A Malacañang spokesperson on Friday apologized to the public for suggesting that if commuters could not stand the long lines waiting for a train ride, they should take the bus or jeepney instead.
The statement of Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. triggered a barrage of criticisms on the Internet.
“I ask for apology and understanding for whatever misimpression arising from that single answer . . . I hope [people would]understand that is not the context of my position,” Coloma told reporters.
Angry netizens interpreted what Coloma said at a news briefing on Thursday as a sign that the government has forsaken the train-riding public.
On Friday, Coloma said he did not intend to offend anyone, and that what he meant was that the riding public should find alternative modes of transportation while mass rail transit (MRT) services were being improved.
“We always remind everyone that we need to find an effective solution to all these problems,” he added.
Coloma said he has been receiving suggestions through text messages from friends who usually ride the MRT trains.
“This is [one of]the text [messages]I received: ‘DOTC-MRT3 could allow again passengers to turn around. For example, going north to Quezon City, they can board at Buendia and Ayala stations. Or going south, board at GMA [station]and be allowed to turn around,’” he added.
Coloma said there was also a suggestion for the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to set performance targets for the maintenance contractor so that more train coaches could be commissioned.
“We will forward this suggestion on improving availability for consideration of the DOTC-MRT3 management,” the spokesman said. MRT3 covers the Baclaran (Parañaque City)-West Avenue/Edsa (Quezon City) route.
He thanked people with “civic spirit” for the suggestions, saying “they only want to help.”
Even as Coloma made the apology, a group of train commuters also on Friday told Malacañang to show more compassion for MRT riders.
The Riles Laan sa Sambayanan (Riles) Network said Coloma’s statement showed the government’s insensitivity toward the daily struggles of MRT commuters.
“The Aquino government should at least try to fix MRT’s problems, not simply advice commuters to look for other modes of transportation. It is the height of insensitivity and irresponsibility for the government to tell commuters to find other forms of transportation, given the advantages of riding the MRT,” Sammy Malunes, the group’s spokesman, said.
He condemned Coloma’s statement that the public should wait for new train coaches scheduled to arrive in February next year.
“We certainly do not hope that an accident happens in the MRT.
Given the train system’s speedy deterioration, however, we have every reason to be alarmed and think that a major accident is waiting to happen in its tracks. If that happens, we have [no one]to blame but the Aquino government,” Malunes said.
He admonished Malacañang for refusing to implement decisive measures to solve MRT’s problems and for allowing itself to be constrained by contracts that give priority to big capitalists’ profits at the expense of public interest.
“We are angry that Mr. Aquino has not cancelled the government’s contract with APT Global, the private firm in charge of the MRT’s maintenance. We are angry that [he]has refused to explore ways of manufacturing train coaches in the country and generate jobs in the process,” Malunes said.
The network said that APT Global has penny-pinched on repairs and spare parts, giving priority to profits at the expense of commuters of the MRT and the public.
“The problem is that the Aquino government is blindly serving big capitalists who rake in huge profits from the MRT and give substandard service to the public. It is making itself incapable of solving the many problems faced by the MRT,” Malunes said.
The group is calling for the resignation of MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol 3rd for failing to solve the train system’s major issues and for being implicated in an attempt to extort $30 million from a train car manufacturer from the Czech Republic.
With Neil A. Alcober