Home Opinion Op-Ed Columns Traffic woes and ‘malasakit’

Traffic woes and ‘malasakit’

ANTONIO CONTRERAS

I AM from the south. I leave the house very early in the morning to avoid traffic, and it usually takes me at most only one hour and 15 minutes to get to Taft from Los Baños, even less if I feel like driving faster than usual. But recently, the journey began to take at least two hours because of the bottleneck in the approach towards Alabang caused by the construction of the Skyway extension.

It is easy to advise motorists to bear the burden, and think of the glory days when all of these will just be painful memories, when the drive would be seamless. But meanwhile, people will have to bear the consequences of not making it to scheduled appointments and of shouldering additional fuel costs. Add to this the loss in productivity and we could be facing an enormous loss to the economy. And we are certain that this is not in sync with the President’s promise of a comfortable life for all.

There is no comfort for people stuck in traffic who urgently need to empty their bladders, or worse, badly need to do number two. The latter would be disastrous not only for someone who just ate spoiled food, but also to fellow passengers should a foul accident happen. Mercifully, we have not heard of anything like this happening, at least not yet. Perhaps, to alleviate this problem, authorities should be kind enough to put up portable toilets along the way, or order buses to install toilets in their fleet, or if this is impossible, to allow their passengers some privacy at the back of the bus to relieve themselves using whatever gadget comes handy. It may even spur a market for portable and personalized urinals.

This may sound gross, but it drives home a point. Those who cause disruption in our normal everyday lives always ask for understanding as they promise to improve their services. But they do not compensate us for the lost opportunities, or come to our defense when we are penalized for not making it to our appointments, meetings, classes and job interviews. Sen. Mary Grace Poe has proposed that lower toll fees should be collected to at least compensate motorists for the inconvenience, but it is doubtful if authorities would be amenable to her proposal, although it was reported that it is being studied.


It would not be asking too much to expect our officials and authorities to be sensitive enough to have mechanisms to address the needs of passengers who need to relieve themselves as they are stuck in traffic not only in South Luzon Expressway or SLEx, but in EDSA and in the arteries affected by the breakdown of LRT 2. The need becomes more compelling as the Skyway construction and the closure of key train stations, will reportedly extend into Christmas, which is the busiest season of the year.

We have a term for this. We call it empathy or “malasakit.” But it seems malasakit is something that is in short supply right now, notwithstanding Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go’s appropriation of the term to refer to his welfare centers.

A sense of malasakit appears to have escaped public officials when they arrogantly dismiss the plight of jeepney drivers. There is no malasakit when these officials audaciously claim that the drivers can afford the cost of electric jeepneys, which would mean that each driver will have to pay on average P26,000 in monthly amortizations. I simply don’t know which parallel universe these officials come from for them to arrive at that conclusion. But what is even more galling is when some people who defend the jeepney modernization policy turn it into some kind of social engineering scheme where those who will not be able to compete and cope with the demands of modernization deserve to suffer.

From the outset, I have been for transport modernization. And this would include not only modernizing our mass transit, but also improving our infrastructure. The magnitude of our current problems is simply too huge that sacrifices are necessary. We can go on and blame past administrations for allowing our mass transport system and our transport infrastructures to become what they are now — fuel-inefficient and polluting vehicles, ill-designed and badly constructed roads, disastrously mediocre urban designs bereft of scientific planning. And there is no doubt that the Duterte administration has inherited a problem that requires systematic and holistic solutions, and not just by asking for emergency powers without a matching comprehensive plan. And it is certain that this will spill over to the next presidency.

Filipinos are known to be understanding and resilient. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if our officials, and those who support them, could show authentic malasakit. It would be nice if they descend from their ivory towers and privileged positions and live with the hoi polloi. It would help if we require them to take public transport and endure the woes that all of us suffer to make them appreciate that a simple act of installing portable toilets along major thoroughfares would mean a lot. Perhaps, asking them to spend time with jeepney drivers, even live with them, can instill compassion and understanding, and open their privileged lives to have some space for empathy.

The duty of government is to ensure that a policy should make the lives of as many people as possible better, without making others worse off. And if this is not possible, that the latter should be compensated not only with money, but even more by the assurance that the government has malasakit for them, the real feeling of empathy, and not just as a name given to one-stop welfare centers. And this can’t happen if our government dismisses the suffering of the people by denying the existence of a crisis simply because, in the insensitive words of presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, they still arrive at their destinations.

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