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There’s been a transportation emergency engulfing the Philippines for decades, and administrations of whatever political color haven’t done much about it. No matter who in government denies this, just look at the long lines and stressed-out faces in the metro and you have your answer.
Spokesman’s commute challenge: a mere one-way, one-day stunt
It was a stunt, nothing more. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo took several jeepneys and a motorcycle from New Manila to the presidential palace for only one day and one way. He left at 5:15 am and arrived at 8:46 am. That’s a 3.5-hour ordeal.
The only reason he arrived at 8:46 am is because a motorcycle rider offered him a ride and media vehicles were following him. If he’d stood in line for the MRT or LRT, he would’ve arrived way past 9 am. Merely saying people should wake up earlier and commute earlier is not a solution – it’s an out-of-touch statement. (READ: [ANALYSIS] What Duterte doesn’t get about Metro Manila traffic)
What the rich do: multi-dwelling
Unless you commute by helicopter, Manila traffic knows no social classes. Walang pinipili (It affects everyone). The rich and the poor experience the same traffic congestion – but the richer you are, the more options you have.
What the rich do in the face of horrendous traffic conditions is a multi-dwelling approach. For example, their college kids are housed in condo units that are very near or walking distance to their schools. No, not the typically cramped school dorms like Kalayaan or the then-Narra Residence Hall at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Property developers have built very tall condo buildings near schools and universities because they know they have a captured market – rich or well-to-do parents whose kids (or themselves) cannot afford to be late.
What the rest do: the ‘heroic’ commute
Tiis na lang (Just put up with it). What else can the majority do? It’s not like most can buy a car tomorrow, as those cost hundreds of thousands of pesos plus gas and maintenance. It’s costly to use ride-hailing apps all the time. Taxi drivers still reject riders, and not everyone would want to hop on a motorcycle.
With ensnarling traffic, the rest wake up very early and hope for the best. But there’s no work-life balance. In desperation, others even opt for unsafe, improvised transportation like trolley riding. As a London School of Economics professor said, “Their patience in the face of long commutes is nothing short of heroic.”
‘Heroic’ commuters: OFWs in the making
If you’re a low-paid staffer or laborer who has to wake up at 4 am just to reach your workplace by 8 am by public transport, and who then has to fight it out with other commuters later in the day to get home by 9 pm, you’d be wondering if there’s an alternative.
Manila (and Cebu) traffic triggers low quality of life. As a parent working hard for the family, for instance, you won’t see your kids as much whether you drive or commute. You’re stuck in traffic, just talking to them on chat apps. You’re not able to tutor your kids in the evenings because you’re still on the road. Direct parenting is delegated to a grandparent, in-law, or nanny because you can’t be at home in the early evening. That’s low quality of life. (READ: Patients die as Manila traffic jams block ambulances)
“Heroic” commuters are prone to imagining moving abroad, where there is higher quality of life, and you can’t blame them. Traffic is just getting worse, the population is expanding, and roads cannot be built fast enough. The government only plans, but has no will. You don’t want to be exposed forever to blaring horns, drivers kicking and screaming, privileged officials with police escorts, kotong (extortionist) cops, etc.
OFWs and Manila traffic
When you go abroad, talk to Filipino OFWs about Manila traffic. It’s a good icebreaker. The OFW will certainly have an opinion or would say how they are thankful they don’t have to deal with it anymore.
If you’re an OFW reading this, did your daily commute improve from how it was back in the Philippines? It likely would have. I drive 19 miles (30.5 kilometers) one-way daily to two elementary schools and then to work, with the only heavy traffic at the school drop-off points. We wake up early, but at just the right time. This one-way daily commute takes 50 minutes – such a far cry from my 2.5-hour daily ordeal from Quezon City to Makati City years ago. (READ: FAST FACTS: State of Metro Manila’s public transport system)
The Philippines needs better trains, fewer cars, advanced infrastructure, smaller “walkable cities,” less corruption, rural development, and more economic opportunities.
It’s clear there is a crisis, and we have a very long way to go. – Rappler.com
Author Carlo Osi is a lawyer and writer based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Metro Washington, DC. He is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. He was educated by Georgetown Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Wharton School of Business, Kyushu University Law, and University of the Philippines Law.