The cement carpets of Manila

How we drive is a reflection of ourselves – if we respect others, others will respect us, too.

To drive a vehicle is a privilege. But to drive in Metro Manila is the ultimate harrowing test of the Filipino’s character. Much to everyone’s annoyance, the test is not a one-time thing. It is as endless as a Friday night traffic jam can be.

In the streets of Metro Manila, you can find the rudest and most reckless of drivers. The disorder is not limited to the infamous jeepneys and PUVs but also the luxury vehicles boasting vanity and one-number plates. It shouldn’t be too hard to find one showcasing his expertise in gobbling up inches or in nose-diving as they are conspicuous what with their body-jerk dancing and dramatic entrances. They do have early bird clubs, matinees, and last full shows. So, you are certainly not going to miss out.  

Falling victim to a heedless action by someone with ambitions of being a stunt driver has, in a way, become every Filipino driver’s rite of passage.  Unfortunately, some don’t take it too kindly, resulting to bouts of road rage while some develop the habit themselves.

However, there are still those who refuse to transform into road hogging monsters and they have their work cut out for them. Well, I will be the first to admit that it took me weeks of driving (or purging) to habituate myself to the wild jungle that is the roads of Metro Manila.

How did I do it? I simply accepted the fact that it is the practice in the Philippines. I realized, however, that I didn’t necessarily have to embrace the habit and make it my own.

In determining why Filipinos drive the way they do, there are several factors to be considered:

  • Economic – Jeepneys and PUVs race each other upon the sight of a hailing passenger.  Their income depends on the number of passengers they get to collect daily. Hence, each passenger is gold and that to them is all that matters – not your safety and not the inconvenience they cause. 
  • Decrepit almost non-existent road signs/markings – When people venture into cities alien to them, they rely on the signs.  Sadly, most signs appear only when it’s already too late.  It’s no secret that we are behind in infrastructure engineering. 
  • Values – It goes beyond being behind the steering wheel.  How we drive is a reflection of ourselves.  If we respect others, others will respect us.  Then again it’s easier if everyone drove like the ones in Subic do.  Also, ‘Filipino Time.’
TEST.  Driving in Metro Manila is one of the more harrowing test of the Filipino’s ultimate test of character. Photo by Scandi/Wikimedia


‘Kings’ of the jungle

After taming the only beast that needed taming (yourself) and couldn’t care less anymore about the animal-like behavior of the others, you can now shift your attention to those who run the jungle – the traffic enforcers.

The legitimacy of an officer’s reason in flagging down a vehicle is at times questionable and the consistency in handing down the law has been intermittent. This is endemic in various parts of Metro Manila.  

What’s repulsing is it’s almost no longer a profession to them where their goal is to serve the country. Most of them see it as an opportunity to serve their selfish, depraved selves off of unsuspecting motorists. Just picture them in areas where a lot of motorists can easily make mistakes because of barely visible signs and road markings – strategically waiting to pounce on innocent drivers. It’s almost as if they go on a hunting frenzy when they feel like it.  

We have seen them either being very active or sedentary at various times of the day. At the Julia Vargas – Meralco Avenue intersection, for example, my friend once got pulled over for going straight ahead when he was supposed to turn left. The reason why he decided to go straight was because he has seen cars before go straight ahead right in front of the officers. So why did he get pulled over and the others not?  

Another area notorious for these ‘buwayas‘ is the Taft-Buendia intersection. I’ve heard that motorists who come from Taft and make a U-turn to Buendia get pulled over frequently. Why? Because the traffic is congested and motorists are unwilling to let them in. That leaves them no choice but to stay in the innermost lane. As you crawl in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you’ll later discover that there is a barrier dividing the Makati bound lanes and the innermost lane intended for reentry to Taft.  

Not a couple hundred meters away are the predators in yellow. And that right there is the blueprint, but get this: they can get pretty selective. One motorist asked the officer, “I basically just followed the car in front of me and the ones behind me just followed me, why did you pull me over and why are you letting the others get away?”  His answer, “Nandito ka eh.” (You’re here.)

Not easy to change

The profession is certainly neither glamorous nor is it pleasurable – it is not the kind of al fresco sun-tanning most people look forward to. They might even be early candidates for skin cancer in the future. How would they pay for that with the meager salary they receive? The inadequacy of their pay is apparent as they engage in foisting themselves and their scripted drivel upon motorists unaware of the act.  

To those of us who’ve been apprehended many a time, we’ve probably seen different sides of ourselves each time – from being too furious as to raise our voices to mustering ourselves to display an acquiescent demeanor as we roll the window down. We all know that some of the reasons they state are blatantly preposterous. 

In this case, they retort by finding lines from their handbooks to solidify their claims although a struggle at times to pinpoint the exact violation. To avoid becoming suspicious when they can’t find an indubitable offense you’d most likely hear the favorites like, ‘swerving’ or ‘traffic obstruction.’ Undeniably, the echoes of these words are going to take a while before they fade away.

So, irrespective of everything, when you find yourself in this deafening reality with nothing but hundreds of pairs of red eyes staring back at you, how do you wish to ride the cement carpets of Metro Manila? – 

Anton Avendano is a graduating Communication Arts student. He plans to write a novel one day.