The move by the police and the Cebu City government to tap habal-habal (motorcycle-for-hire) drivers to help monitor the movements of suspected terrorists during the Sinulog celebration is innovative and also commendable because safety and security is the business of everyone.
Orienting the habal-habal drivers on how to identify improvised explosive devices that might be used to disrupt the Sinulog celebration is the right thing to do because they are in the position to immediately report suspicious individuals and unattended packages to the police.
While the move is undeniably beneficial to the public, it might lead to the habal-habal drivers being abusive, i.e., thinking about making the streets as their terminal, charging exorbitant fares and violating road and traffic rules.
Anyway, despite public misgivings, these drivers are being recognized for their capacity in making the celebration safe.
The news that came out last January 6 about the training conducted by the members of Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT) on some 150 habal-habal drivers held at the Cebu City Hall prompted a friend to ask me whether habal-habal operation in the city is now already legitimized.
His reaction was borne out of fear that it will only make habal-habal drivers more daring in transporting their passengers with utter disregard for safety, traffic rules and opportunistic charging of fare to their hapless passengers.
What is ironic about tapping the habal-habal drivers is that, while they can help secure the people by providing information on suspected terrorists, they are also in a way victimizing their passengers with their pricey fare and horrifying stunts on the road.
This Saturday and Sunday habal-habal drivers will profit from the commuters by charging excessive fare even to the nearest destination because most roads are locked up due to the yearly procession of the image of the Señor Santo Nino on Saturday and the Sinulog Festival on Sunday.
A friend told me that last year, habal-habal drivers were very choosy and demanding because they know that they are the only alternative transportation and many of them would not agree to fetch passengers if they would not agree to the self-imposed minimum rate of P100 per person even at the nearest destination.
I hope that the city government’s move would not send a wrong signal to the habal-habal drivers that they can continue mulcting their passengers and violate as many traffic rules in transporting passengers; anyway, they are being used by City Hall as force multipliers to secure the public from terror threats.
I am not denigrating the ability of the habal-habal drivers to be of help because everyone could be a part to the solution.
But if they really wanted to help, they must start with their consideration of the welfare of their passengers in operating their technically illegal transportation business.
Hopefully, the trust posited by the city government on the habal-habal drivers to participate in the legitimate task of securing the public would serve as precursor to their transformation.
This is one step to their legitimization because indeed their presence could be one of the solutions to the transportation turmoil in the metropolis.