PRESIDENT Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, must know that his job of speaking for the President doesn’t include proving his word with deed. When he does, as he seems to be doing now, he goes beyond using language to communicate his client’s message.
He said there is no (public) transportation crisis, only a traffic mess, in Metro Manila. “I just see traffic,” he said, accepting the challenge that he travel by jeepney and LRT from Marikina City where he lives to Malacañang, his place of work.
It is a smart-alecky and risky proposition for Panelo and any other Palace official to accept because:
 The two are inter-related, creating only one perception. If the commuter takes hours to get to his destination because PUJ or LRT trip is not immediately available or it is caught in a traffic jam, the result is still a crisis he suffers with thousands of other commuters.
 It is pointless if not odious, serving no purpose, to compare the private-vehicle commuter and the public-transport passenger. The Malacañang dignitary with his official car during rush hour gets to his place of work faster and more comfortably than the ordinary wage earner who has to wait, jostle and otherwise compete with hundreds of other laborers for his public ride. One Panelo “jamming” with the masses won’t show or serve anything.
Those taking issue with Panelo--such as progressive groups like Bayan and Anakbayan and activists like Agot Isidro--didn’t agree with the spokesman’s splitting of hairs. But their challenge for a Panelo experiment highlighted what they are crying out: solve the freaking problem.
Panelo insists there is no transportation crisis and there is only a traffic problem. But the problem boils down to one of mobility: how people can get from home to workplace or school and get back home. That involves both lack of transportation and a whole lot of traffic.
Besides, Panelo doesn’t have to do the commuting himself to prove he is right. Nor the critics to prove he is wrong. They need only to cite the number of public vehicles available during peak hours, the number of commuters who must be served, and number of hours in commuting. There must already be tons of research on that because the transport problem in Metro Manila has existed for ages.
Panelo acknowledged later in the afternoon of Thursday (Oct. 10) that it was a “silly acceptance” of a “silly challenge,” as if trying to minimize the embarrassment to an office that is supposed to speak for the President not to perform a stunt.
What it will prove
What would the exercise, scheduled Friday (Oct. 11) on Panelo’s work day, prove? Even if he could get the public ride that he says is there, he most likely could not get to the Palace as quickly as his regular trips, unless he uses devices and strategies, such as bodyguards, people to give way or space for him, waiting cars, and the like.
His predecessor Harry Roque took the Metro Rail Transit 3 in November 2017 when the train line broke down despite Malacanang’s promise of a “better MRT 3” under the new President. But that was not to prove an argument, more of a way to empathize with, in Panelo’s language, the “sufferance of the commuters.”
Easier to cover
The challenge and the acceptance spiced the debate on Metro Manila’s crisis but demonstrating the actual thing won’t serve much purpose.
Panelo probably loves the attention his defense of his client is getting. And, for media, it’s an easier story to cover than the solution to the complex problem of Manila being “the worst city,” to drive or commute in, among 167 metropolitan cities of the world.