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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Grinning and bearing it

He only meant to tell an anecdote. But the general manager of the Metro Manila Development Authority, Thomas Orbos, got a scolding from his boss, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, after telling some friends he had to take “habal-habal”—a backride on a motorcycle—in order to get to an agency event on time.

The mode of transportation, while cheap and fast, is dangerous. It’s of course, and practically unbecoming of a public official of Orbos’ stature. Still he felt he had no other choice to get from one place to another given the horrible traffic situation in the metro.

It’s a feeling familiar to millions of motorists and commuters here in Metro Manila. On a daily basis we are plagued by the hopeless traffic situation, made worse by rain or a weekend or a payday—for those who do get paid —or the decrepit state of our public transportation.

But because we are who we are, we shrug off the hassles or the risk or the cost, and get creative just to get by.

It’s a testament to our positive, cheery nature. We feel the inconvenience and rant about it to our friends or on social media, but the next day we’re back again. We take advantage of the many different ways we can survive. This is the same resilient, positive spirit that has enabled Filipinos to maintain a happy disposition despite all the cultural, political, religious and practical blows we have been receiving all these years.

It’s largely a good thing. We have never been one to fixate on our miseries. Always the first to make light of our misfortunes, we manage to crack jokes amid tragedy. This trait likely helps us cope with our troubles and allows us to resist its dampening effect on our disposition.

Unfortunately, it is easy to confuse resilience with fatalism.

At the very least our officials are not justifying the traffic as a sign of economic progress. The problem is still there, and must still be solved as it has gotten worse.  More than a year into an administration that promised drastic change, all we seem to be seeing is the “drastic” part and hardly the “change.”

Faithful, fatalistic followers that we are, we continue to wait—stand in line, endure the immobility, hang on to the rhetoric, keep our true sentiments to ourselves —for just a bit of relief. In this age of much lower expectations, just a bit already counts for a lot.

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