Bunye: All clear!

Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

AS EARLY as July 23, 2019, Muntinlupa City Mayor Jaime R. Fresnedi created Task Force Discipline (TFD) to assist the local government "to maintain peace and order, and preserve the comfort and convenience of its inhabitants."

TFD was empowered "to suggest and implement an integrated approach to solving problems related to peace and order including, but not limited to, law enforcement, traffic management, fire protection, security against terrorism, illicit drug prevention and control, vagrancy, prostitution, environmental protection, cleanliness and sanitation, among others."

So when President Rodrigo Duterte, through DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año, ordered all local government units "to reclaim public roads which are being used for private ends," Muntinlupa City already had in place an effective mechanism to clear public roads of illegal structures and constructions.

TFD is chaired by Fresnedi, co-chaired by City Administrator Allan A. Cachuela and counts among its members the following: all barangay chairmen, the deputy city administrator, the heads of the following departments -- Environmental Sanitation Center (ESC), City Engineering Department, Muntinlupa Traffic Management Bureau, City Security Office, Public Order and Safety Office, Squatting Prevention and Control Division, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, Public Information Office, The Chief of Police, DILG representative and the Fire Marshall, Bureau of Fire Protection. The city government is currently coordinating with the LTO, MMDA and other relevant national agencies to include them in the task force. Five designated employees in each department were assigned to the task force to help in the clearing operations.

Cachuela, (known in city hall as the "Little Big Mayor"), immediately went to work. The heavy-set 51-year-old engineer, who also has an MBM degree, previously served as Planning Officer/Zoning Administrator before becoming City Administrator, a post he has held since 1999.

Cachuela convened TFD members to discuss strategies on clearing road networks and sidewalks.

The task force conducted a week-long surveillance and came up with 65 identified problem major thoroughfares and secondary roads. Priority areas such as M.L. Quezon Street, Alabang Viaduct and Alabang-Zapote Road were targeted for the first phase of 24-hour clearing operations. Second phase targets included NHA Southville 3, Katihan, Rizal, Baybayin (Poblacion to Bayanan), Bautista, and Pleasant road.

The primary focus of the operations were illegal encroachments on roads and sidewalks, illegal parking terminals, illegal vending, street dwellers, garbage piles and other eyesores. Collateral targets included stray dogs and cats.

During the initial phase, TFD demolished 632 store/house encroachments on sidewalks, towed 2323 illegally parked vehicles, dismantled 209 illegal terminals, apprehended/warned 906 illegal vendors, and rounded up 322 street dwellers. The latter were immediately turned over to the Social Services Department for relocation. The confiscated carts of repeat offenders were destroyed. The strays were impounded in the Muntinlupa Animal Pound facility in Pacwood, Barangay Tunasan. TFD, however, is still grappling with the problem of Meralco posts and Maynilad water meters which have previously been installed on some sidewalks.

According to Cachuela, "(t)he operations were initially met with resistance from parties who behaved as if they have acquired title to the properties which they have illegally occupied for a long time. But consistent and even-handed implementation of the operations allowed us to gain headway."

TFD tried to soften the blow on displaced vendors by allowing them access to the city's "Pantawid Pangkabuhayan para samga Displaced Vendors" program. They were also oriented to the city's livelihood programs. Tricycle associations, which were required to relocate terminals away from congested areas, were provided two-way radio sets to facilitate the pickup of passengers at designated points. Barangay chairmen signed a covenant to keep areas, previously cleared of obstructions, to stay cleared. Mayor Jaime Fresnedi also created a local road clearing assessment team which aims to monitor and evaluate sustained compliance by the nine barangays.

The DILG recently gave Muntinlupa City a "medium compliance" rating for its participation in the street and sidewalk clearing operations. Personally, I would be more generous. The easing of traffic of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic as a result of the clearing operations has been palpable. I don't see pedestrians occupying half a lane of street anymore. In my own case, I have shaved more than 10 minutes travelling from my ancestral house in Alabang to the Alabang viaduct via T. Montillano Street -- a distance of less than 500 meters.

But, yes, still more needs to be done especially in the light of the Christmas season and the ongoing construction of the Skyway Extension Project, both of which are already constricting our roadways once again.

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