Opinion

Dear Panelo, One Commute/Photo Op is Not Enough to Understand the Commuter’s Daily Nightmare

Now do it every day.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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Everyone probably knows by now about Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s photo opportunity commute from his home in Marikina to Malacañang Palace. Panelo was challenged by activist group Anakbayan to experience the daily struggle of Metro Manila commuters after he claimed that there was no transportation crisis in the Philippines. To everyone’s surprise, the spokesperson actually accepted the challenge and embarked on an almost four-hour journey going to work this morning.

Prior to the “commute challenge,” as the public has taken to calling it, Panelo defended that so long as you could (eventually) arrive at your destination, then you couldn’t call Manila’s intense traffic a “transportation crisis.”

Social media was on top of the accepted challenge, with regular commuters often being the first to report on Panelo’s progress than the media itself. According to Twitter reports, Panelo started his journey at 5:15 a.m. and took four jeepneys to get from Marikina to Malacañang, passing through Santa Mesa and Cubao, before hailing a habal-habal motorbike (which is technically illegal) to bring him the rest of the way to Malacañang Palace. Throughout his commute, Panelo sent selfies to the media as proof of his progress.

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He arrived at work at 8:45 a.m., 45 minutes late to work and precisely 3.5 hours after he departed his home.

In response to being late, Panelo remarked, “Okay lang ‘yun.” And on his long commute, Rappler reported Panelo saying, “Pareho ng dati, wala namang pinagbago eh. It’s the same, laking kalye ako eh.” Meanwhile, a Twitter user who saw Panelo on his commute claimed that a group of policemen helped Panelo catch a jeepney ride.

"Mainit, masikip. Sabi ko nga hindi iniintindi ng mga kritiko ang sinasabi ko," said Panelo, according to GMA News. "Wala tayong crisis kasi hindi naman tayo paralyzed. Ako kahit naka-kotse, I have to leave hours earlier."

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But, as expected, the “commute challenge” became a photo opportunity and trending hashtag (#SpotPanelo) rather than an avenue to really discuss the crisis—yes, crisis—we have. It took Panelo 3.5 hours—just to get to work. Now, imagine that twice a day, every day.

Unlike Panelo, the commuters he encountered on the way to work have to experience the grueling commute every morning and every night for every working day of the week. If it took him 3.5 hours to get to work on just one morning, which he will probably never repeat, then it takes other citizens on the same route seven hours to travel to and from their homes, amounting to a total of 42 hours wasted on commuting per week. And unlike Panelo, these citizens don’t have policemen assisting them on the side or free motorcycle ride offers from strangers when things get too tough.

One morning commute/photo opportunity to appease the media is hardly the same experience that the ordinary Filipino has to endure on a regular basis. And romanticizing the struggle is hardly going to make us feel any better.

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For some of us here at the office, waking up at 3 a.m. has become part of the daily grind. From Quezon City, our graphic artist leaves her house at 4:30 a.m. to take a van and the MRT to Mandaluyong, where she arrives at Summit HQ at 7 a.m. See, she figured out the “leave early, arrive early” hack way before Panelo, but it still takes her 2.5 hours to get to work—and that’s only if she leaves the house before the sun is even up. Any minute after that, and the traffic would add an hour to her already 2.5-hour morning commute.

Meanwhile, a Laguna resident leaves the house at 5:30 a.m. to get to the office by 9:00 a.m. at the latest. But Mondays are a different story all together when the traffic extends the 3.5-hour commute to 4.5 hours.

The length of time doesn’t even begin to describe the heat, sweat, jostling bodies, long lines, and the panic of being late and having your salary deducted.

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So yeah, a one-day adventure through Manila, which ended with a habal-habal saving the day, is nothing like the daily nightmare commuters experience. But if he thinks there's still no transportation crisis after one hellish commute, maybe Panelo should try commuting every day.

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Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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