The chairperson of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development, Representative Winston Castelo, made news this week by preparing to file a new bill requiring transport officials to use public transport at least once a month. The piece of legislation, which would become known as the Government Officials’ Public Transportation Duty Act, is aimed at making Department of Transportation bosses feel what it’s like to be crammed into a UV Express, fear for your life in a speeding bus, or breathe onboard a stinky jeepney. It’s not a bad idea in principle, but we think it’s not going far enough.
The wording of the act goes like this:
All government officials from agencies in charge of transportation such as but not limited to the Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board—with the designation of director and above—shall be required to ride public transportation at least once a month.
We have to agree that this is actually not a bad idea. However, as so often is the case with these things, the devil is in the detail. The Philippines already has tons of laws to regulate everything traffic- and transport-related, yet we’re still in a mess. Forcing some government executives to ride a jeepney with the general public may not really be enough to make any meaningful impact. At least one agency is also claiming that its staff and top boss are already doing this anyway.
The DOTr was quick to send out a press release in which it eagerly stated how much it agreed with Castelo’s intentions, and that many of its officials were apparently already commuting via public transportation. With almost passive-aggressive friendliness, the agency pointed out that its current leader, Secretary Arthur Tugade, was already regularly commuting to his appointments by various means of public transport, but that he had done so without making much of a fuss about it. This would be very commendable if true—which of course is
bullshit if they say so—but we also feel that this bill isn’t going far enough. Making the people who manage public transportation travel on a bus or a jeepney once a month won’t really give them any new findings. They don’t need to experience it in person because they see it every day on their desks and in the news. They know full well that what our roads have right now is a chaotic pile of poop. Nobody is too naïve or too stupid not to notice.
No, what we need is not a bill requiring transport agency bigwigs to travel via PUVs once in a while. You want to see public transport modernized and cleaned up in record time? Then force all senators and representatives to use it every time they go anywhere on official business. No minders, no special treatment, no exceptions. I think we would all be amazed how fast things would improve if that measure became law, but of course it never will. As long as the high and mighty can scoot around town in motorcades while rent-a-cops push pesky peasants out of their way, nothing much will change for the better anytime soon. That’s just a hard fact of life around here, and a very sad one at that.
In other countries, it’s not uncommon to see lawmakers mingle with the average commuter. Travel on the underground railway or take a bus in London and you might bump into members of the British parliament, ministers or even the mayor himself. The billionaire ex-mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, famously used the subway to commute on many occasions, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also goes to work using the train (and on top of it requires all city employees to do the same when they’re on the clock). Then, of course, there is the current prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, who is said to be cycling to work every day.
Representative Castelo’s bill is well-intentioned, but in reality will change nothing. This mess has to be sorted out at a higher level, and only once a congressman has to stand in line while waiting for a UV Express—or a senator gets to walk along the rail tracks because the MRT has broken down again—would we see fast change happen. We’ll leave you with the paraphrased words of Enrique Peñalosa, the mayor of Bogota, Colombia: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport.” Think about that the next time you vote (starting this May, please).