Duterte vows to solve first transport, crime crises

Traffic gridlock and rampant drug abuse are the two critical problems facing the people daily that incoming President Rodrigo Duterte says he is bent on solving once he takes office.

DAVAO CITY—Once he assumes power, incoming President Rodrigo Duterte will immediately tackle two critical problems that confront, if not hurt, Filipinos daily: crime and poor public transportation.

“I have to declare a crisis in the war against crime and on the part of commuter trains and all. I have a crisis there,” said Duterte, the longtime mayor of Davao credited for curbing crime in his city and enforcing strict traffic regulations.

“My crisis begins with Edsa, and the other crisis is that there are a lot of drugs. We’re fighting them on so many fronts,” he said in an hourlong news conference close to midnight on Saturday.
“My first big project is the establishment of a railway for the Philippines. There are those who want to help, and we will ask them, what’s the payback?” he told reporters.

There is no detailed plan yet, but Duterte’s vision includes train lines connecting Manila to Nueva Vizcaya province in the north, Sorsogon and Batangas provinces in the south, and a system “for the whole of Mindanao.”

“Maybe China” will be involved, he said. “I tell you frankly, we do not have the money for it.”
An earlier plan to partner with China was derailed in 2012 following a corruption controversy.

The NorthRail project, which was initiated under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was meant to link northern Metro Manila with Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark Field, Pampanga province.
But the project was canceled in 2012 after the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal for lack of competitive bidding. The Philippines was obligated to return some $593 million in loans to China for the project.

The project’s dissolution also came at the height of a dispute between Manila and Beijing over territory in the South China Sea.

Asked how he would manage the delicate balance between seeking infrastructure support from China and pursuing the country’s bid to stop its incursions into Philippine waters, Duterte said: “Just because you’re building me the railway doesn’t mean to say that I am abandoning the Scarborough Shoal.”

The shoal is among Philippine-claimed features in the disputed waters.

The Philippines has a pending arbitration case in a United Nations court that aims to invalidate China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea, and to stop its intrusive activities, including land reclamation and sea patrols.

The tribunal is expected to issue a ruling within the year. China has refused to participate in the proceedings, asserting its “indisputable sovereignty” over the waters.

“I told you that is ours, you have no right to be there,” Duterte said.

“[The dispute] involves the principle of the law of [the sea that] says you have the exclusive right to develop and make use of your exclusive economic zone. If you build something that impedes that, it obstructs that right and the exercise of that right given by international law,” he said.

Duterte said he expected that “China will follow” the tribunal’s ruling.

On the crime front, Duterte said he was hoping the police would start stepping up even before he formally takes office. The mayor, who has been linked to death squads, is notorious for his heavy-handed approach to fighting crime but is highly regarded in his hometown.

On Wednesday, he called a midnight press conference to give Manila law enforcers a dressing down for failing to stop the distribution of drugs at a Pasay City rave where five youths died after taking a fatal cocktail of toxic pills.

“I’m happy to hear that they (police) have started their (antidrug) operations in some other areas, provinces and cities. I’d like to tell the police that they should not wait for me until I become President,” he said.

Duterte said he would recruit 3,000 more police officers and create two more Army divisions for a special purpose related to security, which he did not reveal.

He said the police should present him results of their work. “Show me cold bodies,” he added.