Power and authority misuse in the micro level: Building block of cultural dysfunction

Some time a few weeks ago I got into a heated argument with a FX driver going the MRT North Station route.

I was transferred to the graveyard shift and I was aware that despite the popularity of the late shift—thanks in no small part to the call center industry—most of your co-passengers will most likely disembark in the surrounding malls nearest the train station for some after-work relaxation or shopping. Being a commuter for most of life I became accustomed to daily passenger as well as traffic behavior at different times of the day.

And if you’re a passenger in any one of the most popular forms of PUVs plying the major highways of Metro Manila, you’ll know that being the last one on board will most likely be a source of inconvenience and annoyance. Ten times out of nine, that will be the outcome. Especially if your destination is still a bit far off from where all your other co-passengers disembarked.

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

It is during these times that I hate being right.

bad_serviceAs if on cue, a small distance after everyone else went down the mall, the driver turned and scratched his head (an affectation of embarrassed humor because of a “small forgivable error”) and asked if I can just get down in the next stop after the U-turn going to the train station. That he’ll just give me the necessary fare (half of what I paid him) for the next PUV I hail to take me there.

To be fair with most of these drivers, specially those who are under some sort of franchise that utilizes constant radio communication with others in the fleet, they usually contact another vehicle to take the passenger to his destination if they are unable to; all they have to do is pick-up the transferring passenger without additional cost.

I don’t know if this guy was a colorum operator or simply too lazy to call the thing in but I was not in the mood to be cordial about things and told him off. That, as I told him, had I known that that was his game plan all along, I would not have entered or just got off his vehicle the moment I told him where I was heading as I paid for the fare.

That, I added, was the purpose of the sign board in his vehicle. What the hell’s the point of putting that thing out front if you’re gonna welsh on the deal midway to my intended destination?

It’s very simple: The reason why you were given permit to operate by the government is that you have the duty, as a PUV, to take your passengers where you told them you were headed. Passengers do their part by paying you.

Somewhere in that little equation, the brilliant Pinoy mind suddenly came into overdrive and added a few deviations of his own to the formula.

Just a few quotable quotes from the guy:

Huwag ka na magreklamo at ibabalik ko na nga pera mo!”
(“Don’t complain because I’m returning your money!”)


I simply replied my own exotic mix of profanities and insults as I got off the vehicle and went about my business. In hindsight, I was lucky the guy wasn’t one of those psychopath war freaks who take verbal insults as signed permissions to execute your death warrant.

That’s what happens when you don’t have a car. No wonder car sales are spiking up, and traffic is getting worse.

Which brings me to the title of this write-up.

Nearly everything that’s service-oriented I have transacted with in the country reeks of this type of arrogance by virtue of the service-providers being needed by the clients. Nevermind if you’re a paying customer.

They have the power, you need them, you adjust. Specially if the manager’s not around. Or worse, if they’re friends with the manager.

It’s as if people are always wound-up, waiting for the perfect opportunity to shout—in perfect soap opera inflection: “Hindi namin kailangan ang pera ninyo!”

A friend articulated it best: “Utang na loob mo pa na nagbayad ka sa serbisyo nila.”

I don’t know. Maybe they always get customers who think they are Gods because they paid for things and that these service providers had had enough of the abuse and decided to fight fire with fire. Or maybe it’s all a preemptive strike to deter potential jerks; to the detriment of the more sensible, polite customers.


The situation I wrote is hardly even unique. You can hear worse—strictly limiting it to the PUV sector—about taxi cabs. All these laws about erring PUVs, all bark, no bite. And everyone knows it. The offenders operate with the premise that they don’t need money. Therefore, they are in control. They dictate where they want to go. You don’t like it? Good luck finding something out of the millions already loaded or empty ones that have the same prick of a driver who hates going to your location. “Mag-iinarte ka? Bumili ka na lang ng kotse.” (“Don’t like it? Buy a car.”) as the popular saying goes.

If you’re saddled by lots of luggages because you’re in a bus station or the airport, what choices have you without a private transport of your own? Right. Nothing. They know it, you know it, and you have no choice but wait for a decent enough cab to pick you up after a millennia of waiting or just bite the bullet and give in to the closest available prick’s demands just to get things over with. Negotiations would probably help, but the point is you do not have to negotiate in the first place.

Of course, a lot would say that’s the reality of things; that other countries are suffering from worse conditions and no one hardly ever complains. I get that. But that’s precisely the problem. The exception becomes the rule in the micro level, you can be sure that that type of thinking will be carried over to something more grandiose than simple paid services.

My uncle, a big fan of the Tolkien books, opined something about Pinoy culture when I was still in grade school: That us Pinoys in general do not know how to handle power. Doesn’t matter if it’s something trivial like a seat in an elementary student government or one in national government level. There’s always the ever-present sense of entitlement coupled with a strong aspect of tribalism that always puts self and tribe members above others.

As if wielding a small piece of authority over anyone is the opportunity of a lifetime to avenge oneself from the petty tyranny they have suffered from other people with authority over them. Not unlike the mechanism of a fraternity initiation rite. Instead of ‘pay it forward’, you get ‘getting even forward’.

We have a lot of work to do.

15 Replies to “Power and authority misuse in the micro level: Building block of cultural dysfunction”

  1. This country, sadly, works by one principle;

    “Fuck you, give me money.”

    The best you can do control the money and how much you give up. But you have to be real careful because Filipinos are a little too happy in separating you from your money.

  2. good read sir.
    most commuting citizens may have experienced this and a large number most probably have been cowed into being submissive to this type of service sector worker.

    this is why I think uber or other similar services can grab a significant part the public transportation services(just dont ride alone)…

  3. The typical pinoy on the street does not care about vigilance. That is why PUV drivers get away with traffic/service violations, motorcycles are exempted from the red light, police get away with kotong, corrupt politicos get reelected, squatters gain all sorts of “rights”, illegal vendors and beggars get to hijack sidewalks, oligarchs are able to get away with their cartels unhampered, and etc.

    Take your case, for example – Have you reported this to the LTFRB? Sure eventually may panglagay si driver/operator sa hearing. That’s okay, as long as we made it very expensive and time consuming for them. Thinking about it, every commuter has a responsibility to be vigilant when it comes our public transpo system.

    Or maybe you could have gone the way of social media justice – photo, name, plate number, route?

    I’d say this is one of the biggest faults of pinoys, along with the mamaya na habit, bahala na si Lord mentality, etc. Compare pinoys to the typical American on the street – they go out of their way to report the smallest things.

    1. “Have you reported this to the LTFRB?”

      And if you did, if there’s no update have you done a follow up? One can’t simply stop at reporting or making reklamo to the authority because if they know you won’t bother to check on the progress chances are they won’t bother with it and that’s the reason why it keeps on happening. Should they happen to work on it, you should give them feedback, if something’s changed or got better. Being involved takes courage, precious time, dedication and patience (because you’ll soon find yourself being treated like a pest). Anyway, madali na ngayong magreklamo sa LTFRB. But sometimes they will tell you na ireklamo ang driver sa munisipyo.

  4. I also encounter something like this when coming back from Antipolo to Quezon City. When I ride the Antipolo-Cubao jeep, the driver sometimes stops at Ligaya or MRT and asks passengers to transfer to another jeep. I wonder why they do this. Perhaps they don’t want to go through the traffic when they complete the trip to Cubao. Plain katamaran I’d assume. Good thing when I told the driver, “Sana wag nang magpalipat,” he answered, “pasensya na po.” At least he knew he was inconveniencing his passengers.

    This is a problem of transportation services being “cottage industries.” It’s a function of what Nick Joaquin calls “heritage of smallness.” The way some people operate in their little villages is the manner they use even in the big city – with disastrous results. If ever we want the country to get better, we should rise up from the “cottage mentality” or “heritage of smallness” and let the bigger models of business and management be available to the ordinary people as well.

    1. Agreed. Ever wonder why the country doesn’t have an extensive subway system in their major cities or other more efficient public transportation? This is part of a thousand answers.

      1. Because of floods. For that to work, a decent sewer system needs to be made along with getting the people to stop throwing garbage in the rivers clogging up the drains.

  5. Filipinos always abuse people, when in authority. Police have their “lagays”. Public officials act like , they are Gods. And think, they are superior to everybody.

    If there is no competition to the business. You have no choice. so, you pay for lousy service…

    1. Yes, a cop there punched the side of my car one saturday night about 4 years ago and told me ‘to move that POS to the other side of the street.’. He was lucky I let it slide, ugh!!! WOW,was he lucky!

  6. Its literally a bunch of people defecating in the water and not thinking of how they’ll eventually have to drink it.

    Those who ignore laws naturally choose to live in lawlessness, and thus give up their right to be pitied for their poverty. If you want a better society, obey the fucking law. If not, alea iacta est.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.