Top Philippine presidential aide insists 'no transport crisis' in Manila even after 4-hour commute

Mr Salvador Panelo, spokesman for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, took four jeepney rides and a motorcycle ride in Manila on Oct 11, 2019, spending nearly four hours to travel 20km from his home to his office.
Mr Salvador Panelo, spokesman for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, took four jeepney rides and a motorcycle ride in Manila on Oct 11, 2019, spending nearly four hours to travel 20km from his home to his office.PHOTO: THE PHILIPPINE STAR

MANILA - It took President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman nearly four hours to commute from his home to his office 20km away on Friday (Oct 11) in a much-ballyhooed publicity stunt to prove a point.

Flying from Manila to Singapore takes less time, and Mr Salvador Panelo probably would have reached his destination earlier had he walked all the way.

Still, he insisted there was no "mass transport crisis" in Metro Manila.

Mr Panelo decided to commute to work after he was pilloried online for pooh-poohing the long hours commuters had to endure lately as traffic in an already gridlocked metropolis worsens.

"What do they mean by transportation crisis? I just see traffic. There is transportation. We all manage to get a ride. People get to where they need to go," he said earlier this week.

"There is a solution here," he said. "If you want to arrive early (at) your destination, then you go there earlier."

His comments were not received well.

"Panelo obviously is disconnected from the masses. Commuters feel it in the gut," said one tweet.

A torrent of profanities rained on Mr Panelo from road users who had recently seen their commute - already two hours long one way - more than double due to train breakdowns and road constructions.

 
 
 
 

Fire hit a major railway last week. Three stations had to be closed for at least nine months.

Over 200,000 commuters rely on the railway each day. They have since had to look for other ways to reach their destinations.

Ms Kyla Clarette Villanueva, a 19-year-old college student who takes the railway, told the online news site Rappler she used to get up at 4am to get to her 7.30am class.

Unable to take the train anymore, she has to be up by 3am now because she has had to add another hour to her commute time just to wait for a jeepney.

Construction of an elevated highway south of Manila, meanwhile, has created horrific gridlocks along an affected tollway. Motorists recounted spending two hours just driving through a 4km stretch of the tollway.

Metro Manila, a sprawl of 16 cities with a population of over 13 million, ranks eighth worst in a global traffic index devised by Numbeo, a website that tabulates quality of life data from more than 200 cities.

Traffic often grinds to a near halt along the 12-lane, 23.8km Edsa highway, the backbone of Metro Manila's road network that is derisively called the country's largest carpark.

The militant labour organisation Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1 Movement) had challenged Mr Panelo to ditch his car and commute to work to get a sense of what is really happening on the ground.

He accepted the dare, and on Friday set off from his home at 5.15am.

He took four jeepneys and rode pillion before he could reach his office in Manila at 8.46am.


Mr Salvador Panelo took four jeepneys and rode pillion before he could reach his office in Manila at 8.46am. PHOTO: THE PHILIPPINE STAR

Mr Panelo said it took him that long because he had to take a more roundabout route to shake off journalists who were tailing him.

But he did concede that "we have a traffic problem".

"We have a traffic crisis, but not a transport crisis. When you say a transport crisis, there is traffic paralysis. You can't take public transport anymore," he said.

He said traffic had gotten worse because there were just too many cars on the road, Metro Manila's population had grown, and not enough roads were being laid down.

He said commuters would just have to be "creative", till the government could find a more suitable fix.

 
 
 
 

"That's what I see, and it proves their resilience in the face of a hostile situation. They are waking up early. I myself have had to wake up at 5am now. It used to be 7am," he said.

Mr Panelo parried accusations that inaction by President Duterte's government was to blame.

He said Mr Duterte inherited the "present traffic woes and inadequate mass transit system" from his predecessors.

"These perennial problems are a carry-over of two previous administrations and inherited by the present one," he said.

Those who followed Mr Panelo's commute on social media were unimpressed.

"Panelo, what a joke," one tweet said.

"Rode a jeep, rode pillion, took four hours on a commute that should only be an hour, almost one hour late for work. Panelo: No transport crisis?" said another Twitter user.

Yet another weighed in: "4 hours of one-way commute!!! No transpo crisis you say!? Imagine doing this everyday... Twice per day! Five days a week... For four weeks... For 12 months!!!"

Mr Renato Reyes, spokesman for the leftist group Bayan Muna (People First), said Mr Panelo's experience "underscored the fact that there is a mass transport crisis and that long-term solutions are needed".

"I don't think you'd be doing the same commute for the rest of the month, so let's just call a spade a spade," he said.