MANILA, Philippines ? He may be the country?s most powerful man, riding in a bomb-proof vehicle complete with police escorts, but President Aquino paid the price for banning car sirens (wangwang) and counterflows: He got stuck in a traffic jam for 30 minutes yesterday, was late for a major appointment and kept guests cooling their heels.
Barely on his second full day in office, Mr. Aquino apologized for his late arrival at Camp Aguinaldo for the formal handover of the Armed Forces command from acting military chief Lt. Gen. Nestor Ochoa to new AFP Chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo David Jr.
Mr. Aquino stressed he was sticking to his no-siren, no-counterflow policy.
?I think this is the first time I?ve been late. Of course, we?re still adjusting with our long convoy, and there was traffic. I apologize for being late. We will perfect it,? he told reporters.
But definitely, Mr. Aquino indicated he would drive to functions like any regular motorist?without the wangwang.
?With the exception of emergency vehicles, I just want to remind all that there?s such a law,? he said, referring to the ban on the use of sirens.
Exempted by the law from the ban are the top five officials of government?the President, the Vice President, the Senate President, the Speaker and the Chief Justice.
Need to rise early
Reporters cooling their heels at the camp?s grandstand erupted into cheers when the presidential convoy finally came into view and drove straight to the parade grounds.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Mr. Aquino was firm in his decision not to use sirens and to follow traffic rules, like stopping at red light, but conceded he would have to rise early to make it to his appointments on time.
?He has to wake up earlier to get to his destination on time,? Lacierda said.
It?s the job of the Presidential Security Group to handle the security risks, he added.
No presidential limousine
Mr. Aquino seemed pleased so far with the public?s response.
?The motorists were flashing the L (Laban sign) in approval when we were passing by. He said, ?Gerry we?re making an impact,?? his driver, SPO4 Gerry Gasingan, said.
Mr. Aquino began the trip to Camp Aguinaldo from his home on Times Street in Quezon City. He got caught in heavy traffic on the stretch of Edsa from Timog Avenue to Santolan Road, according to Gasingan.
It wasn?t just the comfort of driving on a street without traffic jams that Mr. Aquino gave up. He has also traded the official black presidential limousine for a white SUV in motoring to his official functions.
It was the white Toyota Land Cruiser that he used in going to Camp Aguinaldo that was stalled in the traffic jam, even though it was sporting the license plate No. 1.
?I find more comfort riding my own vehicle,? he later told reporters. ?I think the resources of the State should be used sparingly.?
Mr. Aquino?s SUV is believed to be the same armored, bomb-proof vehicle loaned to him by the San Miguel Corp. (SMC).
The armored vehicle from SMC stands out not only because of its unusual specs but also because SMC is synonymous with the name of his uncle, Eduardo ?Danding? Cojuangco, chair of the food and brewery firm.
Aquino?s use of the SMC vehicle during the campaign had bolstered suspicions that Cojuangco supported his candidacy in the election.
It?s not certain yet if Mr. Aquino would use the SUV permanently, instead of the black Mercedes-Benz limousine assigned to the occupant of Malacañang.
?The situation is still fluid,? Lacierda said.
The crackdown on unauthorized use of car sirens and blinkers netted 10 arrests in Quezon City yesterday morning.
Supt. Rudie Valoria, head of the Quezon City Police District Traffic Enforcement Group, said the operation was in compliance of the order of the Philippine National Police chief. He said the number of arrests was expected to rise.
Valoria said those apprehended so far included active policemen, civilians and a security guard. The gadgets in their vehicles were dismantled and confiscated.
He said those liable to arrest included drivers of motorcyles using siren-like gadgets for horns.
Valoria admitted his men faced resistance particularly from law enforcers and politicians but he said: ?We have a job to do, we have to follow orders from the top.?
AAP pledges help
Responding to Mr. Aquino?s ?no more wangwang? policy, the Automobile Association Philippines (AAP) offered to report to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) the license plate numbers, make and model of motor vehicles equipped with but not authorized to have sirens, bells and whistles.
AAP president Augusto C. Lagman urged all members, the general motoring public and commuters to note down the license plate numbers and other identifying details of unauthorized wangwang users and inform the AAP by calling 414-2288 or 0917-5042288.
The Inquirer?s Citizen Call will also publish the names of unauthorized individuals using wangwang.
AAP, in turn, will report these to the LTO and Highway Patrol Group. With reports from Fe Zamora and Nancy Carvajal