Metro Manila is a dump. And it is getting worse, not better. The city is being crushed under the weight of its own success as a magnet for domestic migrants looking for jobs the Philippines’ barren hinterlands cannot provide. But why is Metro Manila, the Philippines’ premiere economic and cultural centre, not improving? Not only is it not improving, it is worsening even!
The answer is quite simple. Metro Manila’s leaders do not have skin in the game. Nowhere is this lack of real stake in the fortunes of this megalopolis more evident than in public transport. Specifically this:
Filipino politicians do not take public transport as a matter of routine.
How then can Metro Manilans ever expect things to improve in their city if their leaders have no understanding at all of what the average Metro Manilan goes through everyday?
Hold that thought for a moment and consider this first. Filipino politicians are fond of grandstanding, specially in the lead up to election days. They take with them an entourage of publicists and photographers then make like they are directing traffic, hauling sacks of onions, or any activity that makes them look like they are “one of us”. Apparently many Filipinos buy that bullshit. Despite phalanxes of “activists” derisively calling these traditional campaign stunts “epal” (a Tagalog coloquial word for “grandstanding”), the practice remains deeply-entrenched in Filipino political cultural.
So here’s the thing. Rather than fight a losing battle against epal in Philippine politics, why not put it to good use. If Filipino polticians want to make epal, why not make them do it all the way. Here is what I propose Filipinos — Metro Manilans in particular — demand of their politicians:
Start taking public transport everyday for the next two years leading to the 2016 elections.
Any baboon can make like a traffic cop or a palengkero for the 15 minutes it takes to produce a campaign video. But if Filipino politicians want to demonstrate how serious they are about improving the lot of ordinary Filipinos who, as part of their day-to-day lives, suffer the results of decades of government mismanagement, they should show Filipinos that they can take personal accountability for the idiocy of the government they want to be officers of.
What better way to demonstrate that resolve to fix Metro Manila and, by extension, the rest of the country than by living like real Filipinos for a duration that actually hurts? Indeed, a fat politician squeezing himself into an MRT or a jeepney will hurt — perhaps for the two years they will “sacrifice” to deserve the Filipino vote. Nonetheless, that “sacrifice” is really none such from the perspective of ordinary Filipinos who put up with the appalling conditions Metro Manila subjects them to everyday 365 days a year for much of their entire lives.
Filipinos deserve their current crop of no-results politicians because they habitually expect so little of them. It is only when Filipinos expect non-negotiably high standards of their leaders that the Philippines can be regarded as a country on its way to the top. We should stop satisfying ourselves with two-bit publicity stunts and demand real substance in our politicians.
It’s really not that hard.
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