By Argyll Geducos and Genalyn Kabiling
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo made true his promise to commute alone to his office in Malacañang Friday morning after being challenged by militant groups to do so following his controversial statement that there is no mass transport “crisis” in Metro Manila.
Panelo said he left his child’s house in New Manila in Quezon City at 5:15 a.m. and arrived in Malacañang at 8:46 a.m. after taking four jeepney rides and riding a motorcycle for their entire route.
After the close to four hours of grueling travel to Malacañang, Panelo said Metro Manila is gripped by a “traffic crisis,” not a transportation crisis, due to many cars on the road, poor infrastructure, and inefficient traffic management.
Panelo, however, quickly assured the public that the government is taking steps to ease traffic congestion by pursuing the Build, Build, Build infrastructure program.
“Mayroong traffic crisis pero hindi transportation crisis. Kasi when you say transporparalyzed ang buong traffic [We have a traffic crisis but not a transportation crisis. Because when you say transportation crisis, you can’t get any ride. The entire traffic is paralyzed],” he said during a Palace press briefing.
“There is a traffic crisis, precisely because on the conditions like there’s so many volumes of cars na you cannot accommodate by our roads. Tapos eh, marami pang nagba-violate ng traffic. Hindi pa efficient ang traffic management, kaya patung-patong ang problema eh [Then, there are many traffic violators. The traffic management is inefficient so the problems are piling up],” he added.
In his post-commute press briefing in Malacañang, Panelo said that he took a jeepney from New Manila to Cubao, then from Cubao to Marikina, then a jeepney going to Gilmore supposedly to ride the LRT. However, because of the presence of media he decided instead to take a jeepney ride to Mendiola in Manila.
Media first got wind of Panelo’s commute journey when netizens, who first spotted him waiting for a jeepney ride in the New Manila area, started posting photos of the Palace official. Journalists finally caught up with him in Cubao, who slowed his travel.
According to Panelo, he specifically took a different route to see the areas in Metro Manila where there were reports of heavy traffic congestion.
“I took a different route. I purposely did some jeepney rides, especially where traffic problem is horrendous,” Panelo said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
“But I think my journey has been disrupted because somehow the media finally caught up with me in this jeepney and they’re all over me,” he said.
“I don’t want media coverage. In fact, I declined all media coverage. In fact, they were able to disappear during the first two hours but somehow they managed to catch me,” he added.
“Nanahimik ako ng tatlong oras, eh. Yun pala yung mga pasahero mismo nagpo-post (I was traveling in peace for three hours but it was the passengers who were posting where I am),” he continued.
The Palace official said he would have also rode the LRT Friday morning but did not want the media to follow him.
“My purpose really was to ride the LRT, but when these media people suddenly came – I don’t want to be covered but they’re all here so I decided not to take the LRT anymore. Maybe tomorrow, without them,” he said.
According to Panelo, it usually took him about 40 minutes, or up to 90 minutes during rush hour, from his residence in Marikina to Malacañang when he rides his car.
In his press briefing, Panelo said he would be willing to commute to work again since he used to do it during his younger days.
“Kung sa kaya, kaya yun (If you’re asking if I can, of course),” he said.
Panelo then said that progressive groups should have picked someone their own size.
“Nakapunta na ba sila ng bundok? Umakyat muna sila. Nagkamali sila ng hinamon (Have they been to the mountains already? They should do that first. They challenged the wrong guy),” he said.
Panelo also called out militant groups that kept on making demands about his commute. He said that he only accepted the challenge to show that government officials can take public transport to work.
“You know the problem with these people is they are nitpicking. You don’t have to ride a jeepney or the LRT to know the situation. We know that. Common sense will tell you that everyone suffers from the horrible traffic situation. That’s a given,” he said.
“The only reason why I accepted that was to show to them that we in the government can do what they thought we could not do,” he added.
Panelo, meanwhile, said that while Filipinos are creative and resourceful when it comes to reaching their destination on time, he agreed that this should not be the new normal.
“We’re against it. Hindi dapat ganoon (It should not be like that),” he said when asked about the sacrifices commuters make just to reach their workplace or schools on time.
“It cannot be permanent, it cannot be constant. We have to change it,” he added.
He then expressed belief that transport officials are doing the best they can to resolve Metro Manila’s traffic problem.
“The transport officials know the problem. They’re doing something about it. We don’t have to tell them what they have to do,” he said.
Legalization of motorcycle taxis
Panelo, who hitched a ride on a motorcycle for the last leg of his commute to Malacañang, said he was leaving it to Congress to decide on legalizing motorcycle taxis.
“I will leave the wisdom of that to Congress. Hindi ko na papasukin ‘yan. Sila naman ang gumagawa ng bata (I will not delve on that. They are the ones making the laws anyway),” he said.
Motorcycle-hailing app Angkas is in its fourth month of the six-month test run of draft regulations for motorcycle taxis.
The pilot, approved by the Department of Transportation (DOTr), will test the safety and economic viability of motorcycle taxis.
However, Panelo said that the traffic situation even worsened but maintained his position that there was no transport crisis in Metro Manila. He also blamed Congress for not granting President Duterte the emergency powers to solve the issue when he was asking for it.
“Well, it’s the same. We’ve been like this many years ago. It has even worsened. But, you know when I said there was no crisis, I was referring to paralysis. There is no paralysis in the transport, we can still get rides,” he said.
“Three years ago when the President assumed office, he wanted, and he asked Congress to give him emergency powers so he can use them to solve. But the problem is the Congress opted not to give him the emergency powers. It is only now they want to give him that power but the President said, ‘I will not accept that because I have such a short time to do what I wanted to do and you might be blaming me for accepting the emergency powers and not solving the problem’,” he said.
Reacting to Panelo’s commute journey, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. said: “Somehow, it trivializes what other people are going through.”
The progressive leader said the whole point of the challenge was to call attention to the worsening situation of the mass transport system in the country, and the need to find long-term solutions for this.
“Magkaroon ng pag-uusap. There should be a dialogue among different stakeholders… what are we going to do 10 years from now because we realize there is no fix. There is no magic bullet to solve this current crisis,” he said in an interview over ANC Headstart. (With a report from Hanah Tabios)