Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The plight of commuters, drivers, and conductors become increasingly precarious, in light of MRT malfunctions, jeepney modernization, the merger of Grab and Uber, and the suspension of Dimple Star Buses. But in Lizette Daluz’s comic book “Hari ng Komyut,” its titular character remains unfazed and patient whatever his commuting adventures throw at him — be it a malodorous UV Express, a very long line to the trains, or his mom’s cold reply when he’s running too late to go home. He also stands with the driver’s tigil pasada and does not give in to the comforts of ride-sharing apps.
“It started when my brother was telling us about how his first week in Manila was,” shares Daluz on the how the comics began. “We live in Laguna so the commute is really a hassle. Everyone in the family had these stories of how we got by during traffic or shared tips on how we can avoid the hassle.”
After this, she began to conceptualize the idea of a “hardcore commuter” who “knew all of these things [about commuting] and was the expert at it, but was still down to have a chat with jeepney drivers. I wanted to document my experiences through this character and at the same time shed some light on some of the problems in our public transportation.”
The stories of “Hari ng Komyut” were recently compiled into a book released by Anino Comics. CNN Philippines Life talked to Daluz about the creation of this seemingly anomalous commuter, how commuting can be a microcosm of Philippine society, and other transport-related spin-offs of “Hari ng Komyut.” Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
Stories about commuting can be easily relatable for any Filipino. How did you decide on the core of your character, like his traits, his ideals, etc.?
At first I wanted the character to be young and sort of clueless about Manila — which was why he was so patient and polite. I wanted the character to be far from the typical macho male protagonist which usually comes along with titles like “Hari” or King. Then the character grew to be someone who was in touch with his values despite being in a difficult situation. Later on, I started adapting my own political views to the character; I wanted him to be someone who would be with the masses.
The stories in “Hari ng Komyut” can be treated as rules, like a GMRC for public transport etiquette. Do you think this forms the major thrust of your work?
It's a major part of “Hari ng Komyut” as a character, but what I really wanted to bring into the stories was how our public transportation is: the culture we've built around it, and its situation in terms of being a public service.
One thing I realized while reading the book is that “Hari ng Komyut” can be construed as a story about the resiliency of the Filipino spirit. Yet, there’s a danger in the “pagtitiis” culture because the commuting public deserves a better transport system. Was he meant to be treated as an example to look up to or an anomaly that we can reflect about?
This is an interesting question! Right from the start, I wanted him to be the anomaly that we should reflect about. With all the goodness in him, I wanted that to be in contrast with his surroundings. Someone who would make you ask yourself, 'Does he deserve it?' And maybe ask yourself too, 'Do you deserve this?' I think it's good to look up to him so that we can apply these commuter values to make it easier for one another, but at the end of the day, we're still riding on the same broken trains. So it's still important to go back to the question if this is what the commuting public deserves.
It's mostly the system that causes us to experience all of this. It's not the old jeepneys, not the vendors at the sidewalks, not even that kuya who pushed you out of the line. In the end, it's the laws, and the business contracts that run our public transportation.
The experience of taking public transport can be treated as a microcosm of Filipino society, don’t you think?
It is! Sometimes we try to take each other down — shoving people aside, cutting in line — just to get home. It's easy to point fingers among ourselves on why the traffic is horrible, or why you haven't got on the train two hours ago. When we look at the bigger picture, it's mostly the system that causes us to experience all of this. It's not the old jeepneys, not the vendors at the sidewalks, not even that kuya who pushed you out of the line. In the end, it's the laws, and the business contracts that run our public transportation.
Do people come up to you and tell you about their commute stories? What were your favorites?
Some people do! Sometimes they message me on Facebook. Most of the time, friends and family members share their stories to me. One of my favorites is this person who went to comic events in Manila all the way from Los Baños! Which was really hardcore. Another was my uncle's story when he was younger and had to 'sabit' most of the time (even when it was raining!) when he really needed to get home.
What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned while you were a Hari ng Komyut yourself?
I learned how it's important to ask questions. I got on the wrong buses and jeepneys before because I didn't ask and was too shy. And I learned how to trust strangers — people from the neighborhood, drivers, barkers, vendors on the streets. Filipinos help each other out!
How do you think “Hari ng Komyut” can evolve, especially now that there’s a huge debate on the fate of jeepneys and its drivers?
I think the comic could go beyond experiences, and start taking steps in presenting current issues such as the corporate takeover of jeepneys, the privatization of our train systems, and fare hikes due to the TRAIN Law. Hopefully, this comic will use its voice to encourage people to join movements against these issues.
At the end of the book, there’s a spin-off called “Hari ng Kalsada.” Will we see more of him?
Yes! I'm planning on featuring different people with this title. I wanted to show who really runs our streets: it's the drivers, the barkers, the bus conductors, those that maintain it, the ones we never really notice. They're the ones who experience it all, they're the real kings of the streets!
“Hari ng Komyut” is available at selected bookstores at ₱99. For more listings, and more details on Lizette Daluz's work, as well as excerpts from the book, vist her Facebook page.