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.)

20. Elon Musk

“Thank you for your efforts on building a better planet despite all the criticisms, despite all odds. Thank you for weathering the storms. Thank you for being brave.”

I ADMIRE the man for his conviction, for standing up for his principles, for not listening to his idols and mentors on what he has to do, for having deaf ears on their never-ending opinions for him to stop innovating, to back out and forget the idea of challenging this world’s perspectives.

He makes it seem like his bourgeois status is irrelevant whenever he speaks, when he tries to explain things. His eyes glitter like the stars in space. 

But aren’t we tired of the congestion, of inhaling toxic gases everyday from petroleum-fueled cars? 

We are all witnesses on the rising effects of pollution to humanity caused by petroleum-fueled cars. There’s tons of health problems and issues that the governments of the world have to deal with for its citizens. Global warming is happening not because of the of nature’s processes, or the imbalance in the ecosystem. It exists because of our own actions. 

And so, he built Tesla, Inc..

It takes guts to build a company out of nowhere and get over the hump of the financial crisis in 2008. 

Wikipedia described Tesla Inc. as an “American automaker, energy storage company, and solar panel manufacturer based in Palo Alto, California. Founded in 2003, the company specializes in electric cars, lithium-ion battery energy storage, and, through their SolarCity subsidiary, residential solar panels.” 

When I first heard that company name years ago when I was still studying electrical engineering in the university, I remembered right away the inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla, who I look up to because of his genius and passion for science. As someone who wanted to work in one of the hardest and most challenging fields ever, he inspired me. There I was, imagining who I could become someday. I also once told myself that it’s so fitting that Elon named his company after Nikola Tesla because of his contributions. It’s a form of respect. 

All creatives works, all novel ideas come from those pioneers and thinkers who are courageous enough to question everything, to take the status quo head-on. They are those who do not dwell too much on the “now” but on what the future holds. We are where we are today because of the continued search of humanity for advancement and progress. But sometimes, we hinder each other, demotivate those who oppose us, those who are different from us, and tell ourselves that we are right without conducting objective examinations. Sometimes, we unknowingly victimize the creative genius in all of us. 

While it is true that owning an electric-powered Tesla car will cost you a fortune, still we should appreciate the attempt to turn this world upside down. 

I hope to meet Elon Musk someday. I hope to have coffee with him. I hope to finish reading all of the books that influenced him. And I hope to personally tell him: “Thank you for your efforts on building a better planet despite all the criticisms, despite all odds. Thank you for weathering the storms. Thank you for being brave.”