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Commuting horrors on GCQ day: Only some reports noted government incompetence | CMFR

Commuting horrors on GCQ day: Only some reports noted government incompetence

Screengrabbed from Interaksyon.com.

TRANSPORT WOES marred the National Capital Region’s (NCR) transition to general community quarantine (GCQ). As some industries reopened on June 1, the lack of public transport forced returning workers to walk long distances and hitch rides from private vehicles. The government’s bus augmentation program did little to help as thousands were still left stranded all around the metropolis.

DOLE had issued the requirements for companies to provide for the needs of their employees, including transport and shelter as necessary. But in deciding to open up Metro Manila to GCQ status, the guidelines did not acknowledge that there are different kinds of workers eager to get back to their jobs.

Media reports captured the misery shared by almost everyone who returned to work on the day, the long wait on the streets and the punishing trek to their destinations. But there were exceptions which called out the failure of government to prepare for what would be the paramount need of commuters. Obviously, the government was depending on the private sector to provide transportation for everyone.

But just as obvious is that many of those eager to return to work are employees of small-to-medium sized enterprises, such as shops and stalls in the malls— businesses that have not the means to transport their workers. 

Why the government failure, when there was enough time to work on a plan, assign routes to PUV drivers who were ready to ply the streets, and call in government vehicles if necessary? Only a few journalists were intrepid enough to point out the shameful lapse of government service, as it decided to call back Filipinos to restart the economy.

CMFR monitored reports from the three major Manila broadsheets (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star); four primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, CNN Philippines’ News Night, GMA-7’s 24 Oras and TV5’s One Balita); as well as selected news websites from June 1 to June 9, 2020.

Blame game

Reports revealed the lack of coordination among the different agencies of the IATF-EID.

The policy to reopen business establishments identified the role of the private sector. But in setting this policy, the government should have seen the need of all employers and wage earners for transportation so they can support themselves and their families. In restarting the economy, the government should have looked into how commuters could get to their jobs as well as  return to their homes. But public officials were quick to blame the suffering public instead, and to  wash their hands of the responsibility.

In a radio interview on June 2, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) General Manager Jose Arturo Garcia blamed the commuters’ lack of discipline for the chaos on the roads. “They were focused on traveling even though they [knew], just as the Department of Transportation said, our first priority is health and safety,” Garcia said. Unfortunately, the reporter did not ask how opening up the economy serves the first priority. 

Seemingly oblivious to his agency’s mandate, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade had this to say during an interview with CNN Philippines, “Wala kaming pinangako o sinabi na ang transportasyon ay magiging extensive and will meet the requirements of all on the first day of GCQ — and even in the duration of the GCQ for that matter.”

How a transportation chief can excuse himself from responsibility and stay on the job reflects the pattern of government’s failure to do anything right.

Reports did carry these ludicrous excuses, but most let these thoughtless remarks pass. Only Interaksyon attempted to hold government officials to account for their negligence and lack of foresight.

Transport agencies released policies and guidelines piecemeal as each problem arose, which suggested the lack of a comprehensive strategy or plan.

An Inquirer report on June 3 pointed out that banning jeepneys is akin to abandoning one of the most vulnerable but key transport sectors, which the public depends on to get around. Keeping them off the streets was counterproductive to the objective of restarting the economy. The report cited Senator Nancy Binay who said, “When you exclude the jeepneys from the equation, you also [abandon] 250,000 families—and their children are the ones who suffer the most.”

The new normal has also promoted biking. DILG released a memorandum ordering local governments to establish their own “network” of cycling lanes with walk paths. But MMDA has yet to give bicycles leeway on the streets. Reports noted how MMDA Spokesperson Celine Pialago threatened to file charges and impose fines on biking advocates who set up temporary barriers along EDSA for the safety of bikers. The agency has failed to offer any immediate solutions, insisting on building permanent barriers – which will take time.

Media coverage reported these policies as they were released, failing to call attention to the lack of coherence in the government’s approach to the GCQ. Disjointed coverage that merely carried these contradicting statements only added to the confusion among commuters.

A stronger editing hand should have presented the key problem. Although government gave the go-signal to open up business establishments to save the economy, it did not figure out how workers can get to work.  Each worker must figure out how he can get to work without assistance from the IATF. Media failed their own responsibility of providing an overview of government lapses and noting that commuters at this point are basically on their own.


CMFR notes some exceptions that went beyond reporting commuting horrors by providing in-depth reports on other aspects of the transportation crisis.

Rappler ‘s Newsbreak carried a two-part report analyzing the effect of the transport shut-down on commuters and drivers.

The first part of Aika Rey’s Newsbreak report, published on May 27, followed the story of a jeepney driver who lost his livelihood due to the quarantine. Rey recounted the difficult process of applying for permits under the quarantine. She also complained about the government’s modernization program which did not consider the plight of those who had invested in the traditional jeepney as a source of livelihood. 

The second part of her report, published on May 29, examined the metro’s public transport capacity, pointing out how government underestimated the return of the  commuting population–PUV capacity would be reduced to half, while railways will operate at a little over 10% of their original capacity. Rey referred to the Move As One Coalition, a group of transport experts and advocates, whose calculations revealed that public utility vehicles would not be enough to serve commuters under GCQ.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s report, “Economy can’t reopen sans mass transport – think tank”, did well to link the issues of public transportation to the economy, which obviously government has failed to do.

The lack of  public transport defeats the purpose of restoring economic productivity. The report cited the private think tank Action for Economic Reforms (AER). “In the end, the lack of a safe public transport system, arising from the incompetence and insensitivity of the authorities, scuttles the very objectives of gradually opening the economy,” AER said.