The buried giant embodied in our trains

‘Another point to consider is the psychological impact of witnessing a suicide attempt or a gory accident. What if there are children on the scene? What if they become traumatized? There is also the concern that such suicide attempts or accidents would happen too often that they become considered as part of the normal… We’ve gone through a lot to be deprived of quality services from the government. We have all felt defeated at one point.’

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IT WAS a blistering hot afternoon when my northbound Metro Rail Transit (MRT3) train stopped at the Santolan station longer than usual. It’s around 2:40 pm. I was on my way to work. The crowd was not that thick.

After 6 minutes, an announcement was made. I did not understand the message because of the static noise coming out of the speaker. Anxious, I closed the book I was reading. It was a holiday because of the ASEAN Summit 2017.

The train doors remained open. I looked outside to know what’s going on. Not again, I said. A few seconds later, the train’s door closed but I still wondered what had happened.

Accident

Later that day, I heard two of my colleagues talk about news on MRT3. After hearing the details, to my horror, I realized that the delay of the train operations earlier that day was not because of another glitch or a technical problem, but because of a serious accident at the MRT3 Ayala station.

Around 2:30 pm. Woman. 24. Fainted. Fell on the railway tracks. Severed right arm. Cut near her armpit.

I was shocked. I couldn’t utter a word.

At that moment, I remembered another appalling MRT3 incident that occurred in March this year. I was also on my way to work and about to get into the entrance to buy a ticket when I observed that the train was not moving. It was stuck. The entrance had been blocked. Lines of passengers were nowhere to be found. Confusion and chaos were evident.

Out of curiosity, I asked one of the passengers who was forced to get off the train earlier that afternoon, “Sir, what happened?” He responded, “A man jumped onto the rails.”

Why do such incidents keep on happening?

In a 2013 ABS-CBN report, Pinky Webb wrote: “MRT general manager Al Vitangcol said they initially planned to put up screen doors only in 3 MRT stations, namely Taft Avenue, Shaw Boulevard, and North Avenue, by the end of the year…However, because of the recent incident, they will eventually construct the platform screen doors in all 13 stations of the MRT.”

Four years later, not a single station has been installed with a protective barrier.

How many lives have to be lost for the MRT management and the government to seriously act on this? How many more limbs or arms should be injured for those in power to act on commuters’ safety?

Another point to consider is the psychological impact of witnessing a suicide attempt or a gory accident. What if there are children on the scene? What if they become traumatized? There is also the concern that such suicide attempts or accidents would happen too often that they become considered as part of the normal.

We’ve gone through a lot to be deprived of quality services from the government. We have all felt defeated at one point.

The buried giant

I understand that there’s no shortcut in getting funds for platform screen doors or other security and safety upgrades for our trains. But, isn’t it just a matter of prioritization, political will, and accountability?

It has been said that the transport system of a country is a reliable barometer of its advancement, growth, and prosperity. We should aim to be a model of efficient and safe transport systems and services like our other neighbors in Southeast Asia.

But while waiting for that time to come, I hope that we don’t forget our frustrations and challenge those in power to make a difference for the future of our country and for the prevention of suicide attempts and accidents involving our trains.

As what Kazuo Ishiguro write in The Buried Giant, which I was holding inside the train at the Santolan station: “For in this community the past was rarely discussed. I do not mean that it was taboo. I mean that it had somehow faded into a mist as dense as that which hung over the marshes. It simply did not occur to these villagers to think about the past – even the recent one.”

Let’s all recognize and courageously face our society’s buried giants one mist at a time.

(This piece has been published on Rappler.com, IMHO, Opinion, on the 16th of November, 2017.)

The butterfly effect

“Perhaps, President Duterte will still curse. He will still speak his mind to whoever claims to be a moral authority in the years to come. But shouldn’t we first seek to change ourselves? Shouldn’t we first seek to be contributors and vigilant actors to the nation-building advocacy that he wants us to take?”

IN MY childhood, I used to spend my weekend afternoons in our backyard watching tree clinging, 12-legged caterpillars transform into majestic flying butterflies. If nature permits, the cocoon would slowly break open paving the way for a beautiful creature to exist. It was magical. But today, I no longer see butterflies just as they are or their metamorphosis as a metaphor for 180-degree transformation. I see PDu30 in them.

A few days before he sworn into office, PDu30 said: “There will be a metamorphosis of the mind. From being a caterpillar, it will blossom into a butterfly.”

I still remember how hopeful and excited my mother was on the makeover that would occur on the most powerful man in this country. But did he really change? Can a man really change his ways in a snap to be more presidential? How can his demeanor reflect the way we see ourselves as a nation?

President Duterte knows exactly how to play his game. He got 16 million votes for a promise of strongman rule. Every time he curses, a microphone is in front of him to capture everything. Cameras are all over as he moves his mouth. He doesn’t care if you’re the Pope. If you made him wait in traffic for hours, feel free to listen to his wrath. He confessed every possible detail of his humanity that can be used against him during the campaign period – a womanizer, bloody murderer of rapists, and a killer of sorts. While this “playful use of words” has become second nature to him, a majority of us including the international media is caught unprepared, confused, and puzzled on what he really meant. He is willing to slap anybody even a former senator and cabinet secretary with his truth. He has “nothing to hide” he would say. And then expect his speakers and allies quick to interpret and explain what he just uttered.

Just recently, he headlined news reports for “cursing” President Barack Obama of the United States. But if you’ll play the video over and over again, he did not directly curse him. He addressed it to those who would question the way he handles the drug problem in our country in the ASEAN summit. I wonder why some media organizations say otherwise.

Every day, we witness his antics, we listen to the way he expresses himself, his expiration in controlling his mouth and emotions past midnight which is common to someone who’s 71 years old. He’s probably irritated, we would say.

But how did we get here?

Why did we resort to a cursing, foul-mouthed president instead of entrusting the kingdom to yellow king’s heir – masked with his signature elitist eyeglass – who has vowed to continue the fight for the straight path in well-tucked polo shirt? How about the short, dark-skinned man who reigned over the concrete jungle of the country’s financial district and prematurely announced his aspiration to the throne?

The answers to these questions are slowly revealing themselves in front of our eyes. We got tired. Our ears got to the spilling level on the traditional politicians with the same platforms that we sought for someone sincere and unconventional. We’ve become impatient of the inefficiencies that surround us that we made ourselves believe that who we need right now is a punisher, a strongman, someone who understands what we’re going through in our everyday lives. PDu30 is the exact opposite of PNoy when it comes to demeanor and manner of speech. I’ve never heard PNoy curse; PDu30 has it in his system.

We celebrate him despite of the knowledge that thousands have died in his world-famous war against drugs. Those who were killed either resisted arrest or tried to steal the gun of the police officer while being handcuffed, they would say. We believe on this reasoning because none of our family members has become a victim yet. Because we believe that nothing will happen to good people. And at the same time, we accepted full-heartedly that an innocent man could die. It’s the trade of the game. Because we understand that in any warfare there shall be collateral damage. They are just numbers flashed on our tv sets. Just another update for the day until someone close to our hearts becomes a lifeless face of that statistics. Can’t we see the disconnect on our own beliefs?

Suddenly, we became more involved. We post comments and status updates about the workings of the government. We watch his every interview. We listen to him like students to a teacher with the admiration to be catalysts for change. We talk about him during lunch at work and within the confines of our homes. No wonder, historically, he has one of the highest approval ratings among presidents.

PDu30 made us realize that we’re not genuinely happy inside. We’re unhappy with drug addicts and pushers roaming around backed by some corrupt law enforcers and government officials themselves. We’re unhappy to walk on the streets no matter what time of the day because there is no security.

Perhaps, President Duterte will still curse. He will still speak his mind to whoever claims to be a moral authority in the years to come. But shouldn’t we first seek to change ourselves? Shouldn’t we first seek to be contributors and vigilant actors to the nation-building advocacy that he wants us to take?

And the next time that President Duterte flaps his wings on stage or in front of a camera to deliver a 45-minute extemporaneous speech about the challenges and pressing issues that we face as a country, may we not just count his contradictions and the number of times he cursed but choose to see him the same way President Obama once described him: “Clearly, he’s a colorful guy.”