Will Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo take a jeepney and a commuter train, or just book a ride with Angkas or Grab to report for work on Friday either from his old residence in Marikina City or from Greenhills, San Juan?
The presidential spokesperson has accepted what he called a “silly challenge” for him to take public transportation to share in the public’s suffering.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. wants to join him on his commute. Both are senior citizens who, before taking the challenge, reported for work on chauffeured and air-conditioned vehicles.
Panelo earlier drew flak for denying there was a transport crisis gripping Metro Manila, where public transportation, according to the Asian Development Bank, is not possible in a substantial portion of random trips.
He said there was no crisis because commuters were still able to reach their destinations. For many workers and students, this meant spending hours on heavily congested roads like Edsa.
Adding to the problems of Metro Manila commuters are the recent fire that hit Light Rail Transit (LRT) 2, the breakdown of Metro Rail Transit lines, and the daily “carmageddon” on the northbound lanes of the South Luzon Expressway before Skyway in Muntinlupa.
To travel alone, Greenhills
Panelo said he would travel alone on Friday but declined to have Malacañang reporters cover him, saying he did not want to make a spectacle of himself.
He refused to disclose where or what time he would take public transport or the route he would take.
But in an interview on radio station dzMM on Wednesday night, Panelo said that he leaves Greenhills, San Juan, at 6:30 a.m. at the latest and arrives in Malacañang at 10 a.m.
A number of netizens wanted Panelo to take public transport during rush hour for an entire week.
Panelo maintained that there was no mass transport crisis since there was no paralysis of mass transport anyway.
“A transport crisis is having no rides, the LRT is not moving, no bus, no jeepney—that’s the real crisis. But if you ask me if there’s a crisis in our suffering, ah, definitely,” Panelo said at a press briefing on Thursday.
Like Panelo, Locsin dismissed public cries of a transport crisis in the metropolis, saying the problem lies in having “too many who need rides,” which he claimed did not amount to a transport problem.
Panelo accepted on Wednesday night the challenge of Renato Reyes, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general, who earlier declared a mass transportation crisis in the metropolis.
If Panelo were a regular commuter, his travel would take him along the route of LRT 2, the main and only transit line connecting Marikina to the capital.
But the train system is only partially operating after two of its transformers blew out and caught fire on Oct. 3, shutting down three stations, including Santolan, closest to where Panelo lives.
With three stations closed, Panelo would have to ride a jeepney to the LRT 2 station in Cubao, where he can then take the train to Legarda in Sampaloc, Manila, a short walk from Malacañang.
Some netizens affected by the LRT 2’s partial operations said their travel time now took up to six to seven hours.
One of them, Poebe Lois Baula, a fine arts student from Cainta, Rizal province, said it now took her almost four hours to get to her school, up from just over an hour on LRT 2 when it was fully working.
“Leaving every day at 4 a.m. and arriving home between 10 p.m. and midnight will exhaust me to death,” Baula said.
Sen. Leila de Lima said on Thursday that Panelo was out of touch with the dismal state of mass transportation in the country.
“What I see here is an accountability crisis, where this administration refuses to take responsibility over the deteriorating state of mobility in Metro Manila,” she said
Amid these problems, the administration has decided to funnel a significant amount of public money to President Duterte’s confidential and intelligence fund, De Lima said in a statement.
It could have instead used the amount to augment the needs of mass transportation and to deal with urgent public health and poverty alleviation matters, she added.
“The end-goal of providing mass transportation by the state is for the public to be able to move from and to places efficiently and with dignity,” she said.
But instead, the country’s railways are getting worse and passengers are crammed into overloaded coaches, she said.
A workers’ group hoped that Panelo’s use of mass transport would not just be a spectacle but would lead to concrete solutions that would help ease the burden of commuters.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) warned that Panelo’s one-day “commute challenge” would be an exercise in futility if the Duterte administration would not be able to provide “serious and lasting policy reforms” to ease the perennial transport woes of Metro Manila.
No security escorts
Reyes has volunteered to accompany the President’s chief legal counsel during his commute to Malacañang.
Reyes’ caveats? No security escorts, press coverage and special treatment that could make Panelo’s travel breezy and harder for ordinary commuters during rush hour. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND JOVIC YEE
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