Lord of the rails
It’s said that famous food critics in New York take great pains to do their job incognito. They come to a restaurant unannounced and disguised—dressing down when normally they step out looking like a million bucks or dressing up when usually they face the world in jeans and sneakers; hiding behind thick (or no) makeup; wearing a wig or shades — the better to go about their business anonymously and thus ensure to the extent possible that, whether in terms of food or service (even the time it takes to bring the bill), they will be getting what other patrons are getting on any given day.
It’s good practice to guarantee that no special treatment will be given and, thus, as close to an objective report will be produced. (On occasion in this paper, the low-key “Quiet Diner” does an excellent, no-nonsense review.)
This came to mind as the weary observer read reports of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s recent excursion on the rails, on a morning past the rush hours when the great, winding queues had petered out, attended by a couple of Department of Transportation types and, because he is what he is, by trimedia crews bearing the equipment of their trade.
From accounts and photos, the former lawmaker lined up at the first MRT3 station, bought his own southbound ticket, got into the nearest packed bagon, was able to find a seat only later in the trip, appreciated the air-conditioning, and schmoozed with other passengers.
He transferred to LRT1 after disembarking at Taft Avenue and rode to the central terminal in Manila, after which he got out and into a waiting car and headed to Malacañang. His verdict: Not that bad.
Expectedly, battle-scarred veterans of the trains were unimpressed, annoyed, even snide. They found Roque’s morning out laughable, the general tone of their reactions being: You want to have a taste of what we go through every day, you come during the rush hours, with no aides to show you the way.
A netizen pronounced Roque’s verdict an “insult to half a million MRT3 commuters” and another deemed it “pathetic and unsettling.”
A passenger who watched Roque go through the motions in the bagon asked dryly why he had to hold a press conference there.
As it turned out, LRT1 security personnel repeatedly turned commuters away from the coach that Roque had boarded, which added to the general irritation over his presence in the train system.
He was, to be sure, unaware of the security personnel’s exclusionary actions, but then how in blazes did he expect to be treated the way ordinary folk are treated in this neck of the woods?
Being sharp, he must have known that he would be given slack, a lot of it, being the unmistakable and undisguised Harry Roque, President Duterte’s Mouth, Purveyor of Presidential Thoughts, Object of Envy of Critics, Screamer and Hurler of Hollow Blocks, and Reporter and Imaginer of the True State of MRT3.
At what point in the journey did he realize — as surely he must have — that it wasn’t such a good idea?
And the question naturally arises: Did his account of his experience — “cold” air-conditioning, no breakdown or uncoupling in the middle of the tracks, queues that did not partake of the apocalyptic nature of the daily rush hours, when otherwise proper men and women are transformed, against their better angels, into Yeats’ “weasels fighting in a hole” — manage to direct the distracted presidential gaze to the crying urgency of the transportation crisis?
Once upon a time, then Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya made a similar trip during a similar period in the day. It didn’t turn out well, was actually a PR nightmare; on news footage the man came across as sullen and exceedingly reluctant to be there, demanding of his aides what all the commuter complaints were about. He didn’t have a clue. Naturally, flak flew.
Being sharp, Roque should have anticipated the perils of his sallying forth, a veritable lord of the rails, festooned with the best intentions. He was a moving target, and not only because of the girth that he has mentioned at least once as a factor of his being a popup for potshots.
“Roque’s miserable PR stunt fooled no one except perhaps himself and his DOTr host,” Angelo Suarez, spokesperson for TREN (Train Riders Network), said in a statement. Indeed it appeared like a stunt, like something false, like Oscar Pistorius weeping on the witness stand.
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