OF course the President was kidding when he said that he would have himself run over by the train if his government’s promise of the LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension did not happen within two years, or until today, the last day of 2015.
Of course we were not, are not, supposed to take it literally, as Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma has said. And watching the speech again, one can actually glean that it was said in jest, like an exchange between the boys after a night of drinks.
It sounded like yabang talk in the mold of, “Itaga mo sa bato pare, kapag hindi nangyari ito, papasagasa ako!”
So yeah, it should not be taken literally. But we sure can take it for all the yabang and macho talk that it was.
Because that statement is telling of the kind of President we’ve had the past six years, the one who displays arrogance like no other, and when we least need it. The one who tells a survivor of the strongest storm to ever make landfall and who feared the dangers of a destroyed city: You did not die, right?
That this retort from the President has echoed throughout his term is telling not just of his character, but of the state of national affairs, including and most especially public services. We complain about the traffic that has made us less productive the past year. We question the decision to close roads for APEC week. We demand better, safer public transport. We demand better Internet. We demand safer factories for our workers. Higher minimum wage. Better healthcare. We could go on and on.
And we can hear the President’s voice: hindi naman nakamamatay ‘yan diba? You guys have not died, right?
It’s the voice of arrogance, the kind that tells you your leader is not out to make life better, and instead is prepared only to do so much, and let the rest fall through the cracks. I’ve done this much, and this is all I can do. What else do you want from me?
A lot, actually.
One would like to think that if there’s anyone who must have the capacity to backtrack on his words, to admit to his faults, to say look, I’m sorry I failed to deliver on that promise, it would be this President. After all, we have heard it often the past six years: This is the President that works hard, that was brought up well by his parents who are both national heroes. We have heard it often that he is the most decent and honest President we’ve had in decades. He is not corrupt, and even better, he is incorruptible.
It is these words that are spoken, that are (press) released about this President, that allow us to expect that he would handle himself better. That he would know to admit to mistakes and mishaps, because contrary to what his Communications Office would like us to believe, this government has made a lot of those, too.
Say, the fact that when the President made this “promise” in April 2013, the bid for the LRT-1 Cavite Extension had yet to happen. And according to Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Jun Abaya, no one showed up for the bid. Given that delay, the start of this project is only expected in the first half of 2016.
Of course we have yet to hear an apology for the delay, and Secretary Abaya’s tone is almost dismissive of the aforementioned Presidential promise. In fact if we are listening to him at all, we are being told that this is just the way things are: this is a public-private partnership (PPP) project, and that’s just the way things happen. (Manila Standard Today, 29 Dec)
But this is more than a PPP project. This is a P64.9-billion project that was awarded to the Light Rail Manila Corp. (LRMC) in September 2014. As private partner LRMC was to take charge of this extension and ensure its completion, but also it would allow government to concede control over public transport. And in times of crisis, as with the MRT the past year, government will be allowed to point a finger at someone else, and not take responsibility for the kind of suffering that citizens bear.
This is the real problem here: it’s the fact that a government service like public transport is being put in the hands of a private entity, one that will call the shots on how much these trains will cost, and therefore who can use these trains. The real problem here is that once again, this government that has promised service like no other is putting basic services in the hands of private partners, if only so it might take pride in projects implemented, the better to impress foreign investors with.
This is the legacy of this President, other than of course the legacy of broken promises.
Wala kayo sa tatay ko!
According to Secretary Coloma, “The President was speaking with a sense of urgency when he announced his desire to see the project within two years <…> Any reasonable person would understand this to have been an aspirational statement.” (The Manila Times, 28 December)
But this is the thing with aspirational statements from a President: when spoken in the way that this particular president speaks, when it is contextualized in the campaign for his Senatorial slate, when contextualized even just in the early part of the speech, it becomes a promise.
“Ako po’y hindi makapal ang mukha, tinuruan akong maging simpleng tao, at totoo sa lahat ng kausap. Turo po ng tatay ko sa akin, ‘pag nagbitaw ka ng salita, mahirap pong madaliin, kailangan mangyari ito.” (4 April 2013 Presidential speech, Cavite) Yes, this was in the beginning of the same speech, where the President said he would allow himself to be run over by a train if the LRT 1 Cavite Extension project did not push through.
At the very least, one would hope the President could give us something – anything! – to show that he has failed at fulfilling this promise. Say, libreng sakay on all trains for all of January? Government will shoulder the expense. After all, we’ve got so much in savings, and we’re paying so much in taxes.
In that sense it’s actually not unreasonable to remind the President of this promise unfulfilled. We are reminding him – and all politicians after him – that the Presidency is not a position for entitled brats and burgis politicos. Because they are the worst at fulfilling promises. They are also the worst at admitting their faults.
No matter who brought them up.