By Daniel Llanto
FilAm Star Correspondent

Lawmakers and urban planning experts said Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo’s stunt of commuting to work to make a point that there’s no public transportation crisis served only to prove the contrary.

Panelo, also chief presidential legal counsel, was previously dared by labor organization Kilusang Mayo Uno along with other progressive groups to try commuting. The dare was a reaction to his comment denying the existence of a “mass transport crisis.”

Panelo argued that glitches in three of the country’s major train stations are not enough reason to declare a crisis.

After Panelo commuted to work on Monday, Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, among others, said the stunt made no impact at all on Metro Manila’s growing public transportation problem.

Panelo’s commute from Marikina to Malacañang took nearly four hours. He left his home at around 5:15 a.m. and was spotted at 6:45 a.m. waiting for a jeepney at Concepcion, Marikina. After four jeepney rides, Panelo hitched an motorcycle ride to Malacañang through the so-called “Angkas” motorcycle riders.

Reputed urban planning specialist Felino Palafox Jr. said it is time government faced up to reality that there is a mass transport crisis in the county. The mass transportation crisis faced by commuters today was predicted as early as 43 years ago, yet past administrations caused delays due to the muddling presence of politics in urban planning.

“If you have 40 years of economic life with the five to six hours a day of commuting, you would have wasted 28,000 to 40,000 hours, that’s at least nine to fifteen years taken from your life,” Palafox said on ANC’s Early Edition.

The Boston Consulting Group revealed in 2017 that Manila’s traffic congestion cost motorists an average of over an hour lost in traffic every day, putting it at third worst in Southeast Asia.

Similarly, the Japan International Cooperation Agency said in a 2018 study that traffic now costs the Philippines PHP3.5 billion in “lost opportunities” daily. The amount is expected to triple in number by the year 2030.

Of the Duterte administration’s heightened push for infrastructure projects, Palafox said that, “I think all of these recommendations will alleviate the situation but it will not solve the problem.”

“Traffic management is not enough,” Palafox said of the many proposed solutions relating to congestion. “How do you manage lack of roads and lack of transport? We start with urban planning and land use because land use is the demand side of traffic.”

Touted as the Build, Build, Build program, the government’s vigor for infrastructural progress was among the central tenets of Duterte’s campaign when the former Davao City mayor was running for his current post. Among the listed plans for the program is the first-ever subway in Metro Manila, which is scheduled to be fully operational by 2025.

The urban planner emphasized the need for balance in planning.

The city’s traffic generation, Palafox said, came as a result of the existing imbalance between jobs and housing.

He identified government and leadership usage of public transportation as one indicator of a first-world country. Consequently, he said that, “We are still a third world country because one of the reasons is our leaders, both (in) government and business, still take their cars, not the public transit.”

Palafox cited four projects that should have been accomplished much earlier, specifically the proposal of eight light rail transit lines which should have been completed by 1992, the subway system proposed in 1971, and Circumferential Road 6 proposed in 1945.

He said work on a number of infrastructure projects only officially began under the Duterte administration despite all having been proposed decades ago. Asked why these delays happened, he said there was “too much politics and lack of continuity and institution memory.”

“For the past few years, it was ‘do nothing or do little,’ and that’s why we have catastrophic traffic right now,” he said.