By Cong B. Corrales
AN ONLINE petition started last year calling on Philippine government officials to ride the trains has again been making the rounds on the Internet. This, in the wake of another accident that injured dozens of commuters when a defective Metro Rail Transit (MRT) carriage plowed through a steel barrier at its Taft Avenue station earlier this month.
Initiated by Dinna Louise Dayao and posted on the online platform Change.org, the petition calls on President Benigno S. Aquino III to require all government officials to take the public transit once a month. As of August 20, 2014 it has gathered 10,309 supporters.
Inday Espina-Varona, change.org Philippines campaigns director, said almost 3,000 persons signed on following the latest MRT accident after mainstream columnists and commentators took notice of the petition. Dayao, a freelance writer-editor by profession, said in the petition that the national government’s efforts in solving the traffic congestion in Metro Manila has focused mainly on creating more spaces for vehicles. However, government but has also done virtually nothing to decongest the public transportation system, the petition added.
“We keep building roads and flyovers that only encourage more people to drive their cars but we don’t invest in facilities that make it easier for transit riders to get from point A to point B; these facilities include comfortable bus, jeep, and train stops, wide sidewalks, and well-designed walkways that connect the different modes of transport,” Dayao’s online petition reads in part.
She added: “The only way government officials will understand the plight of commuters is if they themselves take public transit regularly.”
On August 13 this year, an MRT carriage rammed onto a steel barrier at the Taft Avenue Station injuring dozens of train riders in the process. The carriage was on its way to Taft Avenue from Magallanes when it stalled. There have also been seven separate incidents involving MRT trains from November 2012 to March 2014.
“Calling it an accident is not a constructive word,” Dayao told PCIJ in a phone interview, noting that an “accident” means that the incident could not have been avoided.
“Walang may kasalanan kung accident ang tawag (If we call it an accident that means that no one is to blame); it was a crash. (It’s) a failure on someone’s part. They say there was an uncoupling of the trains. Why?” Dayao asked, pointing out that calling it as such would not contribute to efforts in solving the problems of the country’s public transport system.
Dayao said 8 of 10 persons in the metropolis ride public transport and it is the right of the people to have an effective and safe transport system. “If we look at the infrastruction investments of government, these are flyovers, underpass and bridges, what that says is that government is encouraging more people to drive their own cars, thus congesting the roads in the metropolis.”
“Bulok na ang mga trains at (the trains are already worn down) 80 percent (of the people in the metropolis) are suffering because of this neglect,” Dayao said. “The problem is that policy-makers do not know how important public transportation is for the average Filipino.”
She also said the authorities seem to lack empathy for the riding public because “they don’t know what hell we go through every day.”
A spokesman for the MRT was quoted in newspaper reports [read: Manila Bulletin story] as saying the trains are supposed to be rehabilitated at least every eight years but that those plying the Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue have not been rehabilitated since 2006. The MRT started operations 15 years ago and it has not since undergone any major rehabilitation for lack of funds, Hernando Cabrera said.