The mounting desperation of the average Metro Manila commuter is becoming so palpable you can taste it in the air every morning when you come out the door of your home and face the hard slog to work. It is utterly depressing to face a day where the first thing you will be experiencing is helplessness and hopelessness — helplessness at the prospect of sitting for two hours in your car with a lucid mind ticking away precious minutes from your short life, and hopelessness that those wasted minutes will rack up over the next couple decades (at best) as every year that offers no real solutions to the mess that is Metro Manila passes into history.
Every inmate of the vast urban prison that is Metro Manila will one day find themselves on their death bed lamenting the almost 100,000 hours of their lives they had wasted stuck in traffic. That’s more than 4,000 days or more than 11 years of your life (more than 15 percent of it) you will never ever get back.
Sitting on my armchair playing attorney, I reckon the sorts of crimes that cop one at least that long in the slammer are of the more heinous sorts — second-degree murder perhaps, maybe armed robbery, embezzling, etc. But what crime have Metro Manila’s people committed that landed them their now-famous 11-year sentences in prison? Considering that the average Metro Manila person is not really that bad a fellow (if we for a moment ignore a penchant for spitting and urinating in public), I’d say they are all victims of a huge injustice. Consider it again: a million people serving 11-year prison sentences for a crime they did not commit.
That Metro Manilans are serving time for crimes they did not commit, indeed, is an astounding injustice. Who committed the crimes they are serving time for? Hold that thought while we consider the successive governments and the officials who sat in their offices collecting their salaries from the Filipino taxpayer, and spending public funds on projects that yielded zero results. Zero results, in fact, is being a bit nice. The results are more in the negative. If traffic and living conditions in the Philippines have gone from bad to worse in the last several decades, then it can be said that the billions of pesos sunk into Metro Manila “development” over that time yielded a degeneration rather than an improvement. Simply put, that’s billions of pesos wasted.
But Metro Manila’s public transport system is a case study in institutionalised stupidity, with buses and jeepneys let loose to ply their trade as individual private enterprise rather than a true public system that is coherent on a large-scale. Recent “accidents” in the city’s most modern travel facility — the unsightly elevated commuter rail network that snakes all over it — has made it the most recent butt of jokes. Yes, Metro Manila’s buses and jeepneys are now beyond funny, but its trains still attract a few laughs. How long Filipinos will be laughing is not hard to guess. Tomorrow is another day — in prison.
Metro Manila is a source of shame for every Filipino. It is a steaming, stinking, human cesspool dotted by small island enclaves inhabited by a tiny elite class of fashionistas who have perfected the art of pretending the stench around them does not exist. But with an elephantine chunk of the city’s wealth and influence clutched by this small urbane community, there is little hope that the issues faced by the “less-fortunates” will ever find space in the mythical “strategic urban development plans” that Metro Manila badly needs to become a city enjoyed rather than suffered.
Worst of all, that prison sentence is growing longer and more pervasive. No new roads of consequence are being built and train capacity is being destroyed rather than added. Metro Manila’s filth is no longer something experienced only on one’s horrendous daily commute. It is starting to seep into the average Metro Manila home, with flood waters routinely reaching doorsteps, soot deposited by diesel pollution fouling up electric fans and walls, water-borne diseases and toxins making their way into indoor taps, and violent crime forcing residents to fortify their windows with steel grills.
Yet, the country’s wretched masses continue to trek to this city in search of “better” opportunities. Something’s gotta give. No, it already did. That Metro Manila had become a failed city a long time ago is a reality that should have been faced yesterday. But the prospect of Filipinos and their governments facing that reality sometime in the future is already a challenge in itself. When will Metro Manilans decide to seize control of their future? That’s going to be a hard decision to get around to making now that they have lived with a deeply-ingrained prisoner’s mentality for so long.
[Photo of buses clogging EDSA courtesy Boylit De Guzman.]
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