MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – Leave early, he had repeatedly advised commuters complaining about Metro Manila’s horrific traffic that has kept them from getting to work and appointments on time.
On Friday, October 11, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo took his own advice and began his long commute to Malacañang Palace before daybreak, taking at least 4 jeepneys and a motor bike ride.
He left his child’s home in New Manila at 5:15 am, then walked 15 minutes to the main road between Gilmore and Balete Drive for his first jeepney ride. He arrived in Malacañang at 8:46 am or 46 minutes past 8 am, when government offices open.
Panelo explained in a news briefing later in Malacañang that he planned to leave from his home in Marikina, but he slept at his child’s home in New Manila, so he started his commute from there.
From New Manila, he headed to Cubao via jeepney, then took another ride to Concepcion in Marikina – his original starting point – then back to Cubao from where he was supposed to head to an LRT2 station, but he skipped the plan because of the media, so he headed to Sta Mesa instead.
Proof of challenge
Panelo started his morning commute by taking selfies on a jeepney which he released to the media as proof that he had taken the challenge.
Later, he sent selfies from two other jeepneys. On his last jeepney ride, he was ambush interviewed by the media along the Light Rail Transit line 2 Cubao station even after he kept details a secret. (READ: ‘Hindi lang siya ang pasahero dito’: Panelo challenge tests commuters’ patience)
It was already past 8 am and he was still in Cubao, Quezon City, more than 7 kilometers away from Malacañang. Instead of acknowledging that he was already late, he only said, “Okay lang ‘yun (That’s okay).”
Citizens called him out for making this comment, saying regular workers would have incurred salary deductions for being late for work. Panelo said in a news briefing that this rule did not apply to him since he, as a Palace official, worked “24/7.”
After prying himself from the media, he headed to V. Mapa, going down from his fourth jeepney to look for a tricycle. One approached him, but its engine would not run. A motorcycle rider came along and offered to take him to Malacañang but there was no extra helmet for him.
Another motorbike rider stopped, Manila City Hall employee Ronald Rosales, who gave hiim a free ride to Malacañang.
‘Nothing has changed’
Panelo’s entire commute took 3.5 hours.
“Pareho ng dati, wala namang pinagbago eh. It’s the same; laking kalye ako eh,” Panelo said of his commute. (Nothing has changed. It’s the same; I know the streets well.)
While on jeepney rides, Panelo granted phone patch interviews to several radio stations and a TV news program. In an interview with DZMM, he said he kept his route secret to the media, and even to his security detail, family, and friends who had volunteered to accompany him.
In an interview with DZBB past 7 am, Panelo said he anticipated to arrive in Malacañang at around 9 am. He reiterated that his advice to commuters to leave early to get to their destinations on time should not be seen as offensive. “My point there is that we are a very creative people,” said Panelo in a mix of Filipino and English.
Clarifying the same controversial remark at the Palace briefing, Panelo said “No, that is not insensitive. That was a statement, in fact, praising the creativity of Filipinos, na marunong tayong humarap sa sitwasyon. Hindi lang tayo basta mura dito, mura doon, walang ginagawa. May ginagawa tayo para sa ating mga sarili (we know how to face a situation. He don’t just curse left and right, without doing anything. We do something for ourselves).”
Asked if he could have withstood the same kind of commute 5 times a day every week for the last 8 years, he said he could, since it was just something one had to “get accustomed to.”
“Alam mo ang katawan natin (You know our body) can always adjust to a hostile environment,” he said.
Anakbayan national spokesperson Alex Danday said that Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo had turned their commute challenge into a mere “photo opportunity.” (READ: He missed the point’ – militant groups on Panelo’s commute)
A college student who wakes up at 3 am to get to her school in Manila had earlier said that Panelo did not understand how commuting works if he thought that leaving early would guarantee arriving early at one’s destination. (WATCH: Fed up with traffic, I walked from Cubao to BGC for work)
“It was a very insensitive comment. We all have different circumstances on why we commute, and for Panelo to easily say to just wake up early makes me think that he doesn’t understand how difficult it is to commute,” she said.
In a statement sent to reporters Friday night, Panelo indicated that his long commute did not convince him of the existence of a mass transportation crisis.
“This also proves my earlier thesis that there is no mass transportation crisis in Metro Manila as the political opponents of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte portrayed the situation to be,” he said in a statement.
There is no crisis, he said, because commuters can still “reach point B destination from point A.”
But what about the amount of time and effort it takes Filipinos to travel? Panelo merely praised commuters’ “creativity.”
“They, like me, adapt to the prevailing environment and rise early to be on time in their places of work,” said the spokesman.
And though netizens and groups are now challenging Panelo to commute everyday to truly experience public transport woes, the spokesman said he will no longer entertain such dares.
“There is no longer any point of accepting any [challenge]. I knew the traffic woes that commuters and workers go through even before I accepted the challenge,” said Panelo. – with a report from Pia Ranada/Rappler.com