Misimpressions

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Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma called it a “misimpression:” whatever he said was not a summary of his position on the ongoing problems the people have with a crowded, frequently malfunctioning MRT. That perhaps includes his position on Metro Manila’s overpopulation and the MRT, that we cannot blame that on general manager Al Vitangcol.

That said: Secretary Coloma himself has a “misimpression” of the problem.

But Coloma is right, on paper: Vitangcol can’t be blamed for the congestion in Metro Manila. However, he can be (and should be) blamed for the problems of the MRT now, precisely because he’s general manager. The minimum expectation for any general manager is for jobs to be done, and done well. The train must be clean, comfortable, safe, and punctual. The fact that the MRT fails on all four of those counts – any regular MRT commuter can attest to that – means that Vitangcol isn’t doing his job.

Then again, Coloma is right, on paper: we should take the bus. However, merely riding a bus these days is tantamount to accepting a death warrant. Thousands of buses may be plying EDSA (and causing traffic on their own right), but there is no assurance of safety when you stuff an old and creaky refurbished bus with around a hundred people, and risk certain death from swerving and speeding. Heck, even waiting for a bus is deadly.

The problem is Coloma’s – and by extension, the government’s – “misimpressions” of the things the public have to do to get somewhere. When celebrities and government officials board the MRT, it becomes big news: precisely because they won’t (and can’t) be caught dead in deathtraps that are a way of life for most of us. It’s easy to judge the problems of the MRT and the bus system when someone drives you to work, or if you have half a dozen or so cars at your disposal. The uproar is not coming from a misimpression of the public towards Coloma’s remarks, but that Coloma’s remarks are misimpressions of the public’s own experiences.

If anything, the root of the problem has never been about not having enough coaches, or a crowded metropolis. The problem is that so many parts of the country do not provide for enough livelihood opportunities, that people pour into Manila to find work. Urban migration puts such a strain on the resources of the capital, unplanned and mismanaged as it is. As rural poverty and unemployment increases, the more strained the urban centers become.

Couple that with the lack of reliable, fast public transit that joins the country together, and Coloma could have made the case that this is not Vitangcol’s problem at all. This is the problem of the entire Filipino nation, one that the current Administration is willing to solve and help us overcome (assuming, of course, that the current Administration is willing to do all of that).

Rather than address these root problems – much less speak about them at length – Sec. Coloma chooses to alienate the people and reduce them to a choice between buses and trains. “Misimpressions” though they may be, and callous as they are.

Alas, no: Coloma gave the misimpression that our elected officials are “nananadya.” Why not make the people take more cabs? Why not wake up early?

Reliable public transit is one of the best expressions of social justice. By taking people where we want them to go in a timely, safe, and comfortable way, we value their journeys as part of our own. When they move forward, we move forward. This assurance – no, expectation – should be the solid foundation that gives government good reason to build study roads and efficient trains.

The misimpression is anything other than that: when we’re made to choose between buses and trains, full of accidents and deaths, which are kind of the same.

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