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End of the line

Cesar Chavez resigned, he said, because someone has to take responsibility for the daily woes of the 500,000 people who take the breakdown-prone MRT 3. I fail to see why people would want to read more into his resignation than what he himself said in his letter to President Rodrigo Duterte.

I’ve known Chavez, a former broadcaster, for many years. He’s always been transparent and ready to do whatever it takes to get the job done, especially after he decided that he wanted to learn how to run the country’s trains as deputy administrator of the Light Rail Transit Authority during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In the Duterte administration, Chavez was probably the most experienced and qualified of all the officials of DoTr, as far as railway operations are concerned. If the government wants someone to take Chavez’ place who is as knowledgeable and as competent as he is, it will have to get someone who is not currently serving in the department.

Chavez said “delicadeza” or a sense of propriety forced him to resign as undersecretary “in light of recent events involving the MRT 3 System.” He probably meant the frequent and increasingly regular breakdowns of the Edsa commuter train, culminating in the embarrassing decoupling of a train set in Makati last week.

Chavez did everything he humanly could to get the distressed line to reach the level of reliability that it had during Arroyo’s term. But I think Chavez decided that the plunderous neglect that the train line suffered during the presidency of Noynoy Aquino was just too crippling, and the pressure of making it whole again in the shortest time possible simply got to him.

The problems that plague the MRT 3, almost everyone agrees, simply cannot be solved overnight. And Duterte, who made fixing Metro Manila’s horrendous traffic a campaign promise, must know that bringing back the glory days of the MRT 3 is a very important part of solving the mess.

The abrogation of the maintenance contract awarded by the Aquino administration to the Korean-led consortium Buri was just one of the things that needed to be done immediately. The filing of plunder charges against the former officials who gave Buri the contract that practically destroyed the most important commuter train line in the country was another.

But Chavez felt that he had already reached the end of the line, as far as fixing the MRT 3 was concerned. He had done all he could, which is all that can be expected from any government official.

There is no need to besmirch Chavez’ reputation or to impute base motives on Duterte and his transportation officials for Chavez’ decision. As for me, I can only wish my friend Cesar good luck and thank him for his service.

* * *

The proof of political sustainability is, of course, in longevity. In the wild and wooly world of Philippine politics, this means that the current party in power must be able to survive and thrive, whoever is in power.

I remember the time when the currently dominant Partido Demokratiko Pilipino was so small that one noted politician said all its members would comfortably fit inside a Volkswagen Beetle. And look at PDP now, swelling its membership ranks like nobody’s business.

Only last weekend, the party of President Rodrigo Duterte took in 50,000 new members in Cebu province. An estimated 40,000 people filled the Plaza Independencia in Cebu City, where House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez administered the oath of the new members, who vowed to support Duterte’s reform agenda, especially the war on drugs and corruption.

The party declared that it had a distinct ideology, constitution and political platform, and that new members must undergo a basic membership seminar in order to understand what PDP stands for, instead of joining merely for political convenience or expediency.

PDP’s exponential growth in areas outside of its home base in Mindanao is no surprise, of course. Politicians in this country routinely gravitate to the party in power, for the simple reason that belonging the right party is usually rewarded by the incumbent administration by way of infrastructure projects and all sorts of other goodies dispensed by the political leaders du jour.

In the same manner, politicians who remain in parties that are no longer in power become pariahs who would probably bolt to the groups identified with the new incumbents, if they only could. Just look at the once-monolithic Liberal Party of Noynoy Aquino, which is now populated only by politicians who are just too unacceptably Yellow to be taken in as members of some other party.

PDP promises to avoid the same fate that has befallen every political group that has been formed since the restoration of democracy in 1986 and has successfully won power by the victory of its presidential candidate. But unless Duterte’s PDP becomes an honest-to-goodness grassroots democracy movement and not just a temporary repository of politicians seeking membership and largesse in the dominant political group, it will suffer the same ignominious end as every other once-powerful party that went before it.

That is the challenge for Alvarez, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and the rest of the party’s leadership: to make sure that PDP not only survives but continues to be robust and relevant even after Duterte’s presidency. Or else it’s back to that old Volkswagen Beetle.

Topics: End of the line

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