The Dare Society

classBy: Reyshimar Arguelles

PALACE Spokesperson Salvador Panelo really outdid himself last week when he accepted Bayan Muna’s challenge to experience firsthand the hellscape that is Metro Manila traffic.

To prove that the capital is not facing a mass transport crisis, Panelo endured an agonizing four-hour commute from his residence in Marikina to Malacañang. It took him four jeepney rides and a trip by motorcycle to reach the Palace and, still, pompously point out that there’s only a traffic crisis to worry about.

Of course, Panelo has his own brand of semantics by proclaiming one thing to be different from another. But if you’re a well-meaning person who values common sense, then you could not deny the idiocy in treating a “mass transport crisis” as totally different from a “traffic crisis.”

The good spokesperson lives in a different plane of existence where there’s always the best of everything. That is exactly what Bayan Muna Rep. Renato Reyes Jr. had in mind when he issued the challenge to Panelo, who has been doing an outstanding job in palliating the Duterte administration’s gaffs, particularly in solving the perennial problem of congestion in the country’s seat of power.

But Panelo being Panelo, the spokesperson couldn’t care less about re-interpreting how the government views this problem and how it casually treats it as though it wasn’t a compelling reason of Duterte’s rise to power. As chief messenger of the Palace’s accomplishments, his role is to make Duterte’s presidency squeaky clean and refute criticisms directed towards it, even if it means putting his health and safety on the line just to humiliate Reyes, which Panelo has failed to do.

What he did, at the very least, was to show us that the government is trying to salvage whatever legitimacy it has left in the three years that took Duterte to mold the country into a proverbial Promised Land for all Filipinos.

Panelo also proved how easy it was to reduce critical issues in policy-making into a platform for throwing shade. It doesn’t matter to him that people are literally dying because ambulances often get stuck in gridlocks along major thoroughfares. What’s important is that he doesn’t back down from a dare. If he did, then he wouldn’t be doing a good enough job to protect the government from humiliation. Clearly, egos matter more than genuine solutions to pressing problems.

You know the country is going downhill when politicians begin to take dares and challenges that have virtually nothing to do with solving critical issues that cost people’s lives. It’s this mindset of dare-taking that has trivialized any serious thought and decision-making on what are supposed to be important issues.

When then President Benigno Aquino III announced that he would gladly get run over by a train along with former Transport Secretary Jun Abaya if his administration couldn’t complete the Light Rail Transit Line 1 project, we were treated to a damning example of how those in power never take such problems seriously.

We were told not to take PNoy’s pronouncement literally, said then Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma. But whether or not he intended to highlight the urgency of solving Metro Manila’s traffic problems, PNoy only saw it as a heavy burden he had the misfortune of alleviating.

When Duterte announced that he would jetski to Scarborough Shoal and plant the Phililppine flag there to check China’s hegemonic ambitions, we took this as a serious foreign policy stance. It didn’t turn out the way everyone expected when Duterte sought warmer relations with a country that has an insatiable appetite for territory.

But at least Panelo made good on his promise to commute to work on Bayan Muna’s goading. He has somehow set a good example for celebrities and other public officials to show solidarity with the common tao – even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to concrete solutions.

Then again, Panelo’s bizarre adventure shows us how satisfying it is to pull people from their high horses and let them experience the ordeals of everyday people. Now, if there’s only a way to make a certain senator and noted land grabber plant rice.