PGTW: Taking the #MRTChallenge

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 4 September 2014, Thursday

Taking the #MRTChallenge

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge involves ice water and videotape, the MRT Challenge is to take a ride on the train during rush hour.

The ALS Challenge started in the US as a public awareness stunt to raise funds for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis research. It involves dumping a bucket on ice water on yourself, contributing an amount to the ALS fund, and nominating someone else to do the same.

Some local officials such as Senator Franklin Drilon and Cong. Neil Tupas Jr. have taken this frigid dare.

However, what Filipinos would rather see the country’s leaders take is the MRT Challenge.

The MRT line has suffered severe deterioration over the past several years, coming to a head this year with inordinate schedule delays, broken-down cars, long queues for a ride, even an accident recently when a car overshot a concrete barrier at the end of the line on Edsa, Pasay City, injuring more than 30 people.

Almost daily, netizens post photographs of block-long lines of passengers. Their time in the queue is usually longer than the actual ride itself. The cars are often crammed full, giving rise to higher risks of wallet snatching, butt groping, and other safety scares.

To show responsiveness to public complaints, Transport Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya took the MRT a couple weeks ago.

But instead of earning pogi points with the populace, he reaped their ire and ridicule by riding during an off-peak time up front with the train driver, accompanied by MRT’s general manager, and having an umbrella held over him by an aide in Imeldific fashion.

The following week, Sen. Grace Poe took the challenge to prepare for the Senate’s inquiry into the metro’s transport troubles.

In contrast with Abaya’s, her experience was closer to that of the average MRT rider. She waited in line to buy a ticket for over an hour in the sun sans parasol. Her entourage was not in evidence. She rode as a strap-hanger with regular folks during rush hour.

Poe’s reaction after the ride? “Ang swerte ng gobyerno! Napakahaba ng pasensiya ng mga Pilipino.”

Perhaps in reaction to public clamor for the President to take the MRT Challenge, his spokespersons Edwin Lacierda and Abigail Valte rode the MRT to work last Monday.

Following the example set by Poe, Valte waited in line during rush hour for a ride from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue, Pasay City. The line to buy tickets she said, was “about 10 people deep.” She also took the LRT line.

It’s naïve to assume that public officials take the MRT Challenge solely to feel what the average rider goes through. This being “one with the masses” also allows them to gain favor with voters for the future.

However, Grace Poe’s sincerity puts her on top. The movement urging her to run for president in 2016 is growing stronger and noisier after this outing. Her latest influential supporter is auditing firm mogul Washington Sycip, who asked her last Tuesday at a forum in Makati City about running for President.

Poe said she has “no plans” in that direction, despite public polls on presidentiables placing her second behind Vice-President Jejomar Binay.

The takeaway from all this is that social media exerts a strong influence on public opinion.

Second, the tone-deaf behavior of the elite or “feeling elite” – getting perks, having someone else hold an umbrella over you, especially if you are a man – offends the guy on the street who is underpaid and heavily taxed, because it rubs in with salt the yawning gulf between haves and have-nots in this country.

Third, humility is always the best policy.

Poe scored when she said in the Senate last Monday, “Gusto ko lamang makita ng taumbayan na may malasakit ang gobyerno natin…”

That’s the reasons for the agitation – people want to know their government is actually trying to find immediate solutions to this problem, and not just fobbing them off with exhortations to be patient and wait for the new trains that have been ordered.

What if another MRT accident happens again? Poe: “Hindi matutumbasan ng kahit ano pa man ang buhay ng ating mga kababayan.”

And that is the real MRT Challenge – to make the mass transport system effective and safe, as soon as possible.  Patience be damned.

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