the violence of our mass transport system

Our country is sick for a long time now which is validated by this expose of whistleblower Benhur Luy against his relative, Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged mastermind of  the P10-billion pork barrel scam involving government executives spending their money on bogus charitable NGOs for huge kickbacks.

Ever since I’ve learned that we got that huge amount of money, take note P10-billion, only to be pocketed by our crooked politicians which could have been spent in improving the facilities and equipment of our public hospitals and schools, when I heard a senator saying something like “… because of our limited funds, we cannot afford blah… blah… blah,”  I now feel that it is the greatest lie ever told to us Filipino citizens.

Because you know what the truth is:  we are actually a first world country pretending to be a third world country because our money–Yes that’s us! The taxpayers!–only go straight to the pockets of those greedy, power-hungry, wolf in sheep’s clothing politicians!

Oh God, have mercy on us!

If that’s not enough, our MRT trains were built supposedly for the convenience of the Filipino people.  I hope our leaders remember that they do not own the MRT acting like they’re rich and we are the beggars asking for penny, remember it’s our money that was spent to build that mode of transportation to combat horrible traffic.  Because an MRT that is supposed to bring us speedily and relaxed to our desired destination is actually a test of sanity!  What is happening is a violation of our basic human rights.  In a tell-all article by Herbert Docena entitled “The violence of our mass transport system,” published on 26 April 2014, it will explain the basis of my anger.

Please read on.


The violence of our mass transport system
By Herbert Docena
Philippine Daily Inquirer

In 1789, as hundreds of thousands starved in France because of a bread shortage, Marie Antoinette, King Louis XVI’s consort, supposedly said: They have no bread? Let them eat cake.

Early this month, as hundreds of thousands of Filipino commuters went through the daily ordeal of queuing for up to an hour to ride the packed MRT trains because they have no cars and because buses are more expensive and slower, President Aquino’s spokesperson said something like: They can’t ride the trains? Let them “discover other options,” like the bus or something.

That the President’s alter ego could say that explains why our public transport system is so—pardon my French—f-cked up.

Like Marie Antoinette, the chauffeured classes who run and operate our trains and our country are more out of touch and more out of it than ever. Indeed, perhaps nothing more visibly illustrates this than those incredibly long lines snaking out from MRT stations: a direct consequence of our elites’ reluctance to invest in additional trains that can serve millions, while railroading projects that allow a few thousand of them to fly from their gated enclaves in Alabang or Nasugbu to their gated enclaves in Makati.

One can tell how a country’s rulers treat the common folk just by looking at the trains. Their lack of compassion shows in the details: in those ridiculously narrow passages under the Guadalupe and Kamuning stations that force hundreds of people to walk sideways just inches away from rampaging buses; in the escalators and elevators that rarely work, endangering the pregnant and shutting out the handicapped and the elderly; in that inexplicable kilometer-long gap between the Roosevelt LRT station and the North Edsa MRT station that forces passengers to trudge down several flights of stairs, jump into another jeep, go through two shopping malls, then climb several flights of stairs again, only to be packed into the trains like chickens headed to the abattoir.

Perhaps nothing more clearly exemplifies the combination of cold indifference and crass opportunism with which our elites treat us than the way they designed the connection between the Cubao MRT and LRT stations: Instead of being built as close to each other as possible, these are built so as to force passengers to march for another kilometer through a shopping mall, thus enabling its owners to jack up their tenants’ rent.

Aren’t these a form of cruel and unusual punishment, a form of avoidable suffering? Don’t these constitute mass violence—now such a routine that we don’t even think of it as violence?

Some say these are just “engineering” or “management” issues that can’t be blamed on our chauffeured classes. But decisions involving public transport—from how much to spend for trains vis-à-vis skyways to how wide walkways should be—require the approval of our officials and their private partners, as well as the tacit acceptance of all the other elites who can potentially object.

And so far, there is no indication that our elites—normally split on other issues—are bitterly divided over the overfunding of projects that disproportionately favor them. Nor do they—or the parties, nongovernment organizations and intellectuals they patronize—seem particularly troubled by the massive underfunding of public services.

Besides, if they can’t be bothered to review the blueprints to ensure that our elderly won’t be trampled on the platforms or that our kids won’t be run over by buses on the ground-level passages, then what does that say about how our elites treat us?

“Engineering” or “management” questions are always political questions: They are struggles about who gains and who suffers. And it is in such mundane things as the architecture of public infrastructure, in the landscape of our cities, that the outcomes of these battles are reflected and cemented.

Today, that struggle remains dominated by our chauffeured classes, and it is ultimately this contingent balance of social forces—not their innate lack of compassion or their lack of good ideas—that explains why our public transport system is so violent.

For if our elites don’t care about our people, it is not because they are incapable of caring. It is because they have gotten away with caring about other things: not the meeting of our people’s needs, but the inflation of their land values, stocks, or tongpats. But if they have so far gotten away, it is only because so far no countervailing group has forced them to change their priorities.

After all, if the train lines of Paris, San Francisco and other cities are more humane, it is only because the commuting classes of those cities fought for them—through civil disobedience, campaigns, strikes, protests, direct actions—against the bitter opposition of their own chauffeured classes.

One can tell how scared a country’s rulers are of its people just by looking at the trains they build for them. And our rulers won’t be cowed to care unless all that rage pent up inside every MRT commuter is channeled toward a social movement that can defend us from our elites’ violence and advance concrete alternatives for a different kind of public transport system, a different kind of city, a different kind of development.

For now, much of the rage that can fuel such a movement remains dispersed. But, as shown by people’s prompt reactions to the government’s Marie-Antoinette-like provocation, that may be changing. They “discovered other options”: Batmobiles, Star Trek transporters, magic carpets—or flying “on the wings of love…”

Perhaps that’s also how the French started in the 1780s: by trading jokes. But, as we know from what happened to Marie Antoinette and the aristocracy, the French didn’t stop at joking.

Herbert Docena is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.



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