By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
We showed peeks of it on live TV. We heard officials hint and warn of the changes it would make. But only when the Southwest Integrated Bus Terminal opened at the Coastal Mall in Parañaque did we see its full impact.
For a number of the commuters it affected, it was nothing but another strike in a series of poorly-thought-of and inconsiderate policies that gave more problems than they solved.
On August 6, bus-riders from Cavite and Batangas were surprised to find that their trips to Manila and EDSA now ended at Parañaque. They knew about the week-long ruckus in Manila when City Hall blocked buses from entering the city. But hadn’t some buses been allowed back in so long as they had terminals there?
A woman who boarded a bus in Cavite was told by the conductor that they were now only going so far. She loudly began decrying Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, little knowing that the man behind this new move was also aboard that bus. Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chair Francis Tolentino simply smiled as the reporters traveling along turned to see his reaction.
The MMDA had long been planning to cut off buses going into Metro Manila from the surrounding provinces, and the Southwest Terminal was its corner for southern buses.
But for the terminal’s first three days, the morning rush saw a mass of ride-less travelers occupy the northbound side of Roxas Boulevard and joust for trips. The connecting rides to the metro they expected were either missing or sparse.
When reporter Pia Gutierrez asked them, their reactions were heated and impatient. Their rides were stunted, their pocket money drained, their appointments delayed.
“Sana matupad ang gusto nila, pero sa amin pahirap ito,” one said.
“Pahirap” was the recurring retort of exasperated interviewees trudging the overpass between Coastal Mall to Roxas Boulevard —from an elderly man hauling a sack of belongings to a diminutive woman with a limp forced to join the procession up and down the stairs.
Good thing the weather was dry, some said. Didn’t anyone anticipate what would happen to them during typhoon season?
One man lost his wallet in the tussle for rides and kept repeating to Pia iterations of “Manila’s not safe anymore.”
Even passers-by could not hold off shouting angry asides. Others just saw our camera and volunteered their condemnation.
One interviewee was drenched in sweat after lugging two boxes to the terminal with no idea where to ride next. A bus worker beside him irately urged: “Pare, sabihin mo mas maganda yung sistema dati.”
Clearly, the terminal was still in beta phase. A signboard advertised a food court yet to be built. There was already a prayer room and a waiting area that boasted digital monitors of the buses coming in and out. Many commuters, however, told us there must be a better option than this.
On the first night, commuters trying to go home scrambled to cram into the buses. With the heat, smoke, and rising tempers, some fainted. No one paid heed to MMDA personnel striving to put order to the lines. Later, marshals and cordons were put in.
What would you expect when you put 1000 buses in one place, Tolentino asked reporters. He admitted that they were still ironing out the snags, among them the long turnover of buses.
For three days, Tolentino faced commuters who vented out their frustrations on him. The signboards were wrong. They were being dropped too far. Some rides refused to take them.
They also raised suggestions. Maybe senior citizens and disabled persons can have their own lounge. The terminal could use more ventilation. And bigger rest rooms.
The chairman did not escape that even during interviews with the media. But he welcomed it. When 15 people held a protest there, he said he even wanted to meet and thank them.
Tolentino, a former mayor of Tagaytay, told reporters he himself rode buses from Cavite before.
But he insisted he was on the right track. “Basta ginawa mo yung tama, kailangan talaga panindigan mo rin.”
To a commuter, he said: “Kung mali ako, hindi ako haharap sa inyo.”
A man who only introduced himself as Jun walked around the terminal one night looking for Tolentino. He said he was a businessman who returned to the Philippines after 13 years managing workers in Japan.
Jun did not commute to Cavite, but he visited the terminal right after seeing the situation on TV.
“Kung Hapon ang gumawa nito at ganito ang nangyari, nagpakamatay na siguro siya,” Jun said.
For him, it seemed the problem was that policymakers lacked concern or even love for the citizen’s welfare. Thus it was easy for them to implement guidelines without thinking about its consequences for the ordinary person.
Jun had his own ideas to offer to the MMDA chairman. One was letting one bus company run rides for a week. There was no indication though that the two men met.
Indeed, transportation is one issue aside from commodity prices that makes Filipinos opinionated about how their government is working.
If the loud cacophony of criticism at the terminal was not enough, there were others elsewhere. That week, a petition demanding that officials ride public transportation at least once a week made the rounds online.
To one opinion writer, government may be focusing too much on fixing traffic rather than improving public transit. That’s considering 80 percent of Filipinos in the metro commute rather than drive privately.
At least the responses were not all flak. Chairman Tolentino was also approached by people happy about the reduced congestion. One gave him a thumbs up. “Sa una talaga may problema,” said another.
How did Tolentino feel getting these little boosts? “Lumalakas ang loob ko,” he said. His assurance, after all, is: “Masasanay din sila.”
But if the long lines there at the end of that first week are any indication, it will take more tweaks and renovations before metro commuters get used to a change in their trip routines—all in the name of discipline.