DOTC Secretary Jun Abaya’s epic MRT public relations fail

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Not surprising. Political observers gave Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Secretary Jun Abaya a unanimous Fail in his most recent public relations stunt. Yesterday, the 28th August, Abaya stepped up to a self-imposed challenge to prove Manila’s decrepit Metro Rail Transit was “safe”. The MRT has been beleaguered by recent high-profile mishaps, among them a disastrous derailment on the 13th August that left scores injured. Much of the blame for these accidents were borne by low-level employees while top level executives have successfully eluded the buck.

Living up to a tradition of government ineptitude: DOTC Secretary Jun Abaya

Living up to a tradition of government ineptitude: DOTC Secretary Jun Abaya

The DOTC chief himself has been the subject of harsh criticism owing to the continued degeneration of the Philippines’ public transport infrastructure under his watch. Metro Manila’s commuters not only have to put up with overloaded trains, they also suffer kilometric queues at every station during the rush hours. Filthy jeepneys, murderous buses, and rinky-dink pedicabs and kuligligs continue to lord it over Manila’s congested streets and the death toll from accidents and crime perpetrated by often drug-crazed public utility vehicle drivers and operators is mounting. Traffic is now a virtual 24-hour-a-day snarl in most parts of Metro Manila and gets worse during increasingly frequent floods that are caused by a city-wide sewerage system fouled by human and household waste products.

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Abaya’s stunt saw him and his entourage of photographers, media folk, and bodyguards board an MRT train during off-peak hours to make the point. The stunt resonated across the riding public — but in the wrong way. Unfortunately for him, his initiative failed along many aspects — particularly around the sincerity angle. Back on the 19th August I published the article How can Metro Manila ever improve if Filipino politicians do not take public transport? where I highlighted the need for top public officials to personally experience what ordinary Filipinos routinely go through. Key to mounting a sincere effort to do this is commitment in both time and depth of immersion.

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.

If there is anything about government incompetence that Filipinos feel the most outrage over, it is public transport. The wretched lives of Metro Manila’s commuters, in particular, has been a decades-long aspect of the lifestyle in the Philippines’ premiere metropolis. Stretching back to the post-war years when, in a stroke of much-hyped “Filipino ingenuity” the jeepney became the pre-eminent symbol of Filipino “resilience”, the development of public transport in the Philippines has been appallingly mediocre at best. Many, in fact, have, in hindsight, now begged to differ. Public transport in the Philippines is an insult to mediocrity.

What is regarded as a public transport system by generations of public officials is a “system” only in name. What public transport in the Philippines really is, is a wholesale, lazy, bordering-on-criminal palming off of the service by the Philippine government to the private sector in the worst form possible. Private sector participation in public transport has since been characterised by chaotic competition rather than tightly-regulated systemic partnership.

Massive queue of commuters hoping to get a ride on Manila's MRT

Massive queue of commuters hoping to get a ride on Manila’s MRT

The MRT and its sister lines across Metro Manila are monumental multi-billion-dollar broken promises. Rather than replace the layers of transport decay that are legacies of 60 years of moronic Philippine governments, they acted more as catchment basins for the throngs of commuters that could no longer be accomodated by the vast fleet of decrepit jeepneys and buses that hold Metro Manila’s streets hostage. And now Metro Manila’s rail system has crumbled as well.

What next? More billions to be spent to “fix” public transport in Metro Manila?

Unfortunately, the Philippines has long proven to be an investment sinkhole. Filipinos present themselves as a fine speciment of the sort of problem that money can’t fix — the same way forking over cash to an alcoholic will simply deepen his alcoholism.

DOTC Secretary Jun Abaya may be a really bad Cabinet henchman. But he is only the most recent in a long tradition of idiotic government officials. Worse, he will not be the last. After all, the quality of a government in any democracy (owing to the very nature of that system), merely reflects the character of the people who lend it legitimacy. There is little promise that any improvements are in the horizon — not with the next two years in the lead up to the 2016 elections likely to be squandered by Filipinos more on political drama than on worthwhile initiatives that could secure their future.

[Photos courtesy DZRH News Center and veooz.com respectively.]

14 Replies to “DOTC Secretary Jun Abaya’s epic MRT public relations fail”

  1. What’s next? The ALS ice bucket challenge?

    Come to think of it, that long queue of commuters snaking around the MRT station would probably look forward to seeing Jun Abaya suspended head first in ice water.

  2. If only the government would have ever decided to get “outside” help. Foreign countries would even do it for free. Ask professionals how to do it and not let half-wits run the show. This all started with Cory and her national pride campaign. Thanks you incompetent twat!

    It amazes me since 30 years that the Philippines always extends it’s hands to beg, but if someone who knows what he is talking about offers help it is an absolute no-no to accept that. Because Filipinos know it all, do it all better, are proud and closer to Christ and stupid shit like that.

    It is criminal negligence and general amentia, not national pride to disregard advise from abroad. Other countries did it and now they are far ahead. So what now? Continue building on an already dilapidated and derelict foundation? Great idea. This whole city and it’s transport system is one giant turd.

    When the DOTC Secretary takes public transport, people should spit in his face and tell him to go fuck a dead goat.

  3. This is just a clear case of appointing somebody clearly not fit for the job. In this case, the DOTC, that means Department of Transportation and Communications, duh, by the name alone it should be clear what type of person should be put in that job. Why not appoint a chef or a nurse, instead, it surely doesn’t make any more logical sense anyway. But hey, we have 50 year old underachiever at the helm, so what does that tell you?

  4. Filipinos are too patient…it would be good , if they would storm at Abaya’s office and demand from him immediate action for the improvement of the transport system. They also have to go to Malacanang , and demand from that Lazyman Aquino; to give immediate action.

    If you don’t rattle these Lazy Officials. Surely, you would never get any result. Things will remain, as they are.

    They are not only incompetent. They are also lazy.

  5. Sumakay si Secretary Abaya sa MRT, pero doon sya sa sakayan ng mga senior citizen at mga babae. Ang ibig sabihin nyan, simple lang! hindi nya talaga nararamdaman ang paghihirap ng mga kawawang kababayan natin dahil sa kapalpalkan nilang lahat (DOTC/MRT)

    Nag i-inspection si Secretary Abaya ng mga relis ng MRT, pero nakakainis tingnan na pinapayungan pa sya at mukhang hirap na hirap pa ang taga payong sa kahahabol para mapayungan ang mala haring si Abaya, ayaw maarawan at baka umitim.

  6. Yeah more grandstanding.

    Sen. Grace Poe made a similar stunt just recently, the difference being that she undertook this with little initial media exposure, no “alalays” or bodyguards, she didn’t go to the area reserved for senior citizens, and she wasn’t given the VIP treatment (unlike Sec. Abaya) but actually stood and jostled her way to get inside the train. She went from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City, which according to her took about an hour and a half. She said it took that long because she waited in line for about 40 minutes, and while on board one of the trains had a glitch.

    It could be argued that she also did this for publicity, but at least she put some effort into it.

  7. It really must suck to live in Metro-Manila. Why anyone would want to is beyond reasoning and anyone who has a choice to stay or leave? I guess they will be leaving or going to see a Psychiatrist to find or why not, LOL !

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