MANILA, Philippines – Not that bad.
This was Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque's assessment of his one-and-a-half-hour experience riding the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3) and Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT1). (READ: [EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: Tragic rides, drastic steps for the MRT)
"Ang experience ko naman po, dahil wala tayong aberya na na-experience, hindi naman talaga masama, medyo matagal nga lang ang pila," said Roque on Thursday, November 23.
(My experience was, since there were no glitches, it wasn't really that bad but the lining up took long.)
He concluded that the long lines experienced by commuters during rush hour means there is a real need for the government to purchase more train carriages.
Roque, who began his train ride past 9 am or after the morning rush hour, said he can only "imagine" the suffering of train passengers at those critical times. (READ: MRT woes: How often do they happen?)
"It's not rush hour anymore so I could imagine that when it's rush hour, the lines are even longer, maybe a minimum of 30 minutes waiting. This only means we lack train carriages," said Roque.
He explained that he avoided the rush hour on purpose so as not to add to the burden of passengers.
President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman arrived at the MRT3 North Avenue Station around 9 am.
The media, complete with heavy cameras and tripods, had to rush to the station from the ground floor entrance because Roque had entered from the other side.
Surrounded by reporters and their crew, Roque paid for his one-way ticket to the Taft Avenue Station, the last station on the MRT3 southbound line.
The rush-hour queue that reached the sidewalk of EDSA had, by that time, dissipated. Still, Roque noted that it took him 10 minutes to buy a ticket. He said he could just "imagine" how long people would wait during peak hours. (READ: Commuters share most horrible MRT experiences)
Two Department of Transportation (DOTr) personnel accompanied Roque. Adamant that he be given as minimal special treatment as possible, the spokesman got on the nearest carriage, instead of one that the personnel had picked out for him.
Train press conference
Once in the carriage, Roque answered questions from reporters, who also squeezed their way in along with their equipment.
"It's cold and I like it because I get to talk to many people," said Roque in Filipino.
Able to sit down in the middle of the train ride, he looked obviously refreshed by the strong gust of airconditioning.
Roque chatted up some fellow passengers as media cameras rolled.
"Kayo, mga mananakay, kumusta kayo? Madalas ba kayo sumasakay dito?" he asked the office workers sitting and standing near him.
(You, commuters, how are you? Do you often take this train?)
One Makati office worker, Don Gutierrez, responded gamely: "Sa good news, maganda kasi mabilis, pero sa bad news naman medyo mahaba ang pila." (For the good news, it's good because it's fast. But for the bad news, the lines are pretty long.)
Gutierrez, who travels to the Buendia Station from the Kamuning Station every weekday, said the train carriages are only cold when there are few passengers. During rush hour, the full-to-bursting carriages can get suffocatingly hot.
The passenger beside Roque, Joseph Walters, said his MRT3 experience is usually "okay." The only "hassle," he said, are the long lines.
But not all passengers were as calm as these two.
Later that morning at the LRT1, one passenger, standing far away from Roque but near the door of the train, muttered to media: "Bakit pa kailangan dito magpa-presscon?" (Why does the presscon have to happen here?)
Upon arriving at the Taft Station, Roque walked fairly quickly to the LRT1 EDSA Station.
Members of the media rushed to get past the turnstiles, merging with the line of regular commuters.
Roque and the media were made to pass through the priority lane at the LRT1 so as not to delay the regular lines.
It was at this point when 3 LRT1 security personnel accompanied the group. As at the MRT3, Roque got on the closest available carriage. He was to get off at the Central Station.
At each stop of the train, the 3 security personnel got down to stop other commuters from getting inside the carriage where Roque was. The other would-be passengers were asked to head to other carriages.
WATCH: LRT1 security personnel prohibiting commuters from entering train carriage where Presidential Spox Harry Roque is in. pic.twitter.com/1FA0SgWTmo — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) November 23, 2017
Roque did not appear to know this was happening as he was further inside the train. He later on clarified to Rappler that he was not aware there were security personnel following him or stopping passengers from boarding that particular carriage.
Soon enough, Roque had reached the end of the ride, arriving at the Central Station around 10:30 am. From there, he would take a car to Malacañang where he was scheduled to hold the regular 11 am Palace briefing.
Was the experience worth the additional inconvenience to regular passengers?
"Paumanhin po pero mas importante, tingin ko, 'yung mensahe na inaalam talaga ng Pangulo 'yung kalagayan ng ating mga kababayan," said Roque.
(I apologize but I think it's more important to send the message that the President wants to know the true condition of our fellow Filipnos.)
Roque said he would report to the President about his trip and the need to fix the MRT3's problems. To him, the LRT1 seemed to be working better than the MRT3. (READ: Railways Usec Chavez resigns over MRT3 mess)
"I will tell [President Duterte] that there needs to be focus on the problems of the MRT and that the LRT is working fine. The standards of maintenance should be the same to lessen the suffering of the passengers," said Roque. (READ: Malacañang promises 'better MRT' under Duterte) – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.