In click-happy shooting-from-the-hip unthinking-social-media Pilipinas, one finds that sometimes the bandwagon gets what it wants. Yes, there is the good ol’ collective activity of kuyog, that scarier version of ganging up on someone, for all of social media to see – usually more embarrassing for those who don’t know when to stop and go into full blown bullying.
And then there’s the idea of “online clamor.” The kind that the President can invoke when he says he’s thinking of running for a second term, as it is what can produce something as thoughtless and superficial as the so-called MRT challenge.
Getting what we wish for
On September 1, Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte tweeted about doing the MRT Rush Hour Challenge. It would later on be revealed that she had gone on the train with Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
She tweeted on September 1: “Took the MRT Rush Hour Challenge today at 824am: North-Taft, LRT1 Taft to Central. Able to get a seat at Ayala stop… Lined up at 824am, able to ride at 901am, got off at Taft by 941am. Appreciate all the commuters who bear w/ the service on a daily basis…..we continue to ask for your understanding as we continue to push for improvements.”
Valte and Lacierda took the LRT 1 as well, travelling from the Taft Station to Central Station near Malacañang. They had no guards with them, a feat in itself given that itinerary. The MRT 3 is one thing; the LRT 1 is a different banana altogether. As anyone who has gotten off the MRT on Taft to get onto the LRT 1 would know, transferring trains is no easy task. It involves going into tiny pretend-malls with low ceilings, up and down rickety footbridges and congested walkways, your safety be damned. If it’s raining then that doubles the hassle. If you’re a woman travelling alone, the dangers multiply by a good hundred.
These trains – not just the MRT mind you – remind of how badly planned our transport systems are, and how we do worse with planning our cities. A congested train usually means a difficult time just getting out of the train, and out of the station. And on the LRT 1 in particular, it means a congested city street below, one that is dirty and smelly too, and if one is truly unlucky the slightest rain will mean some flooding to boot.
Valte and Lacierda did one over everyone else—including Senator Grace Poe—by going on that train, too. Instead of getting off on Taft to get into air conditioned cars to Malacañang.
And yet no one is celebrating either of the two spokespersons, at least not anywhere close to the kind of praise Senator Poe has gotten.
I mean really. You celebrate one, you celebrate all. Unless of course seeing the two spokesperson do it made us realize how easy that challenge was, and how superficial?
I mean this challenge has always been shallow to me, even when it first gained mileage via the Kris Aquinos and Manny Pacquiaos showing that they can take the train. And then when Senator Poe did it last week the idea of it being an “official” challenge gained traction. Taking from “The ASL Bucket Challenge,” the copycats in us unthinkingly thought “The MRT Challenge” which later transformed into “The MRT Rush Hour Challenge” specifically targeting those in government.
And then Valte and Lacierda did it. And then too many were rendered tameme.
Or were just ready to pounce on them, saying that MRT officials must have known they were getting on the train Monday so things were more efficient. It is of course beyond me how being in line for a good 37 minutes, and spending 41 minutes on the train where one is without a seat for more than half the ride, might be called efficient.
Might as well admit it. Social media dared ‘em government officials, and the first two to call the dare just reminded us of how shallow we can be, and how unthinking.
Why is this a challenge?
Because challenging government officials and politicians to take the MRT is about as easy as telling all of us to do it. Doing it once can be a fun new experience, where wide-eyed and surprised officials might say ala Kris: “What a memorable experience!” and take a selfie to go with it.
I say it again: taking the MRT once does not prove anything. That we even dare government officials to do it only gives them the opportunity to gain the mileage that they need. That Valte and Lacierda are the first to do it (after Poe) is a painful reminder of how sometimes we pay for the lack of thinking that goes into hashtag campaigns and ideas-gone-viral.
But what is even more tragic about the MRT challenge is that it also and ultimately trivializes the experience of the every Pinoy and Pinay, every senior citizen and pregnant woman, every citizen who suffers the daily commute. By making it seem like this commute is “a challenge” we put it on the same level as throwing ice water over our heads, or eating insects on nationwide television. It becomes nothing but a fleeting experience, one that we go through once for a cause maybe, or some fame, but nothing that is about fundamental change.
Having any and all of our politicians and government officials ride the train will not change anything. It will not mean real honest discussions about the privatization of public transport. It won’t mean a safer more efficient commute for the public. It won’t keep fare hikes from happening. It won’t make the streets safer for any of us.
The MRT challenge is just that thing that politicians and government officials will do. The more excitable among us will insist it is what a presidentiable-to-be (aka Senator Poe) must do. This is about as reckless and foolish as pushing a senator to run for president because his mother, an icon of democracy, had died.
We all know what happened to that idea.