MANILA — (UPDATE) Dressed down in a white polo shirt and a cap, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo hopped from one jeepney to another and hitched on a motorcycle in a nearly 4-hour commute to Malacañang.
Panelo, who earlier described the challenge for him to take public transportation as “silly,” had to take 4 jeepney rides starting as early as 5:15 a.m.
"Matagal na akong nagko-commute. Laking kalsada tayo. Sabi ko nga, mali sila ng hinamon," he said.
(I’ve been commuting for a long time. I grew up in the streets. As I said, they challenged the wrong person.)
President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman reached Malacañang past 8:30 a.m.
Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes earlier said the Philippine capital was gripped by a "traffic crisis" due to worsening gridlock. According to a Japan International Cooperation Agency study, the country loses P3.5 billion daily due to traffic jams.
Panelo took his first jeepney ride at New Manila, Quezon City at 5:15 a.m. and hopped off at Cubao. He then took another ride to his home in Marikina City and rode another jeepney headed for Sta. Mesa in Manila.
He initially tried to evade reporters who sought to document his commuting challenge, and instead sent photos of his jeepney rides. He entertained phone interviews from reporters during his commute.
“I don't want to make a spectacle of this," he told radio DZMM.
Friday’s commute was Panelo’s “silly acceptance” of the Anakbayan and Kilusang Mayo Uno challenge for him to take public transportation.
It was during his third jeepney ride that Panelo was spotted by reporters at the Light Rail Transit Station in Cubao.
Panelo promised to take a jeepney and the Light Rail Transit to go to work on Friday but was unable to take an LRT ride after reporters caught up with him along Gilmore Avenue, forcing him to take another jeepney ride to Mendiola in Manila.
“Tinakasan ko nga kayong lahat ang galing niyo!” he told reporters before taking another jeepney ride.
(I evaded all of you but you’re all good!)
On his fourth jeepney ride, militants and reporters caught up with Panelo, who got stuck in traffic.
After a nearly 30-minute trip from Cubao to Mendiola, Panelo got off a jeepney and received a motorcycle ride offer from a Batangas resident.
Panelo wore a helmet before the ride, saying he knew how to hitchhike.
“Syempre [marunong ako umangkas ng motor], laking kalye eh,” he said just before he reached the New Executive Building in Malacañang.
(Of course [I know how to ride a motorcycle], I grew up in the streets.)
Speaking to reporters after his 4-hour commute, Panelo explained that he only belied his critics who doubted his capabilities.
“Kaya ko lang tinanggap yung hamon kasi nga parang pinapalabas nila na kaming mga nasa puwesto ngayon hindi naming kaya gawin yun. Pinasinungalingan ko lang sila,” he said.
(I only accepted the challenge because they are trying to make it appear that we can’t do it. I only belied their claims.)
He said going through a commute challenge was unnecessary since he was aware of the traffic problem, noting that he could not be “oblivious” to daily commuter woes.
“You don’t even have to go through that, we know that. You know why? Kahit nasa kotse ka nakikita mo yan eh (you can see that even from inside a vehicle),” he said.
“You don’t even have to feel pain when you see pain there,” he added.
COMMUTERS WEIGH IN
While Friday’s commute is an option for Panelo, the same cannot be said for millions of other Filipinos who have to endure the metro’s poor public transport system.
College student Francis Junio, who leaves home at 4:30 a.m. to reach his 8 a.m. class, said government officials should not poke fun at the problems commuters face.
“Talagang araw-araw ganito eh traffic. Lagi naman ganyan. Nagmamadali ako eh. Si Atty. [Panelo] para maranasan naman yung traffic na nararanasan ng tao,” he said.
(Everyday it’s like this. I’m in a hurry. This trip makes Atty. Panelo experience the daily traffic that commuters experience.)
Panelo earlier explained that taking on the commute challenge would not be a waste of time for a government official like him.
“It’s not [a waste of time]. When you share in the suffering of people in a different way, it’s not a waste of time. It’s sharing,” he said.
Language student Kim Cabiles said a single commute challenge was not enough for government officials to see the full picture of Manila’s traffic and transportation problem.
“Ang hirap talaga mag-travel. Nakikita niyo mga tao naglalakad na lang po. Naghahabol ako ng oras,” she said, noting that she had to leave her hometown Antipolo City at least 4 hours before her 8 a.m. class in Manila.
(It’s difficult to travel. You can see that some just choose to walk. I’m always rushing.)
“I-try niyo po magbiyahe ng araw-araw para makita niyo po especially 'pag rush hour,” she added.
(Try to commute everyday especially during the rush hour to see the situation.)
- with a report from Kevin Manalo, ABS-CBN News