And so here we are, helplessly facing a future of traffic hell as all these road constructions start. To think we all raised a royal tantrum over Dan Brown’s describing Manila as the “gates of hell” in his book Inferno. What have Metro Manila’s residents done to deserve this? Well, quite simply nothing. They did nothing as all the warning signs creeped up on them over the last 20 years. Despite being the ultimate kingmakers of their government (thanks to The Vote), Metro Manilans pretty much sat on their hands and watched their beloved city go down the toilet.
You wonder, though, with the majority of Metro Manila’s residents unable to afford their own cars, why hadn’t politicians with visions of turning their city into a pedestrian- and public transport-friendly paradise been consistently voted into office?
Oh, I forgot, Filipinos don’t vote for politicians on the basis of their visions of the future.
For me, the key principle at work here is simple:
Whereas access to public transport is a right, owning personal transport is but a mere privilege.
Most Filipinos, bizarrely, fail to understand that — which is why the politicians they elect don’t.
In Singapore, owning a car is deemed an expensive privilege granted by the government to its citizens. I read a few days ago that it could cost up to US$50,000 to secure the right to own a car there — and that’s after winning a government-managed lottery to give out slots for that right.
If you think about it, owning and driving a car in the Philippines is supposed to be a privilege too. The fact that it is the Philippine government that issues drivers licenses and regulates vehicle registration proves this. Kung baga, what the government giveth the government can taketh away. If our politicians were really serious about reducing traffic in Metro Manila, it could act tomorrow and start revoking licenses and registrations. Come to think about it, they do that already — but in a half-assed manner: through the license plate “coding scheme” that prevents us from using certain roads on certain days depending on the number on your license plate. But that no longer proves effective. Traffic is gridlocked just the same.
Then I also read that only two percent of Filipinos own and drive cars. Wow. Two percent of the population causing 99 percent of its grief on the road — that’s just wrong. We like to think of ourselves as a “democratic” people but there is nothing democratic about the majority suffering so that two percent of us could make porma in our million-peso cars. For that matter, what is so ma-porma about driving that obnoxious SUV when you spend most of your time crawling at two kilometers per hour? If you think about it, there is really something dumb about paying the extra hundred-odd thousand pesos on extra horsepower you’d hardly be using. Considering that the average road speed in Metro Manila will hardly ever take your shiny steel horse past a trot, that’s money that could hardly be considered well-spent.
Mga Pinoy talaga. Metro Manilans are like the proverbial frog sitting in the pot being boiled alive slowly.
In other societies, the inhumanity we suffer under Metro Manila’s hellish environment would be nothing short of an outrage. But because we’ve had our minds conditioned to be tolerant of urban dysfunction for decades, we’re all quite happy to suffer in silence as Manila’s roads turn into a huge 24-hour parking lot. And even when we get out of this mess — sometime after 2017, we are told — the only people coming out of this happy will be all those high rollers jetting in from Taiwan and cruising on their brand-new highway from the airport straight into Manila’s glitzy ocean-front casinos. Yes, indeedy, Pinoys will, as usual, be left with the thinnest slice of the pie.
* * *
Speaking of stuck-in-traffic, what I consider really strange is how the nation’s jeepney drivers still manage to go home after a day driving their Kings of the Road and impregnate their wives six to eight times over the course of their fertile life. I always thought sitting around with the family jewels stuck in tight jeans under the hot sun causes low sperm count. Maybe that’s another thing to add to the list of things Filipinos should be proud about — our ability to multiply like rabbits despite the odds.
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