We deserve better

I commute every day. I have taken every possible mode of transportation there is in the city—bus, van, FX, train, tricycle, pedicab, name it. Like every other Filipino commuter, I daily experience the anger, courage, sadness, excitement and joy that come with commuting.

There’s anger when someone steals the jeepney ride I’ve been waiting for, or when I can’t get out of the train because people won’t give way, or when the bus konduktor yells there’s still a lot of room (“Maluwag pa!”) when clearly, the only space left is the breathing space I have. There’s the courage I must have when the driver yells at me for being too slow in getting on or off the bus or jeep, moving the vehicle even before my feet have touched ground, or when I need to brave a crowd in the train just to get inside. There’s the sadness and guilt when an elderly person or a person with disability is not given priority. Then there’s also the joy and excitement when I realize that the train is empty, that the bus is clean, that there are no big passengers in the jeepney (which means all of us can be seated comfortably). And these are only some of the scenarios that we go through every day.

There’s a meme going around on Facebook with a photo of people inside a train with the caption “Papasok kang estudyante, lalabas kang mandirigma (You enter as a student and leave as a warrior).” And one of my friends recently posted a status message, “Mauubos ang kabataan ko sa traffic (My youth will be wasted on traffic).” Both of these made me laugh, but also made me realize that too many people are angered by the state of public transportation in the Philippines. How many years do we spend in traffic and in commuting? How many hours do we waste on the road in a day when we could have done something more productive, when we could have spent the time with family and friends? We laugh, but it is no laughing matter. We are annoyed, we are angry. We don’t deserve this and we are now saying, Enough is enough.

Imagine what we go through every day to get to our destinations. It’s as if we put one foot on the grave, as if it were just a matter of time until we get into an accident. How can this be normal? How can we leave our houses and pray to the heavens that we do not meet an accident, when it is our right to be protected by the government from the road accidents we fear? This shouldn’t be our life. We shouldn’t be on the road with death always present, the Grim Reaper beside us on the train, bus, or jeepney. People should always feel safe and secure. That is the job of the government: to ensure the safety and security of every Filipino.

There is an article by Charles Montgomery titled “The Secrets of the World’s Happiest Cities,” published in The Guardian in 2013 which ultimately says that good transport system and urban planning make people happier. He wrote, “So if we really care about freedom for everyone, we need to design for everyone, not only for the brave.” He also quoted Mayor Enrique Peñalosa of Bogota who redesigned his city with a more efficient transport system, and who said, “We might not be able to fix the economy. But we can design the city to give people dignity, to make them feel rich. The city can make them happier.”

What the Philippine government did not get right, they got right. Commuting is not a simple issue of travel, it is an issue of respect for human dignity and freedom. We commuters feel degraded when we ride a bus where the seats are broken and dirty, when we are not respected by drivers, when we have to endure getting stolen from and violated by strangers. Are these what we deserve? Does the government think of us so low that it would allow us to undergo such circumstances? But somehow, we’ve become desensitized to all these. A road crash is just another road crash, a death is just another name on the list. It’s the reality we have to face every day, and there’s nothing we can do to change this system unless the government decides to change it.

But how can the government want for us a better transport system when it does not understand what the public goes through? We have a government with Band Aid solutions, a government that lacks empathy for its people. And how can it empathize when while the people go through the horrors of public transport, government officials sit in their posh cars, most probably oblivious to the world around them? We have government officials who seem to live in a bubble, who cannot give the people what is due because they do not know the people they serve. We have government officials who, when you ask them for justice for a loved one who has died in a bus crash, tell you, “We’ve already given insurance worth P150,000,” as if life can be replaced by any amount of money.

This is why I admire government officials such as Climate Change Commissioner Nederev Yeb Saño, who takes the MRT challenge, not only for a day, but every day. A true public servant is one who is one with the people. It is high time for Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board Chair Winston Ginez to go through what people go through. Maybe then, when they experience the dangers people face every day, they would understand, and reforms would be implemented fast. As author Erol Ozan wrote, “You can’t understand the city without using its public transportation system.”

The mandate of government officials is to protect the public, not to serve themselves or the corporations that make life a living hell for the people. For if these bus companies and the MRT Corp. truly want to “serve the people,” then there should be no conflict of interest. If they were truly sincere about serving the people, there should be no problem in ensuring that all buses and trains are new and road-worthy, that drivers undergo rigorous training, have limited work hours, and receive appropriate wages and benefits. Until then, the public transport system will be an accident waiting to happen—and it’s waiting to happen to everyone of us.

The recent inquiry into public transport safety, led by Sen. Grace Poe, gives me hope that in time, the system will change for the better. It is a long and winding road, but one we all have to take. Senator Poe was right in saying that the public deserves better. We do deserve better, and every Filipino should demand better. We pay our taxes and the least the government can do is show us where our taxes go.

I dream of a day when efficient public transport will be accessible to everyone, when heading to a destination will not make me fear for my life, when what I will feel whenever I travel is security and peace. I dream of a day when people from all classes of society will take public vehicles, for this is when I will know that our public transport system is good enough for everyone to use.

What was it that Bogota Mayor Peñalosa said? “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars, it’s where the rich use public transport.”


Originally published at Inquirer