Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) head Sonny Coloma gave me the laugh of the past week when he had the gall to tell the public complaining about the inhumanity of the MRT to start taking public buses.
“Yung MRT lang ba ang puwedeng sakyan doon sa mga rutang dinadaanan nito? Baka naman puwedeng matuklasan yung iba pang mga options. Alam natin na sa EDSA lang, libu-libo ang mga passenger buses. Hindi naman siksikan ‘yung mga bus na ‘yon.” He went on: “Siyempre may advantages yung MRT in terms of economy and efficiency, dahil nga walang traffic kapag nakasakay ka na. Pero siguro panahon na para tingnan din yung ibang mga opsyon habang hinihintay natin yung pagdating ng mga bagong bagon ng MRT.”
It reminds of the time Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda talked about how government had forewarned people about sudden rains in July 2012 via DOST’s weather updates on Twitter. Lacierda asserted that various media companies were following the Twitter account of DOST, and therefore were being informed about the weather. In the same vein, people needed to be on Twitter in order to be informed, or glued to the AM Radio, brownouts be damned.
I always thought Coloma could do better than the rest of that three-headed (maybe now only two-headed after R. Carangdang’s resignation) communications office of Malacañang. But this response to the MRT question is about as insensitive as Lacierda’s response to the public getting stranded in dangerous rains, refusing as it does to actually take responsibility for the problem at hand, and telling the people instead to go figure it out themselves.
Eh, para que pa ang gobyerno kung gano’n?
Buses as option?
But probably the worst part of these kinds of assertions from the President’s men is the fact that it is out of touch with the travails of everyday living in this country. For Coloma to have imagined buses as a viable option for daily commute is to already fail to understanding what that would entail.
Where long lines for the train means leaving an hour earlier than one would for an appointment, taking the bus would mean leaving two hours earlier. Because you know this government decided that it would be okay to have all those road construction and repairs happen all at the same time, for reasons that are beyond us, and which they do not explain.
What is so urgent that we must suffer through heavier traffic than is the default? I mean, traffic on EDSA (and elsewhere) was already bad enough before these road repairs and construction. And then suddenly it was of utmost urgency that various road repairs be done. Why couldn’t they have started fixing roads two years ago, one major repair or construction at a time? Why start all of it in 2014, and promise that it will be this bad until 2016?
So that PNoy will finish his term and be able to have better roads tucked under his belt?
Yes, we can see right through you, Malacañang. And we can also see that you don’t give a shit about how much the public will suffer really.
At this point, all it takes is a decision to cease and desist from doing road construction and repairs all at the same time, to go back to the drawing board and create a better plan. Never mind that the roads won’t be done in time for PNoy to brandish around in his final report card. Never mind that Mar Roxas might not be able to use it for his presidential campaign. At this point he will need more than better roads to win in 2016.
On our own
But Coloma’s statement did not only remind us of how this government is also responsible for the now heavier traffic on EDSA and as a result on the minor roads (have you tried the Makati-Mandaluyong bridge route recently?). It is also a reminder of how, no matter articulations that they are one with the public’s suffering, they in fact have no idea what kind of suffering this is.
Public transport in this country is unsafe, and we mean everything from badly lit train stations and bus stops, to the utter lack of a system that is kind to bus drivers so that they need not rush from one end of EDSA to another. The buses and trains are old, and like all hand-me-downs, have seen better times. The commute is unkind: no woman can commute without being harassed to some extent, from catcalls to a random missmissmiss; there are no public toilets that are clean and safe either. There are no sidewalks – no sidewalks! – which means that while many of us wouldn’t mind taking long walks, it is impossible to do so without risking life and limb.
To have decided on the road constructions and repairs for the next two years can only make the public’s suffering worse. And THAT is on Malacañang.
But, too, it is on Malacañang that instead of relaxing the rules at a time like this, its very own Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) has decided to make it more difficult for people to avail themselves of ways to ease the suffering that public commute brings.
Say, the LTFRB’s insistence that the Makati City Hall needs a permit to provide a free shuttle service for Makati employees, one that picks up passengers from the MRT’s North Avenue Quezon City Station and drops them off at the Makati Stock Exchange Building on Ayala Avenue from 6:00 to 9:00 in the morning. These four coasters and two buses could shuttle 250 people in one trip, for free. The Makati City Hall was doing it to aid the public in a time of transport crisis.
The LTFRB decided the city hall needs a permit to do that.
Which is what it wants as well out of local ridesharing app Tripid and global private driver flagging service Uber. The press release is such that the latter two apps had been reckless because without securing franchise permits from the LTFRB, these were risks to public safety.
Yet all of us know that a franchise from the LTFRB means nothing. We only need to count the number of bus accidents, the greater number of unsafe buses, the number of deaths and injuries incurred in unsafe public transport, and we would know that this government office has got blood on its hands. And money in its pocket from all those franchise and licensing fees.
Coloma has since apologized for having told the public to go take the bus instead of complaining about the train’s horrid services. One wishes that the next step is to actually address this transport crisis and be as kind to the public as possible. I’m not holding my breath for that.