Delivered for whom? | Inquirer Opinion

Delivered for whom?

/ 05:03 AM June 05, 2022

“We delivered.”

This was the assessment of Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade at the “legacy summit” last week that was meant to highlight the achievements of the outgoing administration. Tugade enumerated these accomplishments of his department: completed 250 airport and aviation projects, 1,200 kilometers of completed and ongoing railway projects, 579 completed and 163 ongoing maritime projects, and other projects in road transport and various transportation sectors. He said these undertakings were in response to President Duterte’s marching order to “make the Filipino life comfortable and convenient” as the country’s transport infrastructure was “behind by 50 years.”

“We may not have solved all the transport problems in six years. We have addressed many. Never before in the history of this country has the DOTr done so much in such a short time … We delivered,” Tugade said.

It’s well and good that the country’s international airports in Clark, Bicol, Mactan-Cebu, Bohol-Panglao, and Zamboanga have been completed or rehabilitated; LRT-2 East Extension completed; and MRT-7, Metro Manila Subway, and Common Station are undergoing construction. Not to mention that long-planned projects such as PNR Clark Phase 1, PNR Bicol, and Mindanao Railways are finally seeing the light.


These and other projects including in the maritime sector (Salomague cruise port in Ilocos Sur and the Port of Puerto Princesa that will connect to Malaysia and Indonesia) will bode well for trade, travel, and tourism. In addition, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which is the first glimpse that most foreign travelers get of the country and had a dubious reputation of being among the world’s worst airports, has become, Tugade said, “one of the most improved airports in the world.”

But the long queues at MRT stations, lack of buses, broken escalators, narrow walkways, poorly designed overpasses, and dangerous road conditions, because the public transport system has always been unfriendly to commuters and pedestrians, belie Tugade’s bold declaration. What public commuters experience is the utter inconvenience of the transport system in the country, especially in Metro Manila — one of the world’s most congested cities, where 12 million commuters pass through everyday pre-pandemic.

The pandemic has offered some relief for harried workers who had to endure punishing commutes, but even then, Metro Manila still had about three million commuters daily. And with public transport suspended, those without cars or motorcycles found themselves the most inconvenienced. The lockdown did encourage a biking culture to thrive, but it also highlighted the lack of biking lanes and road safety measures for bikers. Tugade, in the legacy summit, said the government constructed 563-kilometer bike lane networks in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Metro Davao. “This is not just a good mode of transport but also a safe one,” he said, a claim refuted by the biking community which pointed out that while rudimentary bike lanes have been established, roads and policies remain car-centric.

The Edsa Carousel, launched in June 2020, offered commuters an alternative during the strict COVID lockdowns in the metro. The bus rapid transit line has its own dedicated bus lane separated from the normal road traffic on Edsa. But commuters have pointed out that the Edsa Carousel still needs a lot of improvement to make it an effective and helpful service, such as having more at-grade (ground-level) crossings at every station, additional stops, as well as access for persons with disabilities.


Despite Tugade’s claims that the government has made life more convenient and comfortable for Filipinos, the impending return of in-person classes and office-based work may prove him wrong—that the most important issues affecting majority of Filipinos who still rely on public transport have not been addressed. If the current situation is to be any indication, the life of a daily public commuter is bound to even become more hellish once things return to “normal.”

But, as an article published in January by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung on access and mobility in Metro Manila noted, “urban development should come with improving the lives of its constituents” and that the goal is not to return everything back to pre-COVID times, but to revive the city through relevant policies and development plans that cater to the interests of all city inhabitants.


There have been calls for a Magna Carta for commuters and pedestrians, as well as better party list representation at the House of Representatives to ensure passage of commuter-friendly legislation. The incoming administration might as well be reminded that it’s not big-ticket projects that make a huge difference to ordinary commuters. It’s whether policies and programs have addressed their commuting woes or made life even worse for them.


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TAGS: Arthur Tugade, commuters, DOTr, Editorial, Public transportation

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