AFTER asking the commuting public to sacrifice more, President Duterte’s spokesman now blames Congress and the past two administrations for the traffic/transportation woes being experienced today.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, yesterday said he is aware of the “vexing daily commute, as well as the burden caused by the worsening traffic conditions in Manila” but stood by his statement on Tuesday that there is no mass transit crisis in the country, especially in Metro Manila, and that people should leave home early so they would not be late for work, school, or appointments.
He pushed for emergency powers for the President.
“This administration wanted to address the same immediately but Congress opted not to grant the President the emergency powers he asked from it at the inception of his presidency to solve it,” he said.
Panelo’s statements on Tuesday triggered criticisms from various sectors.
Netizens, through Twitter and Facebook, cursed government officials for supposedly being insensitive and for lacking empathy.
The youth group Anakbayan challenged Panelo, Duterte, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority spokeswoman Celine Pialago “to commute to work every day for a week to experience the hellish reality of our everyday commute.” It said they should commute without using the privileges of courtesy or express lanes.
The labor group Federation for Free Workers hit Malacañang for the “insensitive” remarks on the transportation woes being faced daily by Filipinos.
Panelo yesterday said the current traffic congestion and the inadequate mass transit system have been the bane of the people especially those living and working in Metro Manila. But the problem is a “carryover of two previous administrations, and inherited by the present one.”
He also said the current problems in the metro rail/light rail transit (LRT and MRT) system are products of the many years of neglect “by the previous administrations.”
“I stand by my statement: there is no mass transport crisis. The crisis is in the sufferance of commuters and motorists; while the other crisis is in the inefficient operation and maintenance of the LRTs – the crisis is in its poor management,” he said adding that he even called the attention of the LRT management and told it to do more in providing efficient service to the public.
He said government is addressing the traffic congestion and mass transit problems though various projects, like the rehabilitation of the MRT-3, and the building of the Metro Manila Subway, MRT-7 and LRT-1 Cavite Extension and PNR Clark, among others.
“We will not allow (traffic woes and mass transit problems) it to be constant and permanent. Everyone who commutes or drives suffers everyday but solutions to solve it are not insuperable, and this administration is doing its best to provide not just immediate but also long-term solutions,” Panelo said.
Anakbayan national spokesman Alex Danday said denying the crisis is a disservice to the millions of commuters who travel to hell and back just to provide food on their table.
A netizen tweeted that the people should probably start walking to work or living in their offices to avoid daily traffic woes.
Another social media post read that the problem with the government officials is that they lack basic empathy towards the commuters because they are likely being chauffeured and even escorted by police when they passed by the roads around Metro Manila.
Some said Panelo is being hated by the public because of the poor choice of words that he has been using in communicating with the public.
There are some netizens, however, who said there might be no traffic or transport crisis but there may be a crisis is leadership.
Others asked what the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III did to address the traffic congestion, while some said the traffic problem is not limited to Metro Manila.
President Julius Cainglet, vice president of the Federation for Free Workers, said: “It’s not that Malacañang does not think we have a mass transport crisis. It’s that they do not even recognize we have a transportation and traffic problem at all.”
“It’s the arrogance and insensitive remarks, such as, we still get to where want to go anyway. Yes we do, but four hours late,” he added.
Partido Manggagawa chairman Rene Magtubo said, “There is a mass transportation crisis in Metro Manila! Unfortunately, the authorities refuse to accept it because they would bear the brunt of the public outrage, and of course, their accountability.”
“Working people suffer most due to longer hours of travel, which affects not only their health and productivity, but also their valuable time spent to care for their children and the family,” he also said.
Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento, chair of the House transportation committee, apologized to commuters for their daily suffering, saying it is a shame that the government cannot even provide the people with a decent public transportation system.
During the emergency meeting of the transportation panel to tackle what the militant group Bayan said was a “mass transport crisis,” an emotional Sarmiento said the people “deserve better in life.”
“From the bottom of my heart, as the chairman of the committee on transportation, including the vice chairpersons, the members of the committee on transportation, to include the members of the 18th Congress chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, we apologize to the people for their suffering,” he said.
“I wonder why despite the P4.1-trillion (proposed) budget duly passed by this House, we cannot even have the decency of a mass public transportation system,” he also said.
The committee meeting was called because of the suspension of the operation of the LRT 2 and the ongoing repair of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) which closed certain portions of its northbound outermost lane.
The LRT 2’s Santolan to Anonas station will be closed for about nine months to undergo rehabilitation.
LRT 2 operations shut down on Thursday last week after its rectifier-transformer, located between the Katipunan and Anonas stations, tripped and caught fire.
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes acknowledged Sarmiento’s gesture, saying he appreciated it, especially since other public officials has not done the same.
An exasperated Sarmiento even threatened to subpoena top transportation officials if they will not attend the panel’s next hearing.
Sarmiento said the suspension of the LRT2 operations could affect the mobility of at least 200,000 passengers daily. He said the government must be able to provide them with alternative transportation as this could mean “economic dislocation.”
An official of the Light Rail Transit Administration told the panel that the fire that gutted and severely damaged the electric posts in key sub-stations of the LRT 2 was not caused by arson.
“One thing that we can definitely rule out is that it (October 3 fire) was not caused by arson,” LRTA deputy administrator for operations Paul Chua told the Sarmiento panel.
Chua said some MRTA officials were allowed by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) to inspect the gutted areas. – With Gerard Naval and Wendell Vigilia