WHAT torment pierces more than betrayal?
Last Friday, when a major mall in the north began its weekend sale, snarling the usual Friday traffic along Edsa into a monstrous Quezon City pretzel, I headed for the Manila Metro Rail Transit System or the MRT 3, the cheapest and fastest public transport for the southbound trip.
Later, inside the train, with my left arm pinned behind by the press of bodies, my right arm trying to keep a trembling grip on a handhold I was sharing with two other commuters, and my back pulled backwards by a heavy knapsack and commuters hellbent on getting out of the train and battling an opposing flow of commuters as single-mindedly fighting to get in, I remembered, of all persons, Rousseau.
Just the day before this earthly taste of purgatory or inferno—any distinction, if at all, was indistinct then in the MRT chaos—my class was discussing Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “The Social Contract.”
“Every act of sovereignty… every authentic act of the general will, binds or favors equally all the citizens; so that the sovereign knows only the body of the nation, and distinguishes none of those that compose it.”
The act of surrendering one’s rights, including liberty, to the sovereign power is not a “real renunciation,” argued this thinker of the Enlightenment. There is instead an “advantageous exchange of an uncertain and precarious mode of existence for a better and more assured one”.
Dear Rousseau (I said in my head during the 20 minutes it took before the train doors could close after the passengers inside won the battle to keep people outside from pushing in and turning our existence into the world’s most compact sardine can): I’m a fan from the future. Does a disaster like the MRT 3 rescind the social contract? Love, Breathless in QC.
In 2000, when the MRT 3 began full operations, it originally served 450,000 commuters. In 2013, 650,000 rode the same system intended to decongest Edsa and give the people a faster, cheaper mode of travel.
According to the news, the MRT manager “offered to resign” after a Senate scolding; spare parts to fix the sidelined trains were “expected anytime in February (2018, I hope);” and about 30 Japanese experts will conduct a “system audit” to find out what ails the MRT.
Meanwhile, last Friday, only seven trains served a conservative estimate of half a million passengers commuting regularly via the MRT 3.
For all his wordiness, Rousseau refused to say anything more in last Friday’s babel. A spark of enlightenment came, though.
“It’s not so bad,” a grandmother shouted while we were buffeted like driftwood by the mad surge of bodies. “When you have to put your bag on top of your head…”