BY PET MELLIZA/ THE BEEKEEPER
It was not the “sikad” drivers who did him in when he fell from the political wayside in 2010. He was handily outraced in vice-mayoral for Iloilo City because he got ensnared in the ploy of outgoing Mayor Gerry Trenas who succeeded in snatching the congressional seat in the same breath.
We are referring to Tongtong Plagata, popular medical practitioner who handily won three straight terms for the city council and tried to move a notch higher in May 2010 but failed.
Months before, he hugged the headlines after Trenas made him traffic tsar. The mayor gave him marching orders of ridding national roads of “trisikad” (rickshaw trikes) to which he overzealously complied. Sikad were banned in national roads. A city ordinance limits their route only within city and barangay roads.
However, that ordinance, to the sikad drivers, was a little bit too harsh. Traffic enforcers under the command of the overzealous traffic tsar, not only apprehended erring operators by giving them citation tickets; they further impounded the contrivances. And to rub salt to the gaping wound, the seized units were deposited not at the place of apprehension but at the city office of the traffic management, at Luna Street, city proper, at the PNP city headquarters.
A sikad driver until today is lucky to get P200 daily, which, if he were a family person, is way below the daily minimum of P500 for a family of four. If the traffic enforcer seized the trike and impounded the unit at the Iloilo City Police Office (ICPO), that means, an opportunity of one day lost.
For example, a trike driver from Mandurriao not only had to go all his way to the ICPO, but as well, break his piggy bank to scrounge for cash to pay the minimum fine of P200. Otherwise, he borrowed money. Upon reaching the ICPO, he must first pay the fine then identify his vehicle from the pile at the impoundment. Often the tires were deflated. Since, sikads were banned along national roads, the poor driver had to shell out extra cash transporting the sikad back home The drivers would have grumbled less had the impounding area been the Mandurriao police office across the plaza.
That time, the ICPO was a busier sight of traffic enforcers pulling trails of seized sikads tied to one another by straw strings into the ICPO compound. The traffic management office must have earned a windfall from the fines collected, P200 each minimum.
Incidentally, that office follows a nice procedure of collecting fines, the sikad drivers found out. First, it required the victims to pay the fine. Next, they issued the receipt which must be surrendered to another window to get back the confiscated license or sikad. In other words, the driver who succeeded in reclaiming his/her driver license or sikad, got out P200 poorer but minus the receipt as proof of payment for the fine.
Fortunately for the sikad drivers today, that harsh policy just faded out after the after the 2010 elections. The sikad’s travails might have caused Plagata’s political downfall who remonstrated repeatedly that he was merely following orders from the mayor’s office. By executing traffic ordinances, he might have proven to the public that indeed the mayor had “political will” to enforce law and order along national roads. But he did it at his own peril.
In the end, it was Trenas who won. Plagata shielded him from the drivers’ wrath. The latter absorbed the blows supposedly meant to him. The outgoing councilor gambled and paid for that heavily.
From another angle, Plagata could have been good material for vice mayor. In fact, Trenas floated that idea to him. By appointing him traffic tsar, Trenas only paved Plagata’s political doom on one hand, and on the other, removed an obstacle to the same path for his “bilas” Joe Espinosa III who is now vice mayor of Iloilo City.
The ghost of the anti-sikad campaign still lingers. Ask any trike driver if they would vote for Plagata back to the city council in 2013. He’ll just spout his mouth or give you a smirk.