Horrendous Manila traffic a normal thing for a people long accustomed to a hellish life

On my comfy half-hour train ride going home from work, I sat amused while observing a steady line of tweets and Facebook updates streaming down my mobile phone — the poignant helpless anguished cries coming from poor souls lost in the wilderness Manila’s steaming traffic jungle. And here I was just 15 minutes ago fuming over my usual train arriving two minutes late at the platform in my station. Indeed, ain’t life here in Sydney tough? But that’s the great thing about social media. It keeps me constantly reminded of Phil Collins’s iconic words:

Think twice. It’s just another day for you and me in Paradise.

So what’s a guy like me living in Paradise to do other than write, yet again, about Manila’s traffic — this time from a safe and comfy distance applying the sort of outsider’s perspective that my compatriot tropical islanders so neck-deep in these sorts of (to me) distant “issues” consistently fail to take when regarding these things.

The thing with Australia is its people make making things work look so easy. Traffic flows because the system of traffic signalling and signage, roads and lanes layout design, laws, rules and ordinances, and the pipeline of newly-minted vehicle operators joining the community of road users here is well-regulated.

Note how I emphasized community in the last sentence above. Motorists after all constitute a community of road users. In a community that works, the members that constitute it interact with one another in a mutually-respectful manner that results in an emergent harmony over the bigger picture. For traffic to flow smoothly on a large scale — benefitting the bigger society rather than a small elite minority of enclave dwellers, the motoring community and its support system (land transport planners, legislators, city executives, and law enforcers) need to behave like a community on a large scale. Metro Manila’s infernal traffic woes are, contrary to popular belief, not the root cause of its overall hellish state. It is but a symptom of a consistent failure whose perpetual festering contributes to the relentless growth of its underlying rot.

Filipinos are allergic to obvious solutions.
Filipinos are allergic to obvious solutions.
In the Philippines, behaving like a community is, quite simply, too hard. Filipinos would rather build walls around enclaves built on arbitrarily-located tracts of land all over the city through which alternate traffic routes could’ve been built. We would rather toss, dump and/or flush down our household solid wastes into the city’s many once-beautiful esteros. The Pacquiao Nation would rather pander to the cultural symbolism of their Kings of the Road — the rust buckets that make up our mass transit “system” of jeepneys, tricycles, and kuligligs — rather than entertain the harder but obvious solution of simply tossing all of those contraptions into the junkyard and conscripting their operators into the Army to fight the Chinese. We tolerate public utility buses loading and unloading indiscriminately in the middle of the road — an obvious problem that begs an obvious solution that strangely swamps the intellectual faculties of the country’s foremost “thought leaders”. In short, there is no “Philippines” in the real sense of the notion — only a bunch of arachnids clambering upon one another for a piece of the proverbial bayabas.

So now the rains pour and the floods roll in. Suddenly everyone is “shocked” by how everything goes to hell — as if conveniently forgetting that, rain or shine, Manila traffic is always bad. Because it is so bad and been so bad for so long under normal circumstances we use this otherwise unacceptable but routine normalcy as a baseline for complaining about the relatively worse circumstances abnormally heavy rains bring about. The only solution evident in the horizon in light of these attitudes is the hope that the flooding and 4-hour traffic jams these cause will someday be regarded as the new normal that will serve as the baseline for when new “acts of god” turn the new 4-hour traffic jams into the newly-shocking 6-8 hour Jakarta-style gridlocks of Manila’s future.

You see a similar pattern across Philippine society — how current problems become normal life-as-usual baselines on top of which new problems fester. Bad traffic becomes a baseline for complaining about worse traffic. Stopgap employment overseas becomes a baseline engine of the economy on top of which we pine for more foreign money to fund our nation’s unsustainable growth in basic needs. Poor and corrupt law enforcement becomes the baseline upon which arming private security forces becomes the normal safety insurance for the average businessman. Idiotic politicians become a normal abomination to behold upon which ill-thought-out initiatives to go shopping for System-of-Government 2.0 are hatched.

When people start to see staying at the office until 11pm so that their trip home can be made in one hour as a brilliant “solution” to the traffic mess, it is a sign that underneath the silly smiles being flashed by the thousands of dime-a-dozen Sarah Geronimo clones on Philippine television, is a sad nation bankrupt of any real tangible hope. When living in hellish conditions becomes “normal” and people who point out the hellish nature of said conditions are regarded as the devil by a people who consistently fail to see the devil in their own ways, it becomes difficult to find substance in any slogan that extol the virtues of “hope” and “pride” in the Philippines.

Indeed, in the Philippines substance is a dirty word. That is because an inability of Filipinos to follow simple rules and uphold the most basic principles is at the core of their chronic inability to progress…

Filipinos in general are incapable of any form of discipline because they focus more on form rather than substance. In short, they want to stand out. They lack the discipline to engage in discussions in a civilized way and lack the discipline to not turn a public forum into a circus. This is why issues do not get resolved. This is a consistent observation — from every Senate inquiry being broadcast to the Filipino public down to the most benign discussions in the blogosphere, Filipinos love honking their horns.

Worse, Filipinos in general feel a strong sense of entitlement to relax or “chill-out” even when there is still so much to do to move the country forward. Instead of discussing solutions seriously and in detail during their spare time, Filipinos would rather spend it fooling around — never mind that societies from great nations like China, Japan and South Korea have historically shown that being more serious and devoting more of their time to solving problems yields better results in the long term.

From the top guys and gals sitting behind desks at the Presidential office down to the tricycle driver down the road, everyone just wants to have “fun” in the Philippines first before tackling the problems of the land in a more serious manner. You can be forgiven for thinking that one hit wonder Wang Chung probably wrote the song “Everybody have fun tonight” for Filipinos. It can absolutely boggle the mind to wonder why Filipinos cannot limit switching to party mode when they are at an actual party.

As discussed in my previous article, Filipinos are proud of being a happy-go-lucky society and make it a point to show the rest of the world that they are coping with smiling faces despite the dire circumstances they face. This mentality shows that Filipinos are satisfied with mediocrity and find striving for excellence too daunting. A few remaining Filipinos who want to engage in a more serious discussions are even labeled “kill-joy” or “librarians.” Aside from their penchant for bullying when others don’t engage in “pakikisama,” Filipinos indeed, have a tendency to discriminate against more sober ways of tackling solutions.


Shocked and angered by Manila’s traffic? Well, Filipinos made the bed they sleep on. That, after all, is what “independence” is really all about.

[Photos coutesy Boylit De Guzman and Jerry Ocampo.]


Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.

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70 Comments on "Horrendous Manila traffic a normal thing for a people long accustomed to a hellish life"

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Based on Noynoy Aquino logic that traffic is an indicator of a healthy economy. Does that mean the economy is even healthier on nights like last night?

until DumDum’s recent tirade in the comments section of one of your posts, I did not realize that you are living in Sydney, playing armchair quarterback. I guess I have not read enough of your posts to be aware of your situation. One would think that the way you bitch and moan that you were here in the Philippines trying to make changes. However, you have exiled yourself to the comfort of Australia to complain about your homeland and belittle those that cannot or will not leave the country. What you seem to not realize is that having a largely… Read more »
I guess I hit a nerve! What you fail to realize is that the only thing the separates The Philippines and other “Developing Countries” and “First World Countries” is one week’s pay. If the dollar crashes, Filipinos will be in a lot better shape than Americans. If the Euro tanks, Europeans will be in a bad spot. Tho societies you worship will be in a shambles as soon as the gas stations go dry, fhe ATMs run out of money, and the grocery stores close. One thing you cannot deny is that Filipinos are survivors and have the ability to… Read more »
Hello, I’ve been a fan of this blog for quite some time. I’ve been involved with a few projects to help improve our country from skills development and job creation (I was focused on local self sustainability and development of local industries and was not the biggest fan in making OFWs as they can break families). In retrospect, i have had several meetings with many well intentioned filipinos who have complained about the many ills of this country, from infrastructure to politics to the class system etc… they have complained with such a passion that it led me to think… Read more »
I was first attracted to this blog because of the differing viewpoint from what you refer to as the Yellow Media. I was hoping there was more constructive dialogue on these pages with solutions, not just criticisms. While the concept of using plastic to make diesel fuel is exciting, it is prohibitively expensive for the average person. On the other hand, the project to reuse water bottles as light refracting prisms to provide free light in homes really addresses the basic needs of the poor in this country but is not mentioned anywhere. A section that proposes real, feasible solutions… Read more »

Benign0, haven’t you realized that this notorious traffic problem is caused by the system of Imperial Manila? A paradigm shift away from an Imperial Manila will solve this problem and allow other regions (not just Cebu and Davao) to grow as well. This will also ease the government’s job in enforcing the law and cleaning up the mess since once the paradigm shift happens and the people of Manila think that there are opportunities all around the country, they will leave the capital as soon as possible and therefore the first clause of this sentence happens.

Wayne Chetoco
Orion Pérez D. Someone please go in there and ask Malign0 the question, point blank: “Benign0: haven’t you realized that the traffic problem is not a result of not following rules, but is the result of the Philippines’ centralized-around-Metro-Manila system? Don’t you think a shift in paradigm that would cause the Philippines to get decentralized so that regions get empowered to develop themselves economically instead of everything just being all about Metro Manila would actually help to solve the problem?” Do paraphrase it… But MANY OF YOU ought to go into the comments’ section and call Benign0 on his blatant… Read more »

Great! The traffic problem in the Philippines is nothing new. Coming up with solutions would be noteworthy rather that just whine. Typical Filipino writer, all complaints without any viable solutions.

Get Real!

With each administration at the Palace, the traffic gets worse (although with the current occupant the situation becomes worsens exponentially). Each new MMDA Chairman enters the office and 1) cancels any and all projects under the previous chairman (whether said projects were successful or not) and 2) tries to reinvent the wheel by coming up with some new idiotic scheme which defies all logic and common sense. Filipinos wonder why us “foreigners” become so aggravated at the traffic situation here saying we should just “be patient”, “shut up” and/or “go home”. The reason this tragic comedy enrages us (and I… Read more »
Orion Pérez D. Nice thread you started, Anton — you are totally right… A lot of people use those CLICHE reasons over and over again and they all miss the fact that they didn’t go deep enough to get to the real root of those problems. In fact, while I agree that Education is a key solution, A LOT OF PEOPLE forget that Education has costs since Education IS AN INVESTMENT. And since there are such costs, the question is WHERE ARE THOSE RESOURCES coming from to pay for those costs of education? That’s the missing ingredient that so many… Read more »
Seems comments can only go 4 deep in a thread: @benigno – I know that once my kids leave the house that they will see the culture as it is. We have a very traditional household. The dinner table is where we talk about the day’s events and the kids are responsive. We do not own a television. We do have three computers due to the nature of our work and for the kids to do homework on. The computers are all out in the living room. We are aware of what is going on. We pre-screen what the kids… Read more »
Boylit De Guzman

may i request that a correction to a photo attribution.

the photo of the buses blocking edsa was taken and posted by me. not by top gear philippines.

thank you.


First off I would like to say terrific blog! I had a
quick question in which I’d like to ask if you
do not mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts
before writing. I have had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out.
I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like
the first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted just trying to figure out how to begin.
Any suggestions or hints? Thank you!


Chris, why can’t you admit it. The Philippines is nothing but a dysfunctional rag tag country. Your the one that need to stop that BS Filipino melodramatic behaviour. You must be watching you many tal
Enovelas. Benigno is just ttying to point out the shortcomings ofPinoys. There is nothing wrong accepting a constructive criticism. You might learn a thing or two but looks like your part of the majority. Pinoys who still carry the Peter Pan Syndrome. Grow up and stop playing this childish games. MAN UP AND DO YOUR PART!!!!