Staying in Manila for the past week to deal with some quirky business, I was able to experience much fleshlier the everyday violence, as a presenter in a conference I attended put it, that is the MRT and LRT. Feelings are brimming and seething, mostly mounting indignation both at the very damned and delirious railway system and the way its daily passengers have apparently been desensitized by this careful torture.
The trains are already screaming for replacement, more reasonably so more than a year after the fares have increased. Since this contested MRT and LRT fare increase, the system only has the beep cards and some fancy fare ticket card to show for. We should be snickering and then we should be protesting because after enduring the fare increases for more than a year, there are no additional coaches, no much greater, more convenient spaces that can accommodate the tired, commuting cabal of the metro. Ah, that is even after letting a bigger crime pass: how the various agents of the state have hired multiple tricksters to elope with the very idea of a nationalized transport system that — mostly via wise disbursement of the coffers gleaned from taxations — will do away with private (ah, corporate) partners and then render a truly affordable mass transport service. Seeing “this is where your taxes go” tarpaulins is irksome and suspicious enough but seeing them plastered nearby decent train stations and fairly delicious platform areas can maybe make them less of an eyesore.
But nada, nada. Here, welcome 2015 with costlier fare, do you guys have deeper pockets? Are you ready to take hold of shinier beep cards that come with that fare increase? Are you still ready – despite this fare increase — to nudge, push, kick your way just to get inside the train? (I find it strange that even in first or second stations like North Avenue (at the MRT) or Balintawak (at the LRT), some passengers still play the brusque, the eager and the tough upon going in the trains. Manila keeps on schooling me.)
It is 2016 and still, the northbound passengers waiting at the Carriedo stations are still wearing their most desperate frowns upon seeing human sardines packed in the approaching train. (Ah, how can I fit myself in there!) Northbound, the people waiting at U.N. are luckier. Over at the MRT, opening and closing the train at Araneta-Cubao is such a feast, I meant a feat, what with the number of passengers getting off and in. (This short paragraph is also about exhibiting/releasing my childish joy at slowly memorizing the stations and their order in both the MRT and the LRT 1 routes.)
What is the insult to this injury? Some time ago, at a time when Noynoy Aquino felt he was still not very unpopular, he made one of the most stupid, most irresponsible, most heartless remarks he has said in his incompetent years as President of the country. Joking, fishing for a soundbite, he has also unknowingly spelt what turned out, months after, to be the makings of his form – shiny and clear — in laughingstock.
What constitutes the insult to the injury and what does it says to us: it is verbal carelessness symptomatizing the irresponsibility of the powers-that-be – not just in relation to words they speak but more vitally, in relation to their duties to their constituents.
Last 2013, during the electoral campaigns for the mid-year election, Aquino bragged about the supposedly forthcoming Cavite station that will connect the LRT Line 1 – presently ending at the Baclaran station – to the Southern Tagalog province. He famously quipped, “At pag hindi ho nangyari ‘to (at the end of 2015), nandyan po si Secretary Abaya na mangangasiwa po ng proyektong ‘to, dalawa na kaming magpapasagasa siguro sa tren.” Days before last year ended, when the netizens were already calling attention to this statement and anticipating Aquino being run over by the trains, the Press office of Malacanang advised the public not to take literally everything that Aquino says. It was an effort done clearly to hush the growing anticipation and criticism of the delayed, or worse, lack of progression of the ‘promised’ Cavite station.
This gesture from the Palace is notable because Aquino was nowhere to be found in the thick of the heated criticisms, when the people were calling him to task and reminding everyone of the words he has said two years ago. In short, he was not able to own up his words, and the best his camp can come up with is a funny, hopeless invocation of the non-literal. I recalled Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s famous, “Magpapahulog ako sa tren” statement at the height of Erap Estrada’s impeachment trial and even more notoriously, her “I lied” retort when asked about the earlier claim.
Aquino did not do such valorous, if not also pitiful act of self-caricaturing as Miriam has done. There was neither “I lied” from Aquino nor an impish, tantalizingly lunatic guffaw. This is not a defense of Miriam’s antics however; this is not a continued spinning of her quotable quotes which usually has the peril of voiding words of their substance. Two things must be underlined instead: (1) that what was at stake in Miriam’s “lie” was primarily her political commitment – the lie had something to do less with the public than herself — and how far could she walk for such commitment and (2) that after the statement turned out to be a lie, Miriam did not just walk away and forget that she had said something. She endured standing up for the words even if it meant being a laughingstock, even if it meant being part of what the media will soon frenzy to be quotable, even if quotable because embarrassing.
PNoy evidently does not have the balls. His carelessness with his words can only be a symptom of his irresponsibility as a public official when it comes to bigger things. It must not be mere coincidence that the “lie” he uttered is related to the railway services – the management of which his administration has obviously bungled big time. Furthermore, the way he responds (or not respond!) once his careless words have been proven self-damaging can likewise be read as a symptom of how he stands by his decisions and policies. What even makes his act worse than Miriam – aside from his virtual absence when the people were already haunting him – is that the stakes in the lie he committed concerns the public – every commuter who sleepwalks their way to the Q Ave, Kamuning, Cubao, Santolan, Ortigas, Shaw, Boni, Guada, Buendia, Ayala, Magallanes, EDSA-Taft, Gil Puyat, Vito Cruz, Quirino, Pedro Gil, UN, D Jose, Carriedo, Tayuman, Blumentritt, Abad Santos, R. Papa, 5th Avenue, Monumento, Balintawak, Roosevelt stations everyday just to get to work, to school, to every dainty, fancy, pretty place, bar, restaurant, bookshop waiting to be filled by their hopeful existences.
PNoy’s was not just an expression of a personal sentiment or political prophecy. It was an expression, implicitly a promise, of things to come, of a train station that would have bridged NCR to a province in Southern Tagalog. Hence, the fibbing gains greater consequence. Maybe we can ask the people of Cavite. Maybe their teeth are already breaking themselves in their gnashing.
The MRT and the LRT is a bust. Maybe it is worse than drafting someone like Michael Olowakandi or Greg Oden in the NBA, worse than welcoming yourself as a tourist in Baguio when the entire city has no power (which happened one day last October). At least you will know eventually that Olowakandi cannot shoot even at point blank and you just need to endure a losing season before likely getting another high pick in the draft. At least you can still take a selfie in front of your inn or hotel, with some fog at the background just to capture the Baguio feel and then know better to not go back to Baguio during the rainy months.
With the LRT/MRT, at least you can still go to work without getting soaked in the EDSA traffic? Not much better. You can still go to work relatively more swiftly, but queue your way there, wait for nine, ten, twenty, fifty trains to arrive before you can finally get yourself in there, right there between the chin and the arms of the best strangers. And then you can wonder: how far until you can see the end of the tunnel; is it possible that you have already reached the end of it and you just did not know it because there was still no light? Are there “better days” for our MRT and LRT, comparable to next year’s lottery after an NBA’s draft bust, or to “Next year uli sa Baguio” after an ill-timed visit with hugs from a city-wide brownout?
The insult to the injury? There: your lovely President, emptying his tank of fluency in Filipino, joking with you forever, telling you deadpan, Ah, do not take me literally, saying to you during a sortie of his political party: “At pag hindi ho nangyari ‘, nandyan po si Secretary Abaya na mangangasiwa po ng proyektong ‘to, dalawa na kaming magpapasagasa siguro sa tren.”
Is he still moving, is he still moving? Is there still a pulse? Yes, of course. He did not do it – him and Abaya. He is still there, pulse and all, feigning poise, feigning peace. Cavite Extension is still waiting, fingers crossed. Baclaran station, I guess, is praying. Better transport services will come, please Noynoy before you leave your office. Recto station is faking patience, faking lots of patience. Ah, we know we can do more than these, more than waiting and crossing fingers and praying.
More than relying on an administration whose President brags about rapid economic growth, transparent governance, caring for the poor, providing jobs every chance he gets but whose words – ah we know, take those above – must not be taken literally.