Crises and quips
Millionaires don’t steal!” “The Philippines is a rich country pretending to be poor.” “If you want to arrive early (at) your destination, then you go there earlier.”
In the annals of political gaffes uttered by Filipino politicians, few have become as embedded in the popular memory as the first two samples, while the last seems firmly on its way to joining them. The first was uttered by a woman senator who belonged to a wealthy clan who stood accused of graft and corruption. The second was a justification of a bureaucrat who was trying to face down charges of stealing from state coffers. The last and most recent was the audacious reply of Salvador Panelo, the presidential spokesperson and chief legal counsel, to criticisms against the Duterte administration for allowing the capital’s transportation woes to blow up into a “crisis.”
All three utterances are prime examples of the arrogance and cluelessness of political figures who think they can simply dismiss serious challenges to their integrity or minimize the real daily problems of many citizens with “clever” quips and airy denials. Panelo’s responses to the Malacañang press corps’ grilling about the transportation crisis, in particular, could not have been crasser or smarmier. Especially since these came at the literal boiling point when the daily “carmageddon” of rush-hour traffic collided with the hours-long delays caused by construction in the southbound portion of the Skyway; and then the lightning strike on generators of the LRT that incapacitated this vital transport link.
Incredibly, when queried about what the government was doing to ease commuters’ travails, Panelo could only shrug and say: “What do they mean by transportation crisis? I just see traffic.” Elaborating, he said that commuters still manage to get a ride, and they do get to where they need to go—so, indeed, what crisis? All people need to do, he went on, was to leave their homes earlier—this at a time when students and employees say they, in fact, have to leave their homes by dawn just to make it to school or work on time.
A functioning and efficient mass transportation system would seem the logical answer to the daily travails of commuters. But the LRT and the MRT have proven to be riddled with inefficiencies and short-sighted planning. For many commuters, public utility vehicles, especially jeepneys, have proven to be literal life-savers, ferrying commuters to their destinations. But government seems bent on phasing out the traditional jeepneys and “modernizing” them, to the tune of P2 million per “e-jeepney,” certainly an amount well beyond the reach of ordinary drivers and operators.
Meanwhile, even as commuters stew inside overcrowded and inadequate rail cars, buses, jeepneys and even their private cars, the Duterte administration seems bent on deliberately stoking their ire. News that the government was going to spend P2 billion for a private corporate jet for use by the top officialdom and military top brass could only grate upon the long-suffering public. Especially since no new money seems forthcoming for new transport sources, including the national railways which has received zero appropriations. How much could P2 billion buy, anyway? Certainly, far more trains, buses, rail cars, jeepneys and infrastructure to be used by millions of commuters, rather than a plush aircraft carrying a few entitled officials and their friends and hangers-on.
Yesterday, Panelo accepted the dare issued by a militant group to try commuting as an ordinary citizen. He took four jeepney rides to work, leaving his home in Marikina at 5:15 a.m. and arriving at the Malacañang premises at 8:46 a.m.—or nearly four hours later. Still, he insisted there was no “crisis,” and, anyway, Filipinos are “very creative” when it comes to coping with adversity. “We are very creative people—when we’re confronted with a situation na hostile, we adjust. ’Yan ang pagka-malikhain ng Pilipino (That’s Filipino ingenuity).”
But why are they forced to be “creative” in the first place? A working transport system ought to function like clockwork—regular, coherent, systematic, boring even, any guesswork or improvisation taken out of it. Panelo’s one stab at a public ride was obviously not enough to impress on him the starkness of the situation, but the patented patronizing lawyerspeak just about makes things suckier; he and his cohorts in government would need way more than that to get to the heart of the daily horror happening in the metro’s streets.
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