[OPINION] Our commute is eating up our human rights, and we’re too tired to care

There is no such thing as a "right to transportation." It’s not something that is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights nor the 1987 Philippine Constitution. But this does not mean that our rights, as human beings and as commuters, are not being violated on a daily basis.

We often forget that human rights are interrelated and interconnected – meaning, a violation of one is often caused by another, or a deprivation of one could lead to the deprivation of another. It has a domino effect, to say the least. When the State fails to fulfill its obligations of providing reliable public transportation for its people, the rights of those who depend on this transportation are being compromised.

Who is at fault?

We don’t blame the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and its attached agencies for causing Manila’s traffic. We all know that Manila’s present congestion is brought about by poor urban planning, rural-urban migration, and the lack of an efficient mass transportation system. However, the DOTr, as the main agency tasked by the executive department, has the obligation to perform the "promotion, development, and regulation of a dependable and coordinated network of transportation, as well as in the fast, safe, efficient and reliable transportation services.” Failure of the DOTr to provide what is mandated by law means failure on the part of the government.

What rights are affected?

Firstly, for students who travel for more than 6 hours daily, it slowly eats up their right to education. The said right is not just about accessibility to education. It is also about whether the living conditions of the students allow them to learn and absorb knowledge to their best capacity. Do we expect students to learn more than 90% of the lessons taught if they are always physically exhausted? 

Secondly, Article 7 of the International Convention for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights says that everyone has the right to just and favorable conditions at work. In the Philippines and in the face of the mass transportation crisis, commuting to work poses a threat to the safety of workers. When one needs to ride a failing MRT or LRT only to get to work on time, then they are putting their personal safety at risk.

Thirdly, Article 12 talks about the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Thanks to long commute times, Filipino commuters are being deprived of this right through the exhaustion of their physical and mental well-being. This has been backed up by a study conducted by the Asian Development Bank.

Ultimately, like falling dominos, all these violations could lead to the disregard of our right to an adequate standard of living.

What can we do?

When government officials refuse to recognize the existence of a mass transportation crisis, when they try to resolve the glitches without a sense of urgency, they are committing a disservice to the Filipino people. When they ignore and dismiss the daily struggle of commuters, maybe it’s time to ask if they ever cared for us at all.

As taxpayers and as hardworking, productive members of the society, we should demand accountability from the government. We should support investigations as to why there is neglect on the part of responsible agencies. We should call out those who downplay our exhaustion. The rights that are affected are mostly economic and social in nature, but civil and political rights also have a critical role to play. – Rappler.com

Christian Gultia is a student of MA Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines Asian Center. He is the chairperson of Youth for Human Rights and Democracy-Philippines.