The “commute challenge” captivated the entire nation last Friday, even to the extent where “Panelo” became the top trending topic on Twitter the entire morning. Despite all naysayers’ criticisms, fact remains that presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo walked the talk and did his part without any self-induced fanfare. Instead, his photos were posted online that sparked a hunt for him on the streets.
What has to be emphasized is that Panelo began his commute at New Manila, made a roundtrip to Marikina — the agreed upon starting point — and went back to Malacañang. Thus, the entire travel time of nearly four hours included the travel to the starting point and his change of course to evade the pesky media.
The commute was certainly not a stunt as it achieved the desired result — the breaking of an image of an entitled high-ranking government official in a chauffeured red-plated vehicle escorted by bodyguards. It is even amusing that those who criticized the loudest were people who do not commute at all. Panelo taunted media and endured trash talk from activists who had the gall of sitting right beside him at one time in a jeepney, but he was the clear winner at the end. Now, he is considered as one who empathized with the common folk for half a day, enough for the masses to challenge for similarly situated “public servants” to do what Panelo did.
Your move, Sen. Grace Poe. After blocking and dribbling the genuine requests of Transportation officials, led by Secretary Arthur Tugade, for the grant of emergency powers to address the traffic crisis, she came up with a light bulb moment of having MRT-3 business class coaches. Apparently, her light bulb isn’t lit up quite well enough to see that this proposal is pure bonkers.
Senator Poe may cite similar arrangements in first world countries, such as Dubai, Japan and European countries, but that is just inapplicable in a city like Metro Manila, arguably the most congested city in the world with the most outdated infrastructure.
It is time for Senator Poe to walk her big talk and take the MRT-3 during the morning rush, just like what Panelo did. Time for her to experience the long lines beginning from outside the MRT station and to shuffle into one of the “economy class” all-female coaches alongside her constituents. Perhaps this should be enough for her to realize that commuting here isn’t the same as in America where she spent most of her adult life as (previously) a citizen.
Senator Poe probably has been getting advice from her staff, led by her son, New York local and Columbia University graduate, Brian Poe Llamanzares, not to take the bait since this might end up as a PR nightmare, turned into a meme, just like how images of Mar Roxas (e.g., drinking from a plate, eating rice from a cup, directing traffic like a go-go dancer) haunt him to this day, causing his unrecoverable downfall in politics.
The hangover on the “commute challenge” should last for a couple more days, if not weeks. Now, we have legislators, such as Rep. Frederick Siao of Iligan City, daring public servants to commute at least once a week so they can sincerely feel what it’s like. Rep. Siao said that he will file a bill requiring the impoundment of all government vehicles every Monday so that government officials will be forced to take public transportation. Although we all know that Filipino families own multiple cars, this measure can be a good start. But the more exciting trickle down effect of this challenge is the courage and confidence it has given to the masses to call upon their government officials to be leaders by example.
We shall await the day when former Health Secretary, now Congresswoman Janet Garin and Public Attorney’s Office Chief Persida Acosta will allow themselves to be subjected to Dengvaxia, and for Senator Cynthia Villar to plant palay under the burning sun together with our impoverished farmers. We also challenge the nosy American senators and local politicians who are members of the opposition to join our police forces in conducting nightly raids of drug dens in the darkest corners of Manila. And what about Justice Antonio Carpio getting on a boat to the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea for him to feel what it’s like to be beside an armed Chinese war vessel, at the brink of causing a maritime war against China that could lead to the loss of thousands of lives and the end of Philippine sovereignty. Little did we know, Panelo, in his white Lacoste cap from the Novak Djokovic collection and white button shirt, will become an inspiration for a “challenge movement” after all.