Tabada: New ‘bakwits’

“RUN for your life” spun off to a different direction this week. A double whammy last Thursday—another MRT breakdown and the sidelining of Quezon City jeepneys by an LTO crackdown—left many commuters stranded again at rush hours.

Joining the march of commuters, I realized once more how urban living hones certain survival skills. To carry out the necessary—go to work, catch class, go home—the new bakwits have to “walk for life” to go on.

“Bakwits” is a Bisaya neologism for “evacuees.” Refugees are usually associated with the mass movement to escape war zones or avoid bearing the brunt of natural disasters.

Commuters are the new “bakwits.” Many of us carry our worlds on our backs. Even presuming we could rely on mass transit, we leave our residence with what is only necessary and assemble everything else along the way: meals, assignments, even faces (many women apply make-up in the MRT or bus under the sometimes watchful, often indifferent panopticon of strangers’ eyes).

Urban transportation grows apace with urban spaces. What happens when mass transit doesn’t?

It gluts digital space, as many fellow commuters let off angst by posting images of last Thursday’s bakwits, stranded by the MRT unloading some 800 passengers due to a breakdown of electrical sub-components, most likely cannibalized from out-of-running trains (from about 20 trains carrying an over-the-maximum daily capacity of 500,000 commuters to only five trains last Thursday).

Creating more commuter paralysis, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) conducted a blitzkrieg operation in the middle of Thursday. The “Tanggal Bulok Tanggal Usok” campaign looks good on paper because it protects commuters by ensuring only roadworthy public utility jeepneys (PUJs) ply the routes and don’t endanger commuters.

In practice, the absence of jeepney queues only means another headache: no jeepneys because the drivers are choosing to stay home or parking to wait for the inspections to end and the chances of incurring fines go away.

In the end, we help jeepney drivers skirt the law by holding onto a seatbelt that doesn’t really fasten and secure front-seat riders or keep our eyes peeled for lurking enforcers who may stop a PUJ to inspect it has the regulated fire extinguisher.

The public’s sympathy is for the “bulok” of society, trying, like the rest of us, to go through their day despite the pesky interference of the state.

When the wrong trains run (the TRAIN law that has made all basic good prices shoot up, from rice to LPG) or don’t run (“heartbreaker” topnotcher MRT with its record-breaking number of breakdowns and separations), it’s time to the new “bakwits” to “walk for life.”
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