Jun Florida has the hands of a man who has enjoyed very few comforts in life, rough and grease-stained. What he owns and operates, Florida Lines, is an inspiring“ up-from-the-bootstrap” story. His bus firm was built from the ground up, one bus and one terminal at a time. On the day he realized there was stability in his operations, he started equipping his major terminals with basketball courts. Basketball is his other passion. After work, he plays full court games with his employees.
I don’t think he has ever set foot in Makati’s ritzy shopping and dining establishments. Does he have connections to the powerful and the mighty? Does he know somebody in the position of power? I do not know. But this I am sure of: Never in his hardworking life had he mingled with the Arcache/Litton crowd, the perfumed “dahlings.” He is the representative of the self-made man who has hurdled the toughest of odds to build an enterprise and contribute, as the cliché goes, to nation building.
Melissa Lim is a medical doctor by training, which means she has sworn to preserve the sanctity of human lives. Her dream was to get a residency at the UP PGH after graduating from medical school. With the PGH residency slots so tight, and having told herself, “PGH or nothing,” she decided to go into business. First, it was hardware supply, then bus operations. Hard work and a natural distaste for high-living brought her to where she is now, a major bus operator in Metro Manila.
The work ethic and down-to-earth lives of these two people are an amazing story.
After a bus each of the two figured in tragedies—and the bloviators on TV pictured them as worse than the pork barrel criminals—the Palace dramatically entered into the scene with a seamless segue. “Hit them where it hurts.” This was meant as a marching order for the regulatory agencies to turn the full screws on the operators—a Kristallnacht of sorts on two people who in their day-to-day lives do nothing but employ people, contribute to the economy, quietly and without fanfare.
Janet Napoles was welcomed at the Palace. The Palace, knee-jerking as usual, has launched its Kristallnacht on two of the most hardworking, productive people in the republic. Cancel the franchise of Don Mariano Transit for good. Hit Florida Transit where it hurts most. And the general public largely lauded the move. The netizens chimed in with choruses of support.
The Public Service Law, or its just penalties on companies that figure in accidents, has been largely drowned by the public uproar to send to bus operators to the guillotine. The law does not apparently apply on the bus people.
Why are the bus people at the receiving end of the law’s most brutal punishment and why is the public chiming its support to send bus people to the guillotine?
The first reason is that they are mostly low-profile business people who built their enterprises from scratch and they are unconnected to the power grid. It is quite easy for the government and the public to portray them as criminals or recidivists. The media is an abettor. As members of the middle class (or pretending to be middle class), the media generally loathe the buses and the supposed jams the buses cause on the major roads.
In developed societies, it is different. All discussions are on mass transport. And movement of people through private vehicles has been rendered as a topic for the 20th century. Buses and rail, if not walking and biking. These are the transport issues that animate the policy discussions in developed societies.
The bus industry has also been a convenient straw man when the government, the public and the media want to fight a villain.
In case a tycoon-owned mining pit broke open to despoil the environment and cause a thousand silent, slow deaths in the communities affected, what would follow is a thousand hearings and investigations. Never would the tycoon be portrayed as a criminal in the mass media. The shutdown of the affected mines would be temporary.
In case a tycoon-owned utility is found engaged in price gouging and manipulation, there would be inquiries and investigations. But would the government dare cancel the franchise for good? No and never. Do you know of a major utility franchise that has been cancelled by government over the most outrageous of transgressions?
Going back to Napoles, even she was given an audience at the Palace.
While mass transport is a top-of-mind/priority policy issue in most developed economies, here the bus sector—which is the de facto form of mass transport in the country and the only viable form of mass transport—is below the radar. It only emerges into the public sphere during punishment season when the government wants to wage a Kristallnacht against erring business people and when the public wants to flog an imaginary villain.