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.)

18. One train ride, two weathers

“I find it fascinating how the train’s doors can be one’s windows on this journey.”

EVERYDAY, I ride the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) to go to work. Most of the time it’s crowded. But sometimes, seats are empty, the existence of air conditioning units can be felt because of the cold breeze coming out of them, and the passengers vibrantly chatting to each other; men and women and children, all collected in a closed, moving machine.

But in a rare occasion, while cruising through the highway, I observed how weather changed. At the Guadalupe station, it’s raining so hard that you can imagine yourself enveloped in your white, comfy bed sheet in your room. The vehicles on the street are stuck and wet. Small and large, private and public, they have the same fate. But four stations later and after few kilometers, the concrete road below seems untouched by a raindrop. It’s like you’re looking at a different world. And with wonder, you realize that you became a link to two dimensions.

I find it fascinating how the train’s doors can be one’s windows on this journey. They say that the MRT reveals who we really are. But I think it also reveals the variations in different places, the weather, the people, the clouds above. It reveals the complexities of the things around us, that what’s happening to one place can’t be expected to unfold to another. Nothing is really the same or equal. We can choose to think of all the complaints that we wanted to address to its management whenever we’re informed that a defective train causes the delay or we can choose to just enjoy the ride.

And at the end of the day, it all boils down to our perception, to our eyes, to us.

Train to Guadalupe

“How many lives should be lost for the MRT management and the government to seriously act on this? How many limbs should be injured for those in power to make a move for the commuters’ safety?”

IT’S TUESDAY at around 2 P.M. about two weeks ago. I was on my way to work and about to get into the entrance to buy a ticket at MRT-3 Guadalupe station northbound in Makati City when I observed that the train was not moving. It’s stuck. The entrance has been blocked. Usual lines of people were nowhere to be found. Confusion and chaos were evident. Out of curiosity, I then asked one of the passengers who has been forced to get off the train earlier that afternoon: “Sir, what happened?” And then he responded: “A man jumped into the rails.”

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

At 2:10 P.M., I decided to take the bus going to Megamall. I have been told that there are P2P (Point to Point) buses there to get to North Avenue in Quezon City. Naturally, I was worried about the male passenger who was pinned down under the MRT’s first coach.

As I was onboard the P2P bus, I couldn’t help but ask these questions: Why did he attempt to commit suicide? What was going on in his mind? Why were there no platform screen doors at MRT stations to prevent suicide attempts and to protect the public from danger?

There was no way I could know the answers to the first two questions except if I’ll be given a chance to talk to the man in person. But the third one is worth pondering and requires the same degree of scrutiny.

In an interview, Deo Manalo, the MRT director for operations said the Department of Transportation of the present administration has a plan to install platform screen doors to prevent suicide attempts. But, when will they be installed exactly? This year? In a few months? When?

A quick Google search with the keywords “MRT TRAIN SUICIDE GUADALUPE” will give you an idea that it’s not the first time that this incident happened at the same station. In 2013, a man died after jumping in front of oncoming train. Pinky Webb wrote on the ABS-CBN News website: “After a male passenger allegedly committed suicide by jumping in front of the train, MRT general manager Al Vitangcol said they initially planned to put up screen doors only in three MRT stations namely Taft Avenue, Shaw Boulevard and North Avenue, by the end of the year… He said, however, that because of the recent incident, they will eventually construct the platform screen doors in all 13 stations of the MRT.”

Again. 13 stations. Where are they now? Why were they not have been put up yet four years later?

How many lives should be lost for the MRT management and the government to seriously act on this? How many limbs should be injured for those in power to make a move for the commuters’ safety? How many guards should accidentally fall off the tracks as they make sure that nobody steps on the yellow edge tiles with hundreds of thousands of passengers of MRT to attend to every day? How many more poor train drivers should be charged with reckless imprudence resulting in homicide after a frustrated passenger knelt in front of the train or positioned his or her head on the rail aimed to suffer critical and direct hit?

In a country that has become immune with inefficiencies around including the public transport, the psychological impact of being a witness to a suicide attempt is unspeakable and is sometimes forgotten. What if there are children on the scene? What if they become traumatized on the horror that just happened in front of their eyes? What if we forget that suicide attempts in our train systems should not be part of the normal?

Can you remember the LRT-1 suicide of a woman in 2012? How about the every now and then news of suicide successes and attempts on PNR rails?

In the 2016 South Korean action thriller “Train to Busan”, the protagonists lead by Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), a divorced fund manager and Seong-keong (Jeong Yu-mi), a pregnant wife of Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) faced horrible dilemma as they attempt to spare their lives and flee from hordes of zombies on a running train which ultimately bound for Busan after several other stations have become havens of infected passengers. But here in our country, instead of boarding the train, some of us decided to face death by a train thinking that they’ll be killed instantly with the knowledge that they may look like the zombies in the movie on the next scenes.

I understand that it is not a piece of cake to have budget allotment approved in a snap for platform screen doors or any other upgrades in our train systems for public’s safety. These cost millions of pesos because more than the materials needed, the barriers on platforms must be calibrated which will only open when a train has arrived. But, isn’t it just a matter of prioritization and political will? It has been said that the transportation system of a country is a reliable barometer of its advancement, growth, and prosperity. If there’s an image of us that should be etched on the international stage, it should not be the death of a Filipino in the hands of another Filipino, or of an MRT, LRT, and PNR train rampaging a Filipino passenger as dictated by his or her will or not. Instead, we should aim to be a model of efficient and safe transport systems and services like our neighbors in South East Asia.

But while waiting for the changes to come, I’ll listen to the Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars or Beatles songs playing inside MRT-3 Guadalupe’s elevators and pray that nobody jumps off the train tracks again. You do not want to start or end your day standing in front of blood-stained rails, do you?