The Philippines and traffic jams

Karla Michelle Yu
'At the end of it all, I still wonder – both metaphorically and literally – where in the world was the traffic light?'

It was past 9 pm and as sure as the sky was thick with smog, I was stuck in an intersection somewhere in Tandang Sora, Quezon City. I was in my friend’s car, hastening to catch the last train on the Light Rail Transit (LRT), knowing that it was going to close by 9:30 pm. On normal days, this trip would take no less than 10 minutes, but as I gazed at the interwoven traffic of vehicles and heard the exasperated honking of their horns, I knew I was never going to get on that train.

We were stuck right smack in the middle of that miserable intersection – no traffic enforcers were in sight and everything stood immobile.

Tension was mounting and I could almost see the disheveled faces of the drivers cussing under their breaths, with their stomachs rumbling, having missed supper. In the corner, I saw a couple of street children trying to help one lane of the intersection to at least advance but to no avail because no one would listen. They were, after all, just street children who had no authority, why should the motorists listen?

A 10-wheeler truck was having difficulty in making a right turn because the cars would not give way, causing the jam. For a long while, we were just sitting there, not knowing what to do until a couple of drivers stood up and started intervening in what seemed like a hopeless situation. I stood there watching whether things were going to change.

Things did not seem to be progressing rapidly enough though the volunteer traffic enforcers had one lane moving. I was personally alarmed as I heard the siren of an ambulance resonate in the tangle of vehicles. What caught my attention was this taxi driver, standing outside his cab, shouting in indignation that things were not being done right.

I was peering through the window when he told me that I should just stay inside the car. To his surprise, I stepped out of the car intending to help out in untangling the traffic jam.

I walked towards the lane where the vehicles were moving and asked our driver what I could do. He said that when one lane was told to stop and give way to the other lanes they listened. As soon as he left, however, that lane would recklessly drive forward without any regard to other cars on the other side of the intersection.

I decided to stand in front of that lane to stop the flow of cars and advance the flow on the other side until the ambulance could go forward freely. With the collective effort of the volunteer traffic enforcers the traffic started to move and so we ran back to our cars and turned left toward the road going to TriNoma.

I looked back at that intersection and saw a couple of traffic enforcers arrive, but the traffic flow started jamming right up after a few seconds of moving. I could only feel pity at the drivers who were not in the intersection but at the back of the traffic jam, not knowing what was causing the problem and not knowing what they could do to get things moving.

Society: A traffic jam

File photo by Val Handumon/EPA

At this point I realized that our society is one big traffic jam.

Each of us is coming in from one lane of the intersection with our self-interests in mind – whether that be profit, fame, family, charity, order, ideology, religion, politics, values, virtues, and whatnot – without any regard as to whether or not this would be beneficial to all.

To be perfectly honest, there’s no problem with that; we should be able to pursue whatever we like in our country as it is our birthright as Filipinos and as citizens of a democracy. But we can’t just go forward with our selfish deeds without giving way.

We cannot deem ourselves above the law just because nobody’s watching. As demonstrated by this traffic jam experience though, there are still those who are willing to set aside their personal safety and take initiative in moving us forward; however, those without enough authority or power – like the street children – would probably not get much support.

There are also those who have so many opinions as to how things are supposed to be done, much like that cab driver, but choose to stand there without doing anything. They criticize those who are actually doing something.

The lesson is, as George Bernard Shaw puts it – “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”


The sad part of it all is that a majority of the Filipino population are like those motorists at the tail ends of that intersection, not knowing why the country is not progressing and not knowing what they can do about it since they feel stuck and powerless in their positions.

But no matter how stuck our country seems to be, each of us will always be presented with an opportunity – like the one I had that night in Tandang Sora – to do something to move us forward, to contribute to this country, and to make the best of what we can do.

Because in the midst of the political crisis of our country, it seems that we cannot count on our traffic enforcers alone, we must do our own parts.

People may tell you to stay where you are, but you can always choose to not stand for mediocrity, lawlessness, and chaos. Instead, choose to be catalysts for change.

At the end of it all, I still wonder – both metaphorically and literally – where in the world was the traffic light?

Karla Michelle Yu graduated from De La Salle University with a degree in Political Science and is currently working at Action for Economic Reforms.


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