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An early Christmas break this year?

The search for solutions to the Metro Manila traffic problem continues, with the latest proposal from Sen. Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services, suggesting that schools begin their annual Christmas break two weeks earlier than usual.

The Christmas break this year is scheduled to begin December 22, under Department Order 23 of 2016 of the Department of Education (DepEd) and Republic Act 7797 which fixed the number of school days at 220, from the previous 200. The Poe committee suggests that the break begin instead on December 8.

What will this accomplish? It will help ease the traffic that starts building up around December 16 when the Simbang Gabi begins. It is also about the middle of December that malls begin their Christmas sales and business offices release their Christmas and other year-end bonuses. Towns and ciites light up the streets and Christmas festivals of all kinds begin around this time. Traffic builds up and the traffic jams we already have inevitably worsen.

The DepEd is reportedly considering the Senate suggestion, with Secretary Leonor Briones and Assistant Secretary Tonecito Umali taking the matter up with the department’s Executive Committee. It is a matter of determining where to get back the two weeks of lost class hours – possibly from Saturdays, from additional hours a day in the next two months, or from a later closing date for the school year.

While it is considering this proposal for an early Christmas break, the DepEd might see how this can meld with the other calendar changes that are already being put in place by some schools. The University of the Philippines and the Ateneo de Manila have moved their school year opening from June to July or August, and ultimately to September which is when the school year opens in the United States and in most of Europe. De La Salle University already has a trimestral system with naturally different opening and closing dates for its trimesters.

But the proposal for an early Christmas break, we must not forget, was made because of the traffic problem which has long plagued Metro Manila. It had been hoped that the new administration officials would be able to do something where the previous officials had failed. The Department of Transportation (DOTr) has submitted a number of projects, along with proposals for special emergency powers it needs to carry them out, but many legislators have expressed reluctance to grant the powers and the funding sought.

The House of Representatives Committee on Metro Manila Development led by Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo has begun its own hearings on the traffic problem. Last week, the House lawmakers turned to another department of the government, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), to ask what it can do by way of “better and more revolutionary” solutions to the problem.

Pending decisions on these proposals, the DOTr said it will see what it can do with whatever means are now available. The suggestion made by the Poe Committee will help. Surely there are a few other moves that the DOTr and other agencies of the government can take, pending the adoption of a comprehensive plan to solve Metro Manila’s traffic problem once and for all.