Pinoy Kasi

Only in Norway


We’ve had too many “only in the Philippines” articles, usually focusing on something negative. I thought maybe we should do “if only in the Philippines,” but using that perspective still comes out negative. For a change then, why don’t we look at other countries (besides Mother America) for striking and unique positive examples that we may want to emulate?

I thought of “only in Norway” after watching a report by Al-Jazeera about that country’s prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who decided to drive a taxi for a day so he could talk with his constituents about their needs. Al-Jazeera carried video footage showing passengers’ reactions, including some of them debating with each other if the driver was really the prime minister. One woman asked the “driver” if he had quit as prime minister.

The timing could not have been better because just last week, Dinna Dayao started a petition asking President Aquino to require all government officials to take public transport at least once a month. More on that in the second part of today’s column.

Against the tide

If the world is plagued by rogue states—countries that refuse to play fair in the global landscape—then we have countries like Norway that go against the tide. After news spread in July 2011 about a right-wing nationalist, Anders Breivik, massacring 77 people in a bombing and shooting rampage, Norwegians poured out into the streets singing and carrying roses. Outside the main cathedral in Oslo, Norwegians produced a carpet of flowers with a message: “If one man can show so much hate, just imagine how much love we can all show together.”

Breivik was allowed to express his extremist views during his trial, speaking against Islam and Muslim immigrants. The rationale for allowing this was that democracy was the best defense against antidemocratic ideas, and indeed, his ranting and raving ended up discrediting people with extremist ideas like his.

In other countries, including the Philippines, there would have been an outcry to execute the murderer and to pass more draconian “antiterrorist” laws, including curtailment of some civil liberties. Prime Minister Stoltenberg  instead declared: “The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation.” Later, he apologized to the nation for lapses in the way the police handled the case, but did not call for more powers to the police.

Of course, Norway only has five million people, so one can argue that governance is so much easier. But generally, the Scandinavian countries have been models of governance and citizenship. They are not the richest countries in the world if we use indices like the Gross Domestic Product, but they’ve always been among the top 10 countries in terms of the Human Development Index, which combines GDP for economic wealth with life expectancy and years of schooling for a more accurate measure of the quality of life. And if the Scandinavian countries fare so well, Norway leads them all, having ranked first with the human development index from 2000 to 2004 and 2007 to 2012 (the latest year for which HDI rankings were made).

Stoltenberg’s leadership style isn’t confined to Norway or Scandinavia. All over Europe, and to some extent in Canada and Australia, we’re seeing a kind of postmodern state where government officials aren’t into pomp and privilege. My Dutch friends liked to boast that their officials, all the way up to the prime minister, would not hesitate to take public transport, or even occasionally bike to work, in a suit and briefcase.

Petition against hell

Let me get to the “if only in the Philippines” bit.

The contrasts in lifestyles cannot be more sharp. Our local officials, even petty ones, take trips with dozens of people (I’m thinking of minions in “Despicable Me”). And while the detested wang wang (police sirens) are gone, the politicos still have convoys of motorcycle cops who stop all traffic to let our royalty pass. (I forgot to say my Dutch friends say the members of their royal family are also known to bike in public.)

No wonder our politicians can’t understand why we complain so much about traffic, and public transport.

Now comes a petition initiated by Dinna Dayao calling on government officials to take public transport at least once a month. Dinna’s rationale is that these officials will never give priority to public transport because they don’t know what it’s like out there. Every time I write about the horrors of our LRT/MRT system I’m bombarded with e-mails, mostly from people just needing to vent their exasperation, if not rage.  Many e-mails use words like “suffer” and “oppressed” and wonder how the government can be so insensitive.

Really, if Dan Brown had taken our public transport, preferably the LRT/MRT during rush hour, he would not have described Manila as the gate to hell. Instead, he would have claimed to have discovered the Italian poet and writer Dante’s Inferno. Dante had cleverly described an Inferno for the lowest forms of human life, from popes to politicians, each condemned to specific parts of hell.

Since this is the Chinese ghost month, I might as well get more regional and describe the Chinese Hades, where these ghosts usually reside. There are theme parks in China designed to scare children to death with depictions of this Chinese Inferno, showing people being subjected to all kinds of physical brutalities.  My “favorites” are the ones where the ghosts of gluttons are condemned to be forever hungry because whatever they eat simply slides through a kind of bottomless gut extending from the mouth to the rear exit.

Easily, one can imagine a new section in such an Inferno where the most corrupt humans would be damned, the less corrupt ones condemned to take perpetual taxi rides (not with the Norwegian prime minister), followed by tricycles and jeepneys, and the most corrupt politicians saved for an underworld LRT/MRT, forever queuing and being shoved and crammed like sardines into tiny train coaches that neither start nor end, then discharging passengers to queue again. Like the real LRT/MRT there will be clocks everywhere in this hell, none of which tells the correct time, which is really what hell is all about—not knowing what’s going on, not knowing where you are, or when you’ll find relief.

Dinna’s petition does make another important point: Priority has been given to flyovers and to other infrastructure that benefit private vehicles—well, sort of—since what happens is we get more traffic congestion so people in private cars have their own hell—well, purgatory—compared to public transport.

Go to and you’ll find the petition, “Require all public officials to take public transport,” on the home page. Sign it and let’s see what will come out of it.

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  • AllaMo

    Just learned that the Norway PM’s postings were sorta, kinda staged – Not really spontaneous. But, that is another story…

    • Oddme

      Well, that counts for 5 of the total 14 passengers he had. Those five still didn’t know that the prime minister would show up, and was of course still very surprised. So it was not really staged. They only asked five random people in the streets because they wanted people of all age groups and didn’t have time for the PM to sit and wait for passengers. He is a busy man. :D

  • buninay1

    There is a fear clutching at the hearts of the public officials that once they go out in the open sans security details, they will get mob lynched by people seething at the news about untrammeled corruption in the govt especially in the legislature. It is not without basis given the fact things like this do happen in other countries. Arab Spring erupted because of the general indifference among public officials to the plight of common people on the street.

    If the public officials here in our country bite the bait pushed on them by Dinna Dayao, they should know the risk they are taking. The spectre of Alex Boncayao Brigade and riding on tandem hired killers must be too much to bear for security conscious public officials. They will not take public transport without their security cordon to be sure. The presence of the public officials with their security group in tow will further exacerbate the crowding in the MRT/LRT stations. Maybe Dinna Dayao will attain the opposite of what she hopes to be decongested traffic in the metropolis if the officials will heed her ill-advice after all.

    The path to hell is paved with good and noble intentions, So is Dinna Dayao’s suggestion. What the public officials should rather do is promote biking as alternative mass transportation. Vietnam and China are into it and these countries have no plan of scratching this mode of transport off their main thoroughfares. Of course, there will be security concerns about commuting on bikes but this can be dutifully addressed by beefing up the security and installing cctvs along the designated bike lanes.

    Bicycle as mass transport in the metropolis is ideal for citizens who want to go to their destinations hassle-free with the added benefit of attaining healthy physique due to the compulsory exercise required in pedaling.

    • on_hindsight

      Bike is really good. And hope Metro Manila is not that mega air-polluted anymore when bike lanes are ready.

  • Eelap

    Researching the afterlife topics, I found out that those heartless, mindless, only for themselves individuals, will be grouped together. They will be made to realize the effects of their wrongdoings by experiencing them themselves. It is for this reason that I am very sorry for them.

  • WeAry_Bat

    There is also gluttony with money. The images described are just as apt for them, money sliding into their mouths then out back, so they keep on and on, never ending greed.

  • $3741640

    When I was still living in Toronto…the former mayor, Ms Babara Hall always take the subway to her work. Her bodyguard…is a pocketbook and a cup of coffee (2nd Cup is more popular than Starbucks in Toronto)

  • Tommy

    “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

    – Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogota

    Bit idealistic, if we’re being honest (if you live in the suburbs public transpo isn’t always ideal), but I love the sentiment.

    • Cue_Vas

      Also, a developed country is where the poor are fat and the rich are slim.

  • Cue_Vas

    Compare the Philippines to developed countries like Japan or Germany, with more or less the same size or population.

    Comparing it to small countries like Norway or Singapore is like comparing a mom-and-pop store to a mid-size corporation. Apples and oranges.

    • panhase

      Well I am in Germany for many years now, one can find politicians using bikes and public transportation. I have never seen a mayor driving around with bodyguards. Of course the Chancellor, the President and cabinet members do have security details but not just a mere member of parliament. It is really different over here. The mayor of our town is mostly seen walking and when he has to use a car he is driving himself.

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