Can Davao lead the way?

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    FOR the nth time this year I found myself in the Philippines’ unofficial capital, Davao City, for some academics-related business: I was scheduled to meet three freshly minted mining engineers who graduated from St. Paul’s University-Surigao and who passed the recent board exams for mining engineering.

    More interesting, the three are the first mining engineers born and raised on the nickel-rich island of Manicani in Guiuan town, Province of Eastern Samar.

    Lucky for them they enter the job market at a time when nickel prices are hitting the roof.

    But I digress.

    I have long stated that Davao City can vie for the honor of being called the safest city in the whole Philippines. That’s no joke nor is it an effort to brownnose the powers-that-be. Whether you walk the streets at night or climb into a taxicab any time of day, an ordinary citizen is free of the qualms, even fears, that would attend his every move were he in Metro Manila.

    In Davao I have yet to have a cab driver ask me where I am going and, not wishing to take me there, make some excuse while asking me to get off. Nor have I ever had a cabbie tell me that his meter is off, or beg to just agree on a fixed rate. Common issues in Metro Manila, yes?

    What more the issue of walking around the city at night.

    But in some areas Davao still has a way to go to become, say, a Four Star City the way PAL is now a Four Star Airline. I’d give it three stars and here are at least two areas where it can make improvements to raise its “score.”

    The first is simple. Sidewalks. Like most Philippine cities, Davao is sorely lacking in sidewalks. So you have commuters waiting on the road for a jeep, and pedestrians walking where vehicles are supposed to be. In some areas where sidewalks exist you also have the usual “sakit” – they’ve been made into parking spaces (the one I saw was for motorcycles) or taken over by commercial establishments. There also are the electric lampposts that mar the sidewalk aside from trees.

    This can’t be.

    My second issue is more controversial – an over abundance of jeepneys which are inefficient, noisy and environmentally unfriendly. These vehicles usually use second hand Japanese engines that are diesel-fed and we know how poorly maintained diesel engines can be the worst polluters in our streets. I need not talk about the driving habits of many jeepney drivers, though in Davao they’re a bit more disciplined.

    Jeepneys should be phased out by buses that run on a fixed schedule with drivers getting a regular salary.

    But this is a very sensitive political issue. It opens an LGU chief to “anti-poor” accusations by organized jeepneys drivers, even if the unorganized commuters who will benefit from a more rational public transport system far outnumber them. The organized ones are the ones heard because they speak as one no matter how in fact they only represent a very small minority of the public.

    But given the fact that Davao has been so used to “no nonsense” leadership I am told that the city government has in fact already stated taking steps towards this end. The taxi driver I had was confident that “Inday Sara” can and will do it. I should just wait and see.

    To which my reply was simple: if there was one LGU where I think this can be done, it’s Davao City. But if the effort to phase out jeepneys fails in Davao, then the whole country is doomed.

    Will Davao City lead the way?

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