Sal Takes the Jeepney: Panelo accepts challenge to commute to Malacañang via public transport

Presidential spokesman and top Duterte apologist Salvador Panelo will do the unthinkable tomorrow: he will travel to Malacañang Palace via Manila’s ailing public transportation system.

Last night, Panelo accepted the challenge posed to him by the activist youth group Anakbayan (“Child of the Nation”), which dared him and other government officials to take public transport to “experience the hellish reality” of an ordinary Filipino’s daily commute.

In a text message sent to reporters, Panelo said: “The challenge to commute is accepted. This coming Friday, I’ll take the jeepney and the LRT in going to work.”

Anakbayan yesterday set ground rules for Panelo, urging him to travel during early morning rush hours and without being accompanied by bodyguards.

“[W]e are expecting the stint to be mere performance. To prevent this, the spokesperson must commute not only for a single day, but for a whole week,” said Alex Danday, Anakbayan’s national spokesperson.

The group issued the challenge to Panelo after the latter dismissed comments by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (“New Patriotic Alliance”) Secretary-General Renato Reyes that Manila is facing a “transport crisis” due to the regular breakdowns of the city’s main train lines.

In a press conference that would have made Marie Antoinette proud, Panelo maintained that transport in the capital was fine, and suggested that Manila’s millions of commuters should just leave a little earlier if they want to arrive at their destinations on time — an idea that infuriated countless netizens who have endured multi-hour commutes for years.

Read: ‘Wake up early’: Duterte spokesman draws flak for denying Metro Manila has ‘transport crisis’

In a separate interview with radio station DZMM last night, Panelo boasted that he is skilled enough to navigate the city’s inefficient and complicated public transport system. He even dared Reyes to accompany him during his commute on Friday.

“What you don’t know is, I know how to commute,” he said in Filipino and English. “I do commute… But I will accept [Anakbayan’s challenge]. Tell Renato Reyes, if he wants, we will commute every day together, the two of us, wherever we may go.”

Read: Stuck in traffic: How Manila’s roads are making love elusive for Filipinos

In a Facebook post this morning, Reyes cheekily proved that he was up for the challenge. Calling Panelo by his nickname, he wrote, “Sal, I’m here. Were are u? Ah, so you’ll show up on Friday. I’m too early.”

In his post, Reyes included a photo of the LRT-2’s crowded Cubao station.

Getting serious for a moment, Reyes posted on Twitter that he planned to discuss with Panelo ways in which the government could find a solution to the problem.

“The point of the challenge was not to simply prove that it can be done. The point was to get top officials to truly understand what commuters go through and to come up with long-term solutions and short-term relief measures,” Reyes tweeted.

“The solution must start with a general policy on mass transport that is not subject to changing political climates and business interests during 6-year cycles. We will talk about this during the commute. See you [on] Friday, Sal,” Reyes added.

If Panelo does indeed go through with the challenge, he’s likely to face a sweaty, stultifying slog (kinda like the one endured by most Manileños on a daily basis) from his home, reportedly in Marikina, to the Malacañang Palace, waaayyyy over on Mendiola in the heart of central Manila.

In theory, the journey would first involve a jeepney ride — or, technically, a jeepney wait, since lines can often take up to an hour to navigate at rush hour — from Marikina to Cubao to catch the LRT-2, a drive that can easily take an hour during peak traffic (if there are no unplanned stops, that is).

Then, it’s a 35-minute LRT ride — again, after a wait of at least 10 minutes on the platform at the thronging transport hub — downtown to the nearest station to the Malacañang, Legarda.

From there, our intrepid Sal will be just a 10-minute hop, skip, and sweaty-ass jump away from his hopefully aggressively air-conditioned offices in the presidential palace.

All in all, Panelo’s commute could take nearly three hours, so just a word of advice, Sal: leave early.

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