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Hell is EDSA at rush hour; Aquino and Roxas create it

Our political leaders and the economic elite, all of whom have chauffeur-driven cars and live in gated villages and condominiums close to their work, don’t realize that every single working day, millions of Filipinos in the metropolis go through hell twice a day: going to work and returning from work.

A conservative estimate of the number could be 5 million, or half of the 12 million population of metropolitan Manila, the sixth most populous urban area in the world.

These are the metropolis’ working class, most of whom live in the outskirts or in slum areas, kilometers away from their places of work.

Observe them along EDSA during the rush hours, and it’s a pitiful existence of the damned: They wait for half an hour for a public vehicle, lining up or elbowing their way through the crowds as they try to catch a jeepney or a bus, usually jam-packed throughout the long stretch of this avenue. They queue under the hot sun or heavy rain to squeeze themselves in sardine-packed light rail train rides.

Shop attendants or sales executives who commute to work wearing their smart-looking clothes (whose work point to the country’s economic strength, its feverish consumption fueled by OFW remittances) get off the public transport all crumpled and sweaty from the ride. A bit of arithmetic would show that what they have to pay for in hair salons and presentable dresses — musts if their contracts aren’t terminated before their term — leaves them nearly with nothing before the next payday.

Can you imagine yourself every working day having to sit tightly next to sweaty strangers for two hours in a hot jeepney, crawling through traffic, breathing the carbon-monoxide fumes?

Probably 3 million employees now live east of the metropolis in such towns as Marikina and San Mateo, the only places remaining where they can afford the cost of acquiring a house. They have to leave home at 5 a.m. or even 4 a.m. to be sure they punch the Bundy clock in their places of work in Makati, Quezon City, or Manila by 8 a.m. They get home, after breathing in all the pollution on the road in one of the most polluted cities in the world, probably around 8 or 9 p.m.

Hell is EDSA at rush hour: Commuters queue at MRT-3 North EDSA station. Inset: A viral netizen’s expression of outrage, or wish.
Hell is EDSA at rush hour: Commuters queue at MRT-3 North EDSA station. Inset: A viral netizen’s expression of outrage, or wish.

What kind of existence is that?

Not even Karl Marx with his incisive and imaginative mind could foresee such cruel form of workers’ exploitation — probably unique now to the Philippines. A worker is paid for eight hours of work. But with one and even as long as three hours of commuting every day, he really is at “work” 10 hours a day.

Microcosm of everything wrong

The traffic in metropolitan Manila as the employees’ daily hell is, of course, a microcosm of nearly everything wrong with this Administration.

That it has worsened in the last five years is the clearest indictment of the corrupt and inefficient administration of President Aquino. Anybody who still respects this Administration should try commuting, say, from Trinoma in the north to the end of the line at the Taft Ave. station.

How difficult is it for this government to understand that the MRT-3 has become the most important system for millions of Filipinos to commute to and from work?

Aquino’s closest confederate secretary, Mar Roxas, had been in charge of the MRT-3 as transport and telecommunications secretary for two years after this administration assumed power. He could have set the DOTC on a course that could have made sure MRT-3 trains run on time, and as fast and safe as when it was first built. He did the opposite.

It was Roxas who kicked out the Japanese Sumitomo-Mitsubishi venture that had maintained MRT-3 for 11 years, and had always kept a six-month inventory of parts for repairs.

He replaced it with Filipino maintenance operators the DOTC favored, who obviously have failed colossally in their work.

And Roxas has the gall to think he is qualified for the presidency? I would think the only thing Jejomar Binay needs to do to win in 2016 is to flood the metropolis with posters of that MRT-3 accident, with photos of a smiling Roxas.

Why do MRT-3 trains keep breaking down so often that the train system needs to be shut down for hours at times; why do the trains stop in the middle of the tracks, and why do the trains get derailed and jump off the tracks?

Why are there fewer trains now compared with the previous years such that its carrying capacity has decreased, causing the long queues of commuters at the stations?

Why were there no such incidents and queues before, from 2000 to 2011?

The reason is quite so simple that we should all be shocked at why we Filipinos allow such anomalies that torture the working class daily, and be outraged because mainstream media have not gone to town against this scandal.

The P1.2 billion reason

The reason involves the P1.2 billion—so far—in maintenance contracts given by the DOTC starting October 2012 to two firms that appear to have close ties with President Aquino’s political allies.

These outfits – first PH Trams and then APT-Global – turned out either to be bumbling amateurs in light-rail vehicle maintenance, or decided to skimp on the necessary spare parts to keep the trains running efficiently–and safely.

They didn’t import and stockpile the high-quality spare parts needed for the light-rail vehicles and the replacements for the tracks. Parts were, instead, cannibalized from the other cars that were put out of operation, so that only 50 out of the 73 cars operating in 2011 are running now.

This is one reason why MRT-3 trains are slower so that commuters have to wait longer. Parts of the track had worn out and should have been replaced, but weren’t because there were no replacements. The result: fewer trains have been running and those that do have to run slowly, requiring commuters to queue for hours to ride the jam-packed, not to mention, dangerous trains.

Capital costs are huge for a train maintenance operator since the spare parts needed have to be ordered in advance because of the minimum six-months’ time for these to be manufactured and shipped to the country from abroad.

Light-rail system parts aren’t items one could buy from the shelf at the hardware store. They’re things made of high-grade steel which mostly only the original builder can provide, and on a “per-order” basis.

A unit of the giant manufacturing Japanese firm Sumitomo that built MRT-3 with Mitsubishi Corp. in the late 1990s, when it maintained the system until September 2012, had a six-months’ inventory of the usual parts needed to be replaced.

Manual signaling system

There is a second reason why the MRT trains’ speed had to be reduced. Its signaling system – its computerized, sensor-based network that manages railway traffic in order to prevent trains from colliding – had been built more than a decade ago by a unit of the Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier Inc. The firm informed the DOTC in 2010 that the system had to be upgraded, as there were no longer parts for it since it had become outdated.

The upgrade would have cost P185 million, and should have been included in the maintenance contract. It wasn’t. Why? Was it too big a cost that would eat into the contractors’ profits?

Bombardier engineers who were initially hired by PH Trams to maintain the signaling system reportedly left in a huff in 2013 when they stopped receiving fees due to them.

The result: The signaling system is so inadequate that train operators have resorted to a manual method, using “walkie-talkies” bought from Ace or True Value, to report their positions, a process that requires much slower train speeds.

Out of the total cost for maintaining the MRT in the past ten years when it was maintained by the Japanese contractor, 60 percent was used for buying spare parts for the cars and rail-tracks, as well as for maintaining the computerized signaling system, while the remaining 40 percent was for management and labor costs.

These means that if the two maintenance operators who got the P1.2 billion contract from the DOTC had not purchased the parts needed for the trains’ maintenance, they could have easily pocketed the 60 percent that should have been used for their parts inventory, which means a huge P742 million income. The Senate committee that has been investigating the MRT problems should subpoena these firms’ books.

What makes this kind of corruption so outrageous is that the grafters were as dumb as they were so arrogant. They thought they could make money by taking over the contract of a world-class, experienced engineering firm that built and had maintained the system for a decade, and that they didn’t need to import the high-grade precision-engineered spare parts for the trains.

Because of such arrogant stupidity and insatiable greed of Aquino’s people, the hell millions of Filipino commuters suffer every day going to and from their workplaces has been getting worse each day.