In response to Julia Nebrija’s public transport adventures in Metro Manila

I came across an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer about a foreigner’s experience in the Light Rail Transit plying the length of Rizal Avenue from the Roosevelt Station in the north to Baclaran in the south. Being a regular commuter myself, I can’t help but give my own take about her observations.

Titled ‘The day I went topless on the LRT’, written by Julia Nebrija, it is an essay detailing a foreigner’s experience with the notorious mass transport system in the Philippines—specifically in Metro Manila.

Manila's Light Rail Transit: Always a pleasant experience.

Manila’s Light Rail Transit: Always a pleasant experience.

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As expected, as with foreign guests published in major broadsheets in the country, the article was decidedly upbeat and “positive” when it comes to making observations about some facet of the culture or country. Though I suspect some form of sarcasm in the write-up every now and then; it was, for lack of a better word, a positive paint of how the abysmal state of mass transport system in the metro is being handled.

There are two types of foreign evaluations when it comes to the Philippines: the brutally critical and the sugarcoated-Amorsolo-esque-glorification-of-the-smiles-despite-the hardships type of pandering. I have yet to meet a foreigner with a predominantly grey appraisal of the country. It’s either teeth-rattling revulsion-black or high-pitched praises to the high heavens-white. To be fair, both extreme reactions tend to be honest, negative or otherwise.

It’s not that I’m siding with the complainers but I have found most of their critique of the culture to be true, having lived and observed the people and customs for most of my life here. I rarely came across a pointed observation I did not agree with no matter how painful it is to admit, being a Filipino myself. As for the visitors who liked it here, who am I to say their reaction is wrong if they genuinely feel this place is a paradise compared to where they came from? Satisfaction is a subjective matter and to argue about things like that would be an exercise in futility.

My issue with the article, however, is not about how the author presented things in a light way, but the tone that seem to be saying that what we have is already ok. As she mentioned in the article, other places have it worse:

I feel highly mobile here compared to other places I’ve lived in, like Washington DC, New York City and Madrid, where large parts of the city are accessible only by one train or bus line and if you miss the bus or train, your only option is to wait, walk or get a cab, which will cost you, sometimes heavily.

But unlike those places where you have a fixed and predictable schedule, especially on the trains, public transport in Metro Manila is anything but. It’s a constant gamble on the part of the commuter whether the mode of transport he’s using will be able to get him on time to his destination given the sudden unforeseen circumstances like frequent train breakdowns, sudden traffic because of some unannounced road work or pipe maintenance, flooding (due to miniscule amounts of rain) and just plain bad luck—which seems to be the norm in the life of the hapless daily Metro Manila commuter than an occasional phenomenon. Not to mention the rude, arrogant operators of PUVs who seem to outnumber the good ones. Good for the writer that her experiences with public transport here have been peachy so far.

While I do not doubt her sincerity (because she did sound like she had fun) about her experiences, her article nevertheless trivializes the actual depressing state of the traffic and public transport situation in Metro Manila. In a popular broadsheet to boot. It unwittingly became another bullet for the ‘pwede na’ mentality that festers in the heart of our dysfunctional culture. Why complain when other countries have it worst, right? Count ourselves lucky because we’re better off. Pwede na.

Of course I’ll get accused, as always when one goes against the feelgood rhetorics of Pinoy Pridists, as being anti-pinoy or negative in light of a visitor’s praise for our services. Praises are good of course; courtesy for you host is a sign of good manners, after all. Pero huwag naman sanang umabot sa bolahan.

That it’s published in one of the biggest broadsheets in the country only exacerbates its effects. Once again, people will get their daily fix of blue skies, fluffy clouds, and golden meadows draped over the ugly cesspool of reality courtesy of a very beautiful Caucasian fairy godmother we all love and worship.

Predictably, you get online comments on the article like:

We face challenges everyday of our lives. it is amatter of how you see it. positive or negative. the author chooses to see the positive despite of those challenges. hope everone do the same. we can see the glass as half empty or half full. thanks Julia

Fine. We all have coping mechanisms in dealing with stress. I myself am stressed out most of the time from the daily commute from the house to the office. If seeing things like that help in some way to alleviate the discomfort, go right ahead. But the danger of having an outlook like that is that after a while, it erodes righteous indignation to shabby services replaced with apathetic complacency. Again, pwede na.

In her Twitter account, in response to said article, GRP writer ilda said:

A transport system should simply bring you from A to B and not A,B, C, D before reaching your destination.

I get the point of Ms. Nebrija when she had an adventure by using alternate routes to get to her destination. But try repeating that exercise daily, weekly, annually and so on in a strictly-business, non-leisure activity and you’d probably end up with either multiple holes in your guts because of stress-related ulcers or a full head of white hair at a young age.

It’s nice and we’re grateful for the kind appraisals of our guests. But like any sensible host in a household, never forget the grain of salt.

[Photo courtesy]

11 Replies to “In response to Julia Nebrija’s public transport adventures in Metro Manila”

  1. well she got accustomed how to live and go to work in metro manila. LOL. i guess that’s what her article is about.

    but yet again if we want to progress as a society in NCR, we need to change for the better. but today we can’t. let’s live peacefully in the meantime with the mode of transpo we have in this metro. let’s just put a little discipline as pedestrians though. that we can do. 😀

  2. I also had fun working out how to get around on public transport in the Philippines and other poor countries… when I was a backpacking tourist. I was satisfied when I made it from my Manila guest house to Taal volcano and back by trike, jeepney, bus and boat on a strict budget.

    Now I actually *live* in this country, I haven’t taken anything but taxis for a year. I’m not a complete masochist.

  3. Probably it’s just one of her Adventure Time day. I guess the fun is in surviving unscathed the jungle transport the country has to offer (I’m not from Metro Manila so there are times I felt exhilarated and felt like shouting “I’m alive!” when I get out of it’s wild with just sweaty body and pollution-powdered face). Her article is also another way of saying be sunny and strong if you choose to get used to it.

  4. It is true, almost nothing is completely bad. Something good can be found in just about everything.
    It is an ART,and one of the most difficult ARTS to master: How to make something good come out of something bad. Filipino’s are a resourceful bunch and collectively could pull the country out of the cespool it has become mired in.
    SO, Filipino……lets see what you got.

  5. @ “I feel highly mobile here compared to other places I’ve lived in, like Washington DC, New York City and Madrid, where large parts of the city are accessible only by one train or bus line and if you miss the bus or train, your only option is to wait, walk or get a cab, which will cost you, sometimes heavily.”

    Hundred years ago perhaps, today if you miss the bus or train (In NYC or Wash.DC) there’s is another coming in 15 minutes.

    Ms.Nebrija was just being nice.

    1. What she said about DC and New York–especially the outlying suburbs–is true, and she wasn’t just being nice. Lived in DC for a year and in NY for a shorter span, and life without a car was miserable. There are subways and trains that show up every few minutes, yes, but outside the main system or transport loop, you’re in trouble. The first district I stayed in was at the end of one of the DC subways lines, and I was always terrified when getting off at night, even as early as 7 pm, because there would be no other people. And in many US cities they’re discontinuing bus lines and trains due to lack of funding.

  6. Maybe, Miss Nebrija was looking at the dismal situation of the LRT, with Yellow Glasses; and had a bout with “Jaundiced Reality”. This illness afflicts mostly YellowTards; and is communicable…Sorry, but most GRP Blogers, can differentiate between Wishful Thinking and Reality staring straight your face…

  7. She was just trying to be polite because its possible she doesn’t want to be harassed by an entire nation of delusional people.

    Then again, who would?

  8. The critical opinions of a writer should always be taken with a large grain of salt. For the most part, they are manifestations of his/her debate with himself/herself as to what he/she should do next and what he/she should avoid.

    In order for the wheel to turn, for life to be lived, impurities are needed, and the impurities of impurities in the soil, too, as is known, if it is to be fertile. Dissension, diversity, the grain of salt and mustard are needed: the Failippines does not want them, forbids them, and that’s why you’re not a Failipino; it wants everybody to be the same, and you are not. But immaculate virtue does not exist either, or if it exists it is detestable.

  9. I saw one of her YouTube shows where she discussed this. She is definitely being nice because she’s a guest in the country. However, in that same show, I also detected some irritation regarding the state of the infrastructure and how it’s not adequately maintained. She definitely did not pull punches on the head of the MRT at the time (the one with the umbrella held by his peon).

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