INQUIRER.net | November 5, 2017

Commuters have had to endure horrific hardship with the incessant breakdowns of MRT3. Can it be that the government is unaware that MRT3 conks out almost daily, as many as three times in a rush-hour morning, and even on a holiday like All Saints Day? There is not a peep from the Department of Transportation, no word of regret, no assurance that things will get better.

Metro Manila is one of the densest places on the planet, with over 12 million people living in just over 600 square kilometers. Through the years the traffic has gotten so bad that the apocalyptic gridlock known as "Carmageddon" is no longer a one-time aberration but a regular occurrence if it rains, it's payday, it's Friday, or — the saints preserve us — all of the above at any given time.

The rapid transit commuter trains were supposed to be the solution. The Manila Metro Rail Transit, originally built in 1999, was envisioned to move large masses of commuters swiftly and effortlessly — the comfortable and modern alternative to land-hogging, smoke-belching buses and jeepneys and street-clogging cars and other private vehicles.

MRT3, running through Edsa, the most important thoroughfare in the country, is emblematic of what has happened, or gone wrong. Originally imagined to ferry 450,000 riders daily, it is now carrying infinitely more than that: Hordes of determined members of the workforce climb out of bed in the wee hours to get ahead of the winding queues; exhausted at the end of the workday, they stream from offices, factories and other workplaces, each to fight tooth and nail for a slot in the ride home.

We kid you not: Getting into a coach filled to bursting amounts to a daily nightmare for frazzled commuters. And when the aging, creaking thing breaks down at sundry points in the journey…

The foul-ups would be comical if they weren't so damned infuriating, and dangerous.

In September, MRT3 broke down six times in one day. On All Saints Day — a holiday, meaning it was less crowded than usual — it broke down thrice.

Now when these trains stall, the riders are forced to disembark and walk on the treacherous tracks until they can get to the next station — and, if things look desperate, down to the streets and into the battleground of rush-hour land traffic.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and his executives should stagger through the experience — "dehumanizing" is a word often used to describe it — just to get an idea, a feel, of what’s going on.

Indeed, what's going on? Is there no end to commuter suffering? Where's the public service, or is that too much to expect?

Addressing the traffic problem was a major part of President Duterte’s election campaign in 2016. Consequently, there was much hue and cry over the plan to declare the traffic a national crisis that supposedly required extraordinary measures for the President to solve.

"This country now needs what we call special laws and emergency powers to address the traffic situation crisis," Tugade said last year. The proposed Traffic Crisis Act of 2016 and Traffic and Congestion Crisis Act of 2016 are caught in the legislative mill.

As early as May, MRT3 Operations Director Deo Manalo said the days of train breakdowns may soon be over.

"When there are more trains, we need additional power. If we run more trains, we need more power," Manalo told the Senate committee on public services. "The power upgrade will be completed by November, and by December we can add additional trains. By the end of the year, we are sure the long lines will disappear."

Is that a promise the concerned offices and agencies intend to keep?

Talking about the billion-peso pledged investments that the President had brought home from his recent trip to Japan, the chair of the House committee on appropriations, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, said government agencies particularly the DOTr should get their act together to push the government's infrastructure program forward.

"Unfortunately, the people view the DOTr as one of the most underperforming agencies under President Duterte's watch, mostly due to the never-ending traffic jams and MRT woes," Nograles said. "In the end, the Chief Executive's alter egos in the Cabinet, in this case Secretary Art Tugade, must deliver."