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.
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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.
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.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.