By: Romer Yadao
Public service is a calling. It is something special because it raises a person’s standing in life and gives an important effect in the world.
It is never meant to be easy and as they say, it is not for everybody. It is a daunting task and public servants know it. In the midst of the pandemic, these public servants risk their lives to provide essential services to the community by ensuring that the public receives ample medical support. Also, in the time of calamities and natural disasters, they make sure that basic goods, such as food and clean water, are supplied to the people. Lastly, everyone needs to provide a living and this is not possible if the general public cannot move from Point A to Point B. This is where public transportation comes into play as one of the essential governmental services.
While others keep away from responsibility brought upon by public service, there is a sparse number of people willing to take on its challenge. But from the perspective of Atty. Mark Steven Pastor, serving the public should be done in a grand manner.
In an exclusive interview by Barrista Solutions, Atty. Pastor shares the key developments implemented in the transportation sector to address the current situation and the major adjustments in the legal profession, among others.
Barrista Solutions: Now that we have this so-called “New Normal”, what can you say about the practice of law right now?
Atty. Pastor: From the perspective of a lawyer in government service, this so-called “New Normal” has brought challenges in our work. For example, in making policy issuances, we have to take into consideration additional factors, such as the observance of health protocols, vis-à-vis its impact on the affected stakeholders. Time is of the essence not only in making the policies but also in implementing the projects that would address the concerns of the public during this pandemic. Moreover, we are also at risk of contracting the virus because there are instances that we have to go out as part of our duty especially to attend meetings or hearing and to inspect the implementation of the project to make sure that it is in accordance with the parameters required by the government. Thus, there is always that fear that we might get infected and bring COVID-19 to our own homes. It is really very challenging and exhausting at the same time, but as I have said, there is no time to rest. Our fellow Filipinos need us now more than ever.
Barrista Solutions: Can you compare how the practice of law before and after this pandemic?
Atty. Pastor: We are used to having physical meetings in the office or in other venues. But now, given that most of us are working from home and mass gathering is still not allowed, our meetings are conducted online, through different platforms, such as Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, et al.
For court proceedings, pleadings are now filed online. Administrative proceedings, on the other hand, are now conducted via video conference. Same thing goes for notarization. Prior to COVID-19, the party or parties need to be physically present before the notary public; now, notarization via video conference is allowed.
Before this pandemic, all documents that must be acted upon are in hard copies but now, most of them are scanned copies sent via email. Digital signatures that are not commonly used to sign documents are a must-have now.
Barrista Solutions: At this period of time, are there key developments that were made or implemented so as to address the pandemic?
Atty. Pastor: The government has been on top of this COVID-19 situation. From the issuance of Proclamation No. 929 which declared a State of National Public Health Emergency, the Office of the President has created the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) that will handle all matters relative to the government actions to address the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
As for the Department of Transportation (DOTr) led by the hardworking Secretary Arthur P. Tugade - particularly in the Road Sector, when the ECQ was implemented all over Luzon in March 2020, we were constrained to suspend the operations of all modes of transportation. But considering our medical frontliners who have to go on duty in the hospitals, the Department has implemented the Free Rides for Medical Health Workers Programs which provides free transportation services in major hospitals in Metro Manila and in different areas nationwide
When the ECQ was initially lifted in Metro Manila, the DOTr also started the implementation of EDSA Busway Project (also known as the EDSA Carousel). Under this Project, buses are allocated the median lanes of EDSA making the travel time therein faster. Before, the travel time from Monumento to SM Mall of Asia in Pasay takes more than 2 hours due to heavy traffic. Now, the total travel time in the said route has drastically decreased to more or less an hour. This Project also aims to augment the operations of MRT-3 considering that the passenger capacity of all public transport means is decreased by 50% to observe social distancing.
Moreover, the DOTr has also partnered with the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD), for the provision of cash assistance, through the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), to the drivers who are greatly affected by the suspension of public transport operations. We are also currently working on the implementation of the Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Service Contracting Program under the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act that will provide a subsidized and temporary livelihood for those PUV drivers affected by the pandemic. Also, under the same law, the DOTr will be providing additional cash subsidy to the business critically-impacted by the COVID-19 situation.
Additionally, the government has also encouraged the public to use bicycles and other non-motorized mobility devices as an alternative means of transportation as a means to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Relative thereto and to ensure the safety of the cyclists, the Department is also working hand-in-hand with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in the installation and establishment of bike lanes throughout the metropolitan areas in the country. A few months ago, interim bike lanes were established along routes that cater to major hospitals in Manila and Quezon City. Currently, we are finalizing the maps and plans for the installation of bike lanes along EDSA and in other metro cities in the country.
The Land Transportation Office (LTO), an attached agency of the DOTr, has also extended the registration of vehicles as well as the renewal of licenses to prevent crowding in their offices. They are also upgrading their systems so that the transactions previously done physically at their offices will be made and completed virtually to prevent or lessen physical contact. The Department has also issued a Department Order (DO) directed all toll companies to resort to cashless transactions by 2 November 2020.
It is also well to note that the DOTr has even established an Emergency Operations Center during the ECQ in Metro Manila which the people may contact relative to their transportation concerns or questions. The attached agencies of the Department such as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the LTO, and the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic (i-ACT) also deployed their personnel as frontliners during the ECQ period either to man quarantine facilities or at checkpoints.
Barrista Solutions: As a lawyer, what major adjustments did you make to cope with this change in legal processes and routine?
Atty. Pastor: Now that most of our meetings are done virtually, I have been used to spending long hours in front of my device, speaking and discussing with different teams for different projects and about various concerns, taking breaks just to eat my meals and to rest a bit.
Further, since there are also media interviews assigned to me by the Secretary, I have to keep myself abreast not only with the issuances and policies of the Department but also with the directives and pronouncements of the President and other government agencies.
Additionally, I also keep it a point to always be updated with the current issues relative to the transportation sector and the legal processes by regularly checking the social media accounts/websites of the government agencies and by reading/watching/listening to the news from different media outlets.
Barrista Solutions: At this time of the new normal, what would be the changes that we will be expecting or looking for in the transportation sector?
Atty. Pastor: For the Road Sector, we have started implementing the EDSA Busway Project. Through this Project and the lesser travel time in commuting, we hope that people will be encouraged to take public transportation rather than bringing their private vehicles in order to lessen the heavy traffic in EDSA.
The EDSA Bike Lanes Project is also on its way. By the end of this year, we will be seeing protected bike lanes along EDSA as well as in other metropolitan areas in the country. With this Project, we hope that more people will be interested in active transportation.
The PUV Service Contracting Program will also be implemented soon to provide a temporary means of livelihood to the PUV drivers that are affected by this pandemic. The PUV Modernization Program is still being implemented by the DOTr and this will provide a safer and efficient transport means to our commuters, as these modern PUVs are equipped with CCTVs and Automatic Fare Collection System.
The Department will also be implementing the EDSA Greenways Project wherein elevated walkways will be constructed in Balintawak, Ortigas, Cubao, and Taft stations. These elevated walkways will be covered to protect the public from sunlight and rainfall and these will be equipped with facilities to cater to the needs of the elderly, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women.
Also, as previously discussed, our attached agencies such as the LTO, LTFRB, and the Office for Transportation Cooperatives (OTC) have also been taking measures in order that their transactions will become digitized or processed online in order to mitigate physical contact among their personnel and their clientele.
Barrista Solutions: Moving forward, how do you see the profession of the law changing its regular course or structure because of the current pandemic everyone is experiencing?
Atty. Pastor: Yes. At present, we have seen both the judiciary and quasi-judicial agencies take innovative measures to continue with their proceedings. We can say that the use of technology during this pandemic has given the law profession additional options as to the manner of performing our duties as an administrator of justice.
Barrista Solutions: What are you looking forward to at this time of the new normal as a member of the legal profession?
Atty. Pastor: I am looking forward to the implementation of the projects of the Department, especially those that are intended to assist the people who are greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, these projects will be able to help them start over again and provide for their families.
I am also looking forward to seeing more people into active transportation and using the bike lanes along EDSA and by 2021, I wish to see people already using the elevated walkways of the EDSA Greenways Project.
Barrista Solutions: What is your message to your colleagues in the profession of law who are frontliners as well in this time of pandemic?
I salute my fellow lawyers who braved this pandemic in order to serve those who are in need to fulfill the duty as stated in our oath. Words won’t be enough to thank you or to describe your courageous act of risking your lives for other people or for your advocacy. I am one with our fellow Filipinos and your families in praying for your safety and good health.
Barrista Solutions: What is your final word to all law students trying to survive one day at a time while trapped in the new normal?
Atty. Pastor: As we all know, the study of law is not easy. As one professor said, “Law school is like a walk in the park; however, it is the Jurassic Park.” This is made even more difficult by the current setup of having online classes. It is understandable that many of you might have missed your classes due to poor internet connection. But nevertheless, this pandemic should not be a hindrance towards your dream of becoming a lawyer. Keep your eyes on the prize, future panyeros and panyeras. Take this time to study hard and learn the law with your heart. Do not study for the sake of recitation, study with the end view that this is the knowledge that you will use in the profession later on. Memorizing and reading numerous cases in full text are not simple tasks, but always remember that this is the key towards conquering the Bar and claiming the dot to your ATTY. Never give up on your dream and work hard for it. Soon, you will enjoy the fruits of your labor. More importantly, in whatever you do always remember, “ora et labora” (prayer and work).
· Atty. Mark Steven Pastor is the Assistant Secretary for Road Transport and Infrastructure of the Department of Transportation. He is a graduate of San Beda University .