Saturday ∗ 18 Jul 2015

Traffic!* #LiberalPartyGovt

I’ve lived in this country all my life, grew up commuting between Mandaluyong and Quezon City to go to elementary school, Mandaluyong and Pasig for high school, lived in QC near UP Diliman for college and the first jobs I held after graduation.

It took forever before I learned to drive myself around the city, and while that had its perks, I enjoyed taking the MRT to go see exhibits on Pasong Tamo, or whenever I needed to get myself to QC for errands. I walked when I could, up and down Shaw Boulevard, to the nearby neighborhood groceries, or to the malls on EDSA-Crossing.

Doing the arts and culture beat from 2011 to 2013, it always only took me an hour to get from Mandaluyong to Quezon City or Manila, to go to, say, UP Diliman or the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Add 30 minutes to that if it rained.

None of this holds true in 2015.

The pedestrian as sacrificial lamb

The changing landscape of our cities is one that has always been celebrated as “development.” But there is something fundamentally wrong with development that refuses to acknowledge the needs and basic rights of citizens.

Say, just the right to walk the streets without endangering one’s life because the sidewalks don’t exist anymore. I grew up with Mandaluyong streets and roads having tree-lined sidewalks. All that is gone now. On Samat street towards Shaw Boulevard, the sidewalk has been taken over by the Amaya Development, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road itself.

On Shaw Boulevard things are just as bad. As the buildings of my childhood were demolished, sidewalks have also all but disappeared. If you’re walking towards EDSA a tiny bit of sidewalk only appears near Crossing, where the MRT station is. Crossing Shaw Boulevard though is a bitch, because there is no area for those waiting to cross from one side of Shaw to the other; it’s been taken up by the stairs to the MRT station.

Go try crossing EDSA, and you will find it to be a dark and wet and scary stretch under the train.

It might be better, of course, elsewhere in the metro, and this is especially true of Makati, for example. But anyone who has lived in the city all her life would know that things didn’t use to be this bad, and walking the streets didn’t use to be risky business.

I’m not even talking about pollution and congestion yet.

Death of / by public transport

And so we get onto the train, or a bus, or a jeep, and find that we are risking our lives anyway, because public transport is not something that government takes responsibility for, nor is it something that they work towards improving.

You know this because when accidents happen they blame it on drivers of public utility vehicles. They blame jeepney drivers for clogging up the smaller roads, they blame bus drivers for reckless driving, they blame train operators for MRT mishaps. And yet one wonders about a government that refuses to see the light and deal with the plight of public utility drivers. These are workers after all who are at the mercy of private owners and franchises, and live as contractual employees with no regular wage or benefits: they need to earn beyond boundary to earn anything at all.

Certainly this affects the kind of services that we get from public transport? Certainly the government can see that this is one of many ways in which commuters’ lives are put at risk?

But then again, there’s the MRT, which is down to seven functioning trains, from 20. And even at twenty trains, it was already becoming an unsafe option as far as commuting was concerned. But at seven trains constantly breaking down? How can this government sit back and watch it happen? How can it continue to point a finger at the private sector that has messed up the train system’s maintenance, but which the government hopes to depend on still for its improvement?

Co-Manila Times columnist Dr. Giovanni Tapang has talked about an AGHAM study on the MRT, and it all makes sense: “The sheer mass of people using the MRT system should not be seen simply as a source of income but as a solid indicator of the need to provide them with basic transport. In a study, AGHAM said urban rail transit is not only just a public service but is a strategic national asset as well. If the State fails to provide this basic service, it fails in its responsibility to its people. In the case of the MRT, 68 percent of its daily riders earn below the minimum living wage.”

The bane of productivity

It was said once by this President that traffic on EDSA is an indicator of a better economy. It bears repeating at this point in time:

“Maganda na siguro ang problema na binabanggit na ma-trapik sa EDSA, tama po yan, dahil marami ang nasa kalsada, buhay na buhay ang ating economiya kaysa naman walang trapik sa EDSA dahil wala ng makabili ng gasolina na patakbuhin ang kanyang sasakyan.” (January 2013)

Yes, so many are out on the streets, Mr. President. But it is far from being an indicator of development. In fact, if anything, it is proof that you have failed at providing us with safe public transport and better roads.

Because we are not just talking about the unbelievable traffic at this point, the kind that will keep you on the road to work for a good two hours in the morning, and on the road going home for another three hours in the evening. We are talking about pedestrians stuck in long lines waiting for the next FX to arrive, or the next cab that will take them home. We’re talking about commuters with no sidewalks to wait on, taking up a chunk of our roads because they have no choice but to fight for their space on a bus or a jeep that will take them home.

Every day on EDSA or any other road from one end of the city to another, I am reminded that while it might hold true that this President is incorruptible, on his fifth year in office I am worse off as a citizen because I spend more time waiting to get from one place to another. Countless are too exhausted to even do the work they need to survive.

Kahit walang corrupt, marami namang pahirap.

Sounds about right.

*Previously entitled “Never This Bad,” The Manila Times, RadicalChick Column, 28 June 2015. 

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