Traffic, Politics And Corruption

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

A long weekend had passed, a time to catch up with rest and family time for some like me, and a more active fun time for those much younger. However, the protest rally of the Iglesia ni Cristo along Edsa, and the horrible traffic it caused last Friday evening, created so much noise in the media that disturbed the quiet weekend I wanted to have. The next day, Saturday, was still bad but not as much as the previous evening because people knew enough to avoid some stretches along Edsa. The ranting and raving in media, especially social media, though, was something else.

Obviously, at least to me, the INC rally naturally reaped a belligerent backlash. Being a minority religion but with a perceived political and economic clout beyond their numbers, the INC already started with a vulnerable position against more than 80 percent of the population. But that is nothing new to the INC, especially their leadership, because that has been the whole context of their history and growth. 100 years ago, Felix Manalo must have been a laughing stock when he dared to establish the INC in the face of a solidly dominant Catholic mindset.

When the INC took to the streets, especially the move from the DOJ in Manila to Edsa-Shaw and the Edsa Shrine, it must have anticipated the backlash from traditional and social media. Their greater interest, though, must have driven their leadership to take the risk. However, the traffic problem was only a trigger for something deeper to vent itself.

Heavy traffic, even horrible traffic, is not attributable to the INC—except for last Friday evening to part of Saturday. A day and a half of unusual traffic is not commensurate to the viciousness and volume of criticism thrown at the INC. After all, how many decades has Metro Manila been suffering from not only heavy traffic but heavy pollution as well? Let it rain and traffic gets horrible. Let it rain very hard and traffic gets paralyzed.

If the extra traffic that was caused by the rally that provoked so much heat and hate to find their way to the news and social media, then the administrations that had seen the crazy build-up of the traffic over the last few decades should have deserved the same virulent reactions. There have been, but nowhere near what was thrown at the INC.

Edsa is only one face of the problem. The ugliest is the public transportation system—the lack of which ultimately chokes Edsa. Faced with a completely inadequate and outdated rail system in the MRT and the LRT, Metro Manilans have little choice but to take all kinds of vehicles to Edsa. And this has not been going on for a day and a half like the problem caused by the INC street protest, but for many, many years.

It is hard, though, to keep crying out loud against nightmarish traffic that Metro Manilans have learned to reluctantly swallow because it seems they has no choice. Against the INC, however, there was some relief when there was a new reason to vent over a perennial problem.  It seems to me that long-festering religious prejudice and political partisanship simply used the traffic as an excuse to vent against the INC and politicians who showed sympathy for the INC protest.

The MRT problem is a daily one. Even when all its cars work, the passengers are like cattle in a herd inside a corral waiting to ride and when they are squeezed in transit. If the cursing of people against the horrible traffic that the INC caused for a day and a half was just about extra travel time, then what cursing does an almost daily horror deserve? And if the same people cursing the INC and promising not to vote for perceived INC-friendly politicians, they have many times the reason not to vote for politicians identified with the daily traffic and transport mess.

We should confront our problems with the traffic and the transport system honestly and bravely. Venting only when a group rallies in Edsa obfuscates the situation because we will blame the culprit of one day but not the culprit of it all other days. Metro Manila is a dying metropolis. It just earned a top ten ranking among the world’s worst traffic—and not because of the INC. It is a matter of numbers, of population and vehicular density, of available roads. Most of all, it is about a necessary public transport that gives dignity to Filipino workers.

And before we blame only bureaucrats and politicians, who by the way change like revolving door traffic, let us examine why we have this kind of population and vehicular density in Metro Manila. And why we have an obsolete rail system. Why have Filipinos converged in one metropolis instead of spreading ourselves in a more humane proportion? What has magnetized millions of us to work and live in a metropolis that is now choking itself to death?

Was it really the corrupt politicians who brought us here? Who are these politicians who have dragged us to Metro Manila in the last fifty years? If we cannot identify them, then they must not be the true cause. It may have been the Imperial Manila mindset that made one city appear irresistible to millions until that one city became a metropolis. It may be the government power centralized in one small area in the Philippines and, thus, why politicians and the bureaucracy are blamed.

Was it stupidity, then? Or was it corruption? If we are to judge from the noise, corruption is the primaryculprit. And corruption means the politicians and the bureaucracy. Not really. In the corruption formula, they are the bribed. But in the same formula, there are the bribers. Who can afford to bribe officialdom?

We will never know if we choose to keep targeting the bribed without exposing what may be the greater evil—the briber. But then again, who will fight the ones who may own us all?


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