EARLIER this month, Senator Grace Poe endured long queues and congested train stations when she rode the notoriously inefficient Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 at the height of the rush hour. Poe wanted to experience firsthand the ordinary commuter’s daily woes. Her photo standing in line to purchase a ticket and riding the train while talking to another passenger made the rounds online and drew cheers from netizens. It became viral because netizens found pleasure in seeing a high government official, who is entitled to a luxury vehicle and a personal driver, experience the hardships of taking the MRT to school or work.

Poe’s action led to netizens challenging (akin to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) other politicians like President Aquino to ride the MRT so they could relate personally to the problem. Not long after, Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and Malacañang Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte took what the netizens dubbed as the “MRT challenge.”

The MRT has been suffering from constant glitches, malfunction, and technical problems in the past few years. Aside from the disruption of trips, safety became a major concern when a coach went out of control and slammed through a station fence on Taft Avenue in Pasay early August. Around 40 were reported injured, including passengers and pedestrians. In its latest glitch, one of the passengers posted a video online showing the MRT moving with its doors wide open.

Long queues have become a staple in the daily lives of MRT commuters, largely because of overcapacity. Around 560,000 passengers are ferried by the MRT from North Avenue in Quezon to Taft every day, more than its 320,000 capacity. The delivery of new coaches will not happen until 2015.

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In other countries like Japan, Singapore and London, citizens use rapid transit systems to go around the city conveniently and swiftly. In the Philippines, riding the MRT is called a challenge.

The MRT needs a lot of fixing, but it will not happen anytime soon if the Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC), the owner, and DOTC, the operator, are pointing fingers to each other over who is to blame for the deterioration of the train system. DOTC cites MRTC’s failure to maintain the system, while the latter blames the other for failing to provide sufficient funds.

The poor state of the MRT reflects the transportation system of the country: unsafe, inconvenient and inefficient.

In the end, the true challenge for our government officials is not to brave the long lines, cramped spaces and uncomfortable ride, but to find a lasting solution, not only to the MRT, but to the terrible transportation system this country has. Sadly, it is easier for our government officials to drench themselves in ice-cold water than fix the mess that is MRT.

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When several Thomasians participated in the “Stand Up, Sign Up Against All Forms of Pork!” protest march in Luneta last August, there were comments on the social media accounts of the Varsitarian that criticized the students for joining such rallies, saying it was something that “Thomasians shouldn’t be in” and “adds to the chaos of the society.” The worst one said students should just “stay in the classroom and study.”

They described protesting like it was something disgraceful. Voicing out one’s dismay over the government’s incompetence and budget mismanagement is never a shameful act. It is a form of expression, a practice recognized by our Constitution. Every Thomasian student has the right to participate in protests.

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It is because of protests that women were given the right to vote, why segregation ended in the United States, why slavery was outlawed, and why the international labor standard is eight hours of work a day.

In the Philippines, we would not have ousted a dictator if we didn’t take to the streets to express our collective indignation. More recently, President Aquino would not have suddenly changed his position on the removal of the PDAF if Filipinos remained quiet.

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