Are your senators willing to commute?

MANILA, Philippines – Imagine VIPs in government falling in the long line to get on the train, going up escalators often out of order, waiting out 3 or more trips before getting on, and squishing into jampacked coaches a la sardines. Imagine them riding old and rusty jeepneys and buses, some aptly described as killer vehicles.

In short, imagine these top officials experiencing what you go through regularly, if not every day. (READ: Commuting on the MRT)

This scenario is the subject of a campaign by writer and editor Dinna Dayao in Change.org, an online petition platform. Since August 2013, Dayao has been calling on President Benigno Aquino III to require all public officials to take public transportation at least once a month.

Dayao renewed her call this month, pointing out that even prominent world leaders commute. Her point? This immersion of sorts will allow officials to understand commuters’ plight, and craft policy to improve not just traffic but also public transportation.

What are the odds officials will get on board? Rappler asked senators if they are willing to take on the challenge, and their proposals to improve the notorious public transport system.

Can they ditch the convenience of their special #7-plated cars?

‘Like student life all over again’

Neophyte senators Sonny Angara and JV Ejercito said the experience will be nothing new.

“It’s probably a good idea. I would be willing to take it on. I took public transport as a student in the US and the UK,” said Angara, who studied at the Harvard Law School and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Ejercito, son of former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, also recalled his student days in agreeing to the proposal.

“Sure! I used to commute when I was in college. I used to take the G Liner bus from San Juan, get down in Lawton [in Manila] then ride the LRT to De La Salle [University],” said the former mayor and congressman of San Juan.   

The opposition senator said delays in big-ticket transportation projects of the administration will have an impact on commuters.

“If the government fast-tracks pending projects like the Northrail and starts other LRT lines soon, then the mass transit can be improved. Otherwise, we will all have to bear with the worsening traffic,” Ejercito said.

Comedian-turned-politician Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III is also open to the petition.

I support it. I do that every now and then anyway. I’m probably the only senator or public official that does not even have a bodyguard and not even a driver,” he said. 

The Eat Bulaga host quipped, “My only problem is the picture-taking that I encounter in public. Medyo [maraming fans]! Hehehe.” (I have many fans.)

Making cities ‘bike and walk-friendly’

Senator Pia Cayetano, a triathlete, said she has taken public transportation several times.

Cayetano said the experience led her to push for her Sustainable Transportation Bill, which promotes alternative and sustainable modes of public transportation like biking, telecommuting (working from home), carpooling, a bus rapid transport system, and reviving the river ferry system.

Her bill aims to provide for infrastructure like more bicycle lanes and covered walkways and footbridges.

“For many people, it’s highly impractical to commute as there are no interconnected lines. You would have to take at least 3 or more rides of different kinds to get to work,” Cayetano said.

Senator Loren Legarda also called for facilities that will encourage Filipinos to walk and bike to work. She called Dayao’s petition a good idea, saying she “will do that ASAP.”

“We should really alleviate the plight of our daily commuters by making our mass transport system safe and efficient and clean like in Europe. That entails executive action, not legislation. When mass transport is efficient, [fewer] people will take cars so less dependence on fossil fuel and less pollution from mobile sources,” she said.

For Senator Gregorio Honasan II, the petition highlights the need for the long-delayed National Land Use Act. The measure aims to categorize land according to purposes like infrastructure development for transportation and communication, and residential development.

The bill has been languishing in Congress for over two decades.

“It’s about addressing productivity, eco-balance, disaster risk reduction, protection of lives and property, policy planning to include road, air, water, underground transport planning to move people, goods, equipment,” said Honasan, a principal author of the bill.

Asked if he is willing to take on the commute challenge, Honasan said, “It’s good for PR and election purposes but there is no practical value for policy and lawmaking unless one hasn’t tried commuting in his entire life.”

The former rebel soldier said, “I have commuted, crawled, rode, biked, swam, jumped from an aircraft, fell, nearly drowned and died, been shot at thousands of miles, kilometers, meters, yards, feet, centimeters, inches all my life so I know just a little about these things.”

Senator Nancy Binay, who drew flak over the so-called Dasmagate incident, refused to comment on the petition. Other senators did not respond to our queries.

‘Humility, simplicity’  

Despite senators’ mixed reactions, Dayao’s petition earned support from commentators and netizens. 

Netizens also commended Dutch Ambassador to the Philippines Ton Boon von Ochssee, who has been photographed biking to and from work.

Dutch Ambassador Ton Boon von Ochssee is photographed biking from work in February 2013. File photo from the Dutch Embassy website by Tatine Faylona

Dutch Ambassador Ton Boon von Ochssee is photographed biking from work in February 2013.

File photo from the Dutch Embassy website by Tatine Faylona

“The Ambassador puts a spotlight on a big group of people who use the bicycle not as a form of recreation but as a real means of transport …. This is the bike constituency that leaders have to look at because they are the ones who benefit the most from it [in savings and health costs],” said JP Alipio, who shared the ambassador’s photo on Facebook.

Climate Change Commissioner Naderev “Yeb” Saño, one of the few Filipino officials Dayao cited as taking public transportation, commented on her Rappler piece that he was glad to do his part.

Paano po natin mauunawaan ang tunay na kalagayan ng mamamayan kung tayo ay bulag at manhid sa kanilang pang-araw-araw na karanasan? The best school is the real world. Ang tunay na paaralan ay ang lansangan.”

(How can we understand the condition of citizens if we are blind and numb to their daily experience? The streets are the real school.”)

Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo, the other official Dayao cited, this week posted photos of her riding a cab and a bus after waiting in vain for 7 hours for a flight to Legazpi. 

Congresswoman Leni Robredo posts this photo on her Facebook page with the caption, u201cFinale of my travel woes today: am in the bus now (back to where I truly belong) u263a.u201d

Congresswoman Leni Robredo posts this photo on her Facebook page with the caption, u201cFinale of my travel woes today: am in the bus now (back to where I truly belong) u263a.

u201d

Beyond policymaking, social media users said that commuting illustrates officials’ lifestyles. 

A netizen commented on Robredo’s photo, “It’s rare we see public officials, much more a congresswoman, who [are] as humble and simple as you.” – Rappler.com

 

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