Gov’t, civil society groups, citizens judged ‘guilty’ over lousy traffic
MANILA, Philippines—Imagine a biker disrupting court proceedings to send someone a telegram.
Although seemingly irregular, this was what precisely happened in a hearing at the Asian Development Bank headquarters in Mandaluyong City Tuesday evening, where representatives from the different sectors, accused of not doing their part to curb what has been called the worsening transport problem in the Asia-Pacific region, aired their defense.
It turned out, the hearing that saw a jury hand down a guilty verdict on the government, civil society, international organizations, and the motor industry, was something Jitu Shah, an ADB official, had cooked up as a means to call the attention of everybody to what he said were the challenges resulting from rapid urbanization in the region—poor transport, congestion and vehicle pollution.
The “mock court hearing” was held on the opening day of the three-day bi-annual Transport Forum 2012 organized by the ADB.
It was attended by transport experts all over the world, and key developing country officials.
“The fact is we contribute to the (traffic) problem as much as everybody else. So that’s why the mock court here we were trying to show that it’s not only the government actors, it’s not only the institutions but all of us, who are choosing not to walk, choosing not to use public transport, who are guilty,” Shah said in an interview after the event.
Although the mock hearing lasted for a little more than an hour, those who served as mock defendants were real representatives from the different sectors.
The private sector, for example, was represented by Kyoko Kakita, who is affiliated with the car manufacturer Nissan Motors.
Raquel Austria-Naciongayo, head of Pasig City’s environment and natural resources unit, for her part, served as the figurehead for the local government.
Debra Efroymson, of the nongovernment organization Healthridge, represented the civil society sector, and Marcelo Minc of the Asian Development Bank the international organizations.
All “defendants” were seated onstage, facing an expectant audience.
“I would suggest that a plea of guilty would save us a lot of time. Also may I remind you that we have a free drink and a sponsored happy hour later,” Shah acting as the mock judge told them during the “hearing.”
As the “defendants” took the “witness stand” on stage, they each aired their position, which a “prosecution lawyer” shot down.
“Prosecutor…Pasig City is located in the heart of metropolitan Manila. Yes? And you know vehicles pass through (there) every day. Thousands and thousands of vehicles coming from Quezon City, Manila, Makati and even Mandaluyong city, but we are very proud to say…that with the help of our civil society groups and of course ADB, we will have our first Ortigas freeway right in the heart of Ortigas Center. What can you say about that?” Austria-Naciongayo said in response to the “prosecution lawyer’s” question about what the local government was doing to curb traffic in the area.
The response elicited laughter from the audience.
The “civil society” played on the lack of funding card, while the rest insisted that they were doing what they could to address the issues brought about by urbanization.
By the end of the event, the audience was asked to decide on the fate of the representatives.
Seventy six percent of the estimated 50 people in the room handed down a “guilty” verdict.
“I don’t need to listen to you anymore,” Shah told the “defendants,” drawing laughs from the audience.
And the sentence?
“I therefore sentence each of the defendants to a renewed mission toward the stated objective,” Shah said.
“Yes. It’s only when we decide, and it’s only when we act collectively, (that we will) solve our (transport) problems,” he added.