of the rules in the first place,  further reinforces their misgivings on opening up NLEX and SLEX to sub-400cc motorbikes. 
It is no secret that small displacement motorcycles are the go-to means of mobility for many of the less affluent in society. But the existence of kamote riders and their lack of proper riding training and skills to control their motorcycles have given this class a bad reputation. And as our big bike friends have shown us earlier, even the more privileged motorcycle owners can willfully ignore the law as long as it serves their purpose. 


While I am all for road sharing, there seems to be a need to fix a deeper problem that lies at the core of mass motorcycle ownership in the country first – the lack of proper rider training and discipline. A car owner needs to be confident that the motorcycle beside him on the highway will not make sudden moves that might cause an accident. Although the same goes for the rider towards a car driver.


Aside from the need to perhaps assign a specific lane for small displacement motorcycles along these major highways which allows riders and car drivers to peacefully coexist at speed, something similar to say Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City,  there has to be better education for both camps. Speed limits must be enforced to the tee as well for both cars and motorcycles, and for both minimum and maximum values too.  


Until a proper, all-encompassing, comfortable means of mass transportation is set up that services the cities and towns outside the NCR, motorcycles will continue to grow in numbers. This is the cheapest form of motorized mobility. But the riders don’t have to be treated any less than the next motorist. 


All-time high
If you drove to a gas station yesterday to top-up only to be greeted by a P70 per liter fuel price announcement on a digital billboard, you wouldn’t be at fault if you thought it was just a nightmare. But, alas, the most dreaded day for a motorist has arrived as gasoline prices finally broke that mark, probably its highest ever in Metro Manila. 


Now before you raise those pitchforks in search of the evil culprit behind this madness, do consider that this is a product of rising global prices of oil and natural gas. Coming into winter, large nations have been stockpiling on their energy needs and even cutting exports just to make sure they have enough for their own. Geo-political tensions in Europe are also having an effect on natural gas prices in the region. In the Middle East, oil production has not kept up with the renewed demand around the world as economies are reopening. And with high demand and low supply, prices will naturally shoot up. 


Despite this gloomy picture, the price of fuel in the Philippines is still below the global average per liter price and way below Hong Kong, which is said to have the highest fuel price of P131 per liter. 


But for a developing country like ours, and our insatiable demand for oil-based sources of energy, it hits really hard. For the eighth straight week now, fuel prices have gone up. The prices of gasoline and diesel have direct socio-economic impact as the cost of goods, food, even electricity are all dependent on the price of oil in the world market. And it is projected to rise even higher in the weeks to follow. 


So what can we do? Should we stop driving in the meantime to save our money first? The return of traffic with Alert Level 3 is not helping anyway. Or purchase a smaller, more fuel-efficient car perhaps? A motorcycle maybe? How about an electric car so you would not worry about fluctuating fuel prices at least?


Do scenarios like this make you wish the country would invest in building a comfortable, convenient, safe and reliable mass transport system already? Maybe it is about high time government and its Public-Private Partnership efforts are directed towards mass transit rather than more tollways. We can’t keep going in circles forever.

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