Back in the old days, being caught in traffic used to be a good excuse to be late for work or, for that matter, any appointment or date. Then heavy traffic became more the rule than the exception. So then it was the government’s turn to make excuses for snail-paced traffic. One of these excuses was around exceptionally hard continuous rain over a couple of days after which, as a result, flooding occurred which then snarled traffic in such instances. But then it came to a point where even a short downpour could cause floods big enough and persistent enough to paralyse traffic for hours. So the excuse tree grew ever deeper and wider roots, roping in the city’s decrepit storm drain system as well into its growing network of so-called “root causes”.
When will it end?
The confronting reality facing millions of hapless Filipinos living in the Philippines’ growing megalopolises is that gridlock traffic caused by a failure of basic thinking is here to stay to torment them over the foreseeable future.
Just last night, one such catastrophic urban paralysis struck again — and just a few days after Iglesia Ni Cristo Carmageddon wrought havoc to Metro Manila’s long weekend plans. This recent one struck on a weekday — which meant that many of its victims had valuable sleeping and rest times stolen from them which likely would impact their productivity at work the following day.
CNN Philippines reports that the cause of the flooding — “a heavy downpour, which lasted for just over an hour” — was no more than a routine weather disturbance that is normal in a tropical country like the Philippines…
There was no storm. There was only a southwest monsoon affecting Palawan and the western sections of the Visayas and Mindanao, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). The downpour over Metro Manila and adjacent provinces was caused by a thunderstorm.
This does not bode well for the future of Metro Manila. If a city the size of Manila is at the mercy of routine weather disturbances that are natural and inherent to its geographical location, its residents and their government need to seriously re-think their portfolio of excuses.
In short, revisiting the question posed earlier, it’s not gonna end soon — specially now that the “Ber” months have begun and Filipinos are now counting down to Christmas in what is a world-renowned tradition of celerating the Holiday Season all through those four last months of the year with names ending in “ber”. Unfortunately, the Ber months have become synonymous with misery for Metro Manila’s hapless commuters thanks to the frenzy of consumption and movement associated with the very normal social activities of catching up with family and friends.
Despite the claim of current President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III (parroted ad nauseum by his sidekick Mar Roxas) that gridlocked traffic is a sign of a booming economy, the fact is, it is a people’s ability to efficiently move themselves — and their goods — from one place to another that is the foundation of a robust and resilient economy. An economy that stares into the abyss of catastrophic paralysis everytime the skies darken and rumble can only go so far.
That’s bad news considering that the Philippines needs to grow its economy by leaps and bounds just to stay apace with the galloping rate at which its population grows. It is difficult to make headway when the clip at which Filipinos add desperate and needy people to the steaming stew that is Philippine society eats away at every percentage point of GDP growth every year.
Solutions that fail to address root causes and, instead, add layer upon layer of complexity to the rickety structure of a house of cards are difficult to undo. We see this today in Manila’s traffic situation where even the question of which agency — the Traffic Enforcers of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) or the Philippine Police’s Highway Patrol Group — is better qualified to enforce traffic rules becomes a hopelessly convoluted debate around jurisdiction and politics. The vast fleet of privately-operated public utility jeepneys and buses that compete with one another for paying passengers rather than complement one another as elements in a coherent public transport system is another layer of band-aid that cannot be peeled without tearing out chunks of flesh. No vote-hungry politician will go down that path either.
And then there’s the Filipino driver — a hopelessly miseducated lot whose collective idiocy all but pulls the whole society ever deeper into the traffic quicksand that now engulfs the Philippines’ premiere metropolis. The ako muna (“me first”) mentality that is central to the driving philosophy of the Filipino is so deeply-ingrained that it will require nothing short of genocide to correct.
What then given the intractable nature of the Philippines’ traffic problem? Who knows? There seems to be no point in hoping considering that the entire political system is rigged to ensure that status quos persist and initiatives to reform things are thwarted even before these get to the drawing board.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.