MMDA chief berates INQUIRER.net team seeking public data

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MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino. NOY MORCOSO III/INQUIRER.net

MANILA, Philippines—An INQUIRER.net team seeking traffic service partnership with the Metro Manila Development Authority got a dressing down from the MMDA chief, who even expressed dismay that the online news group only sent junior officers for the meeting Wednesday.

“Mga taga-Inquirer ba kayo? (Are you all from Inquirer?)” was the first thing MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino asked the INQUIRER.net team, composed of technology and social media specialists.

Without having the INQUIRER.net team say a word, Tolentino went on to air his complaints against a column that appeared on the Philippine Daily Inquirer motoring section on September 18, discussing the MMDA’s suggestion to further limit the ownership and use of private cars to ease traffic congestion in Metro Manila.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, INQUIRER.net editor-in-chief Abelardo Ulanday wrote to Tolentino expressing the online news firm’s intention to work in partnership with MMDA on a special public service project.

The MMDA gave a positive response on Monday, arranging the meeting with the agency.

The INQUIRER.net team, as endorsed by Ulanday, went Wednesday morning to the office of the MMDA in Guadalupe, Makati City.

Upon entering the Office of the Chairman, the team described the MMDA staff who accommodated them before the meeting as “warm,” but little did they know that an infuriated Tolentino would greet them.

Inside the conference room were Tolentino, sitting with hands resting on the back of his head, condescending, and his staff of five including a lawyer.

What irked the MMDA chairman was the alleged misrepresentation committed by Inquirer motoring columnist Aida Sevilla-Mendoza, who wrote about the suggestion of MMDA’s Traffic Discipline Officer, Ret. Gen. Francisco Manalo, on the limiting of private car usage in Metro Manila.

Tolentino berates INQUIRER.net staff

The INQUIRER.net officers, who were “stunned” as they heard Tolentino fuming, barely introduced themselves to the chairman and the rest of his staff  because he repeatedly “cut them off while saying ‘alam ko na ‘yan, alam ko na kung saan kayo galing.”

For 30 minutes straight, Tolentino went on with his ire directed at the INQUIRER.net team.

 

According to the INQUIRER.net team members, the project they were proposing needed the data from MMDA which were supposedly for free and for public consumption.

“So anong makukuha namin diyan? Iyong GMA nagbigay sa amin ng equipment e. They donated us communication equipment for that project worth millions of pesos so kayo in turn, hinihingi ninyo ang data namin di ba? Anong mabibigay ninyo in return? (So what will we get from that project? GMA network has donated to us communication equipment for this project worth millions of pesos. You’re asking for our data, right? What can you give us in return?)” Tolentino said in a mocking tone.

One of the online news website’s staff said, they tried their best to air their side but Tolentino did not take time to listen. Tolentino even “discouraged” them to pursue the said project.

“Bakit pa kayo gagawa? Eh we already have apps for that. So ano ‘yon? Makiki-singkaw kayo sa data namin?” he said.

He also expressed dismay the media outfit sent only junior officers for the meeting.

“Alam mo kasi sa mga ganitong klaseng usapan, ang kaharap namin mga CEO na. Sa TV5 sina MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan), sa GMA, si (Felipe) Gozon. Eto nagda-draft na kami nang ganito, mga head na ang kausap namin. Bakit kayo, kayo lang?” he asked the INQUIRER.net team.

The members of the team felt they were “humiliated and belittled” as Tolentino smugly dealt with them.

The tech and marketing team members, who were mostly in their 20s, recounted that Tolentino informally dismissed the meeting and then left the conference room to accommodate other media persons.

Tolentino airs his side

In a telephone conversation with Ulanday, Tolentino stressed that he did not mean to be “rude” to the team.

He also denied berating them over the Inquirer story.

Tolentino said that if he came on too strong, it was because of his “resoluteness” in explaining how things work in the agency and the things they do to address the issues thrown at the MMDA. He said this particular stance is often misunderstood as being rude or angry.

The MMDA chair said he has been expecting to be presented with a project that would help solve the traffic problem, not just one that would present the traffic situation and not providing a solution or solutions.

Thus when asked by the team if they can be allowed to see the MMDA data, he asked what the team intended to do other than just “ride” on it.

Tolentino said he was sorry if the members of the team felt they were berated but explained it was never his intention to do so.

He added that the visitors were given a tour of the MMDA facilities and a briefing on the different projects and programs being undertaken by the agency. “I was informed by the officials who accompanied them that they were appreciative of that.”

Tolentino said he would still be waiting for the concrete proposal from INQUIRER.net on the special project.

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