Commuting challenge: Comparing experiences of Sal Panelo, Toyota chief

March 2, 2020 - 3:29 PM
TMP president Atsuhiro Okamoto
Toyota Motor Philippines president Atsuhiro Okamoto rides a public utility jeepney in his commute. (Photo from TMP President's Office/Hiro Okamoto via Facebook)

The president of Toyota Motor Philippines took a different mix of public transportation and had a more accurate takeaway from the experience compared to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo who previously took up the commuting challenge.

Japanese executive Atsuhiro Okamoto rode the bus, jeepney, tricycle, a utility vehicle express, and the Manila Metro Rail Transit System (MRT-3) during his first week in the country to personally experience the “daily struggles of Filipino commuters.”

Okamoto called it “Genchi Genbutsu” or “Go and See” which he said was a “good learning experience.”

“I rode a bus, took a round trip of the MRT, rode the jeepney, queued for a long time to ride the UV Express, and lastly, took a tricycle ride to Tondo!” he wrote on a Facebook post.

Okamoto noted that the country’s current mass transport system “is not enough to accommodate the huge number of daily commuters.”

“I would like Toyota to take part in this big challenge to upgrade the quality of life for many Filipinos,” he said.

During my first week in the Philippines, I decided to do "Genchi Genbutsu," or to “Go and See” the daily struggles of…

Posted by TMP President's Office / Hiro Okamoto on Thursday, February 27, 2020


Okamoto’s initiative earned mixed comments. Some Filipinos appreciated his effort to understand the plight of urban commuters despite being a foreign executive while there were those who perceived it as a “publicity stunt.”

“Presidente ng Toyota Philippines nag-commute para ma-experience kahit konti ‘yung hirap ng commuters at para malaman kung ano pwedeng magawa ng kumpanya para makatulong. ‘Yung mga pulitiko……….” a Twitter user wrote.

“You, Sir, have done what many politicians will never do. You are courageous and brave enough to experience a sample of the daily challenges in commuting in Manila,” said a Facebook user.

Meanwhile, the president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines said that Okamoto “won’t understand the woes of commuters by commuting a day,” although pictures of the Toyota Philippines chief showed he took public transportation for more than a day.

“To benefit society, factories & capital of the super-rich should be turned over to workers, the ones who actually create wealth for companies. Enough of publicity stunts from exploiters,” Raoul Manuel said.

Panelo who denied there is a ‘mass transport crisis’

Panelo, who reports to work at Malacañang, commuted in October last year after he was dared to do so by critics of the president.

In a bid to prove Filipinos wrong, particularly Renato Reyes Jr. of the left-leaning Bagong Alyansang Makabayan who challenged him, Panelo rode at least four jeepneys and a motorcycle to reach the Palace. It nearly took him four hours.

RELATED: A challenge for Panelo, a daily reality for Filipinos

His last ride was achieved through an act of goodwill by a motorcycle driver who spontaneously offered him a ride.

In regular commuting, this practice could be likened to that of a “habal-habal” where a commuter rides an unauthorized motorcycle to reach his destination.

Even after he commuted for a single day from Marikina to Manila, he was not convinced about the alarm.

I suggest to tell that to Sec. Panelo who took 4 hours from Marikina to Mendiola and still says that there’s no transport crisis in Metro Manila,” a Facebook user wrote. 

“I remember Panelo doing the same stunt and concluded that there’s no problem with the mass transport system,” wrote another user.

After the stunt, Panelo urged commuters to be “creative” in finding ways in their daily commute as he denied there is a mass transportation crisis in the Philippines.

Another public official who has ridden public transportation is former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque who traveled via MRT-3 in 2017.

His initiative was similarly criticized since reports note he did not travel during the peak hours and had a security detail with him during the commute.