Abaya: #MRTChallenge won’t solve the problem

Bea Cupin
Abaya: #MRTChallenge won’t solve the problem
'By riding the train, do I solve the problem? What’s more important is for us to find a solution' to the train system's problems, says the transport chief

MANILA, Philippines – No, the country’s transportation chief won’t take up the challenge that netizens have presented him – to ride the frequently stalled and inconvenient Metro Rail Transit (MRT3) during rush hour.

Chided by the public on his attempt last week to check on the train along EDSA on a non-peak hour and with his staff and journalists, Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said on Monday, September 1, his priority is to deliver.

“By riding the train or [kahit] mag ice challenge ako sa MRT3 during rush hour…. Do I solve the problem by doing that? I can make a clown out of myself… pero feeling ko maiinis lang sila,” said Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya told reporters on the sidelines of the Senate hearing on the MRT operations.

(Even if I do the ALS ice challenge on the MRT3…. Do I solve the problem by doing that? I can make a clown out of my self…but I get the feeling it will only annoy the public.) 


“Fair game naman tayo, sport naman tayo, naglilingkod naman tayo sa bayan,” he added. (I’m fair game and I’m also a sport. I’m just serving the public.)

In contrast, Senator Grace Poe, who chaired the Senate hearing on a recent MRT3 incident, rode the train line without media fanfare and with minimal staff accompanying her.

Poe said she wanted to “experience what a passenger experiences riding the MRT.”

Abaya clarified he wasn’t after the media attention. “I wanted a low key way of doing it. That’s my personality. Pero matitinik ‘yung mga kaibigan ‘nyo (But your friends in the media are good)…. They knew where and when I was leaving,” he said.

Abaya said he didn’t mind being compared to Poe. “Kayo naman sa media nagko-compare (It’s you guys in the media that are making comparisons). I don’t mind at all.”

Asked if he was willing to take on the #MRTChallenge, Abaya said: “What’s more important for the public is for us to find a solution.”

‘Learning experience’

The MRT3 has been in hot water since mid-August after one of its trains derailed and bulldozed through one station’s safety barriers. The same incident sparked the Monday Senate hearing.

Abaya told reporters he was there not to experience what commuters experience, but to check the line’s safety. “Siguro makikita ng taong bayan: siguro si Secretary Abaya nakakasakay, maayos siguro ‘yung tren. Kasi di naman niya i-gagamble ‘yung buhay niya kasi bata pa ang mga anak niya,” he said.

(Maybe commuters will think: I guess the MRT3 is safe because Secretary Abaya rode it. He wouldn’t risk his life because his children are still young.)

Addressing criticism on why he boarded the first train car, which is usually reserved for women, the elderly and PWDs, Abaya explained it was the only way he could see for himself how the line operated. 

He also spoke to the train driver during stops. He said they assured him the line was safe. 

The transportation chief emphasized that even if he didn’t ride the line during rush hour, he was well-aware of the difficulties of commuters.

“My learning experience on the MRT3 is not just based on that single ride. I text [MRT3 officer-in-charge] administrator [Honorito] Chaneco every day…. This is a continuing learning, educational…governance education for me,” said Abaya. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.