Commuting: Not More Fun in the Philippines

Time and time again I see on the news how horrible our transportation system is in the Philippines. You read about trains that break down in the middle of the track, buses overflowing with people desperate to make it to their 8-5 job and the congestion on roads due to the number of cars and PUVs (Public Utility Vehicles). Personally, I hated travelling anywhere in Manila. It’s just incredibly frustrating to live in a relatively small area but the traffic congestion makes getting from Point A to Point B exhausting. I live 4 kilometers away from my university yet I would need a 2 hour time allowance before my classes if I wanted to arrive on time.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

My first job out of college, my travel time to and from work was 3 and 2 hours respectively. I would leave by 5:30 am and head home at 9pm when the traffic situation would be somewhat more “bearable”. Living at home meant getting only 5 hours of personal time every day, sleep included. 2 weeks later I moved closer to my workplace.

Being within walking distance of my office was great, not only because I no longer had to wake up ungodly hours but because the area where I moved to was a very walkable city. Wherever I needed to go, I could easily access it without needing a car and if it was a bit further, designated bus stops were all over the city. I loved how it was designed and it honestly made life so much easier. Being able to walk around before work as a way to start the day and having time to run errands and not worry about traffic or the possibility of not having a parking space. Looking back, I wonder how different the lives of many Filipinos would be if Metro Manila was a city that was not vehicle-dependent and using public transportation was reliable, efficient, and clean enough for everyday use.

Unfortunately, I have seen little change in our public transportation system whenever I had to use it. Those who govern us are out of touch with the people they are meant to serve. To serve does not mean only overseeing the needs of the public, but to also understand who these people are, to empathize, and be aware of the problems they face every day.

A close friend of mine migrated to Singapore last year and, after visiting her a few months back, she showed us around the city via bus which was easily accessible wherever we needed to go to. There were numerous designated pick up and drop off areas and we only had to use a stored value card (EZ-Link cards which she lent us) for each ride. They were also double decker buses so there was more than enough room for us.

She lived quite far from the city center; only a few kilometers from the airport and I asked her if she ever had any difficulties getting to and from work. She told me that it didn’t really bother her since Singapore’s transportation system was so reliable and she can travel either by bus or train. She also mentioned how back in the Philippines she would always opt to use a ride-hailing app to get around but its fares were always so costly. Despite it being an available option in Singapore, she rarely used it as a means of transportation since she did not see the need to use a whole car for herself when she could easily choose to take the bus. A 2 SGD (<1 USD)  bus fare was much more preferable to a 26 SGD (19 USD) ride via a ride-hailing app to the same area. 

Image by MARIO ULIBARRI from Pixabay

On the flip side, I do see the small changes happening in our country. For instance, our Department of Transportation (DOT) partners up with other companies in order to implement the P2P (Point-to-Point) bus systems which creates a more reliable and safer commuting system for Filipinos. The schedules are strictly followed, the buses would never be overcrowded and the vehicles were well maintained. It has made commuting to densely populated areas like Makati (Philippines’ financial center) much easier and I am happy to see more routes gradually being added to the P2P network. Changes like these give me hope that we can do better as a country and it is possible to have a more efficient transportation system which people can depend on.

At the end of the day, we should not only lament about officials who are not doing their job to address the transportation crisis here in Manila. We should also take a step back and ask ourselves if we too have been doing our part in creating a government that puts the public’s needs at the forefront. Have we been electing the right leaders? Are we thinking about what is good for our country as opposed to what would benefit only ourselves or a certain sector of society? 

It is possible to promote person centered cities in creating initiatives wherein there is less dependence and importance given to private vehicles. One example of this is Pasig City’s “Carless Weekend” wherein the entire stretch of F. Ortigas Road (or Emerald Avenue) is closed down from 6 am Saturday to 12 mn of Sunday. I often spend my weekends in the area and I saw many families living in the condominiums around the area use the empty roads for jogging, teaching the smaller children to ride their bicycles or to just play. It allows people to remember that roads are not just for vehicles but people as well. It was a great way to remind us how we can spend quality time with ourselves and our families which increases our quality of living. 

Part of WYA’s Declaration of Good Governance and Human Flourishing mentions how “The basis of good governance lies in the responsibility of every person to protect the human dignity of all and actively work in solidarity for the common good”. This entails having a participative role in creating a society that we would like to live in. It is not only those in the government who has a duty to us but we also have a duty to ourselves and others. 

Published: December 3, 2019
Written by Camille Lu, a New York Headquarters intern from the Philippines

WYA’s unique internship program trains young people to look at the world through the lens of human dignity and its flourishing. Applications are now open for the 2020 internship program in selected WYA regional offices around the world.