The thing with the traffic mess in Metro Manila is that it is easy to pontificate about the ideal long-term solutions — “consistent enforcement of traffic rules”, “construction of more roads”, “modernisation of public transport infrastructure”, etc. Indeed, all of those are the obvious solutions; solutions that should have been implemented a long time ago — before the problem got to the monstrous scale we suffer today. But given that this is the present and the situation remains the same (i.e. none of the obvious solutions have been implemented), then those obvious solutions still remain obvious but beyond immediate reach.
This means that even if well-funded projects are set in motion to get all of these obvious solutions implemented, Metro Manilans will still have to suffer for years while waiting for these long-term projects to deliver results. And given the reality far from this ideal — that substandardly-funded snail-paced projects are on-going — it is likely that by the time these are completed, the problem will have already advanced far beyond the scope of the solutions these projects had originally sought to put in place.
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Does this mean that Metro Manilans are doomed to generation after generation of a wretched life in Carmageddon?
Perhaps. Long-term solutions are simply anathema to a society where leadership changes every six years and where people lack an ability to think independently on the basis of a sound ethical grounding (i.e. be guided primarily by what is right rather than what a leader or showbiz idol says).
It is also difficult to sustain any confidence in the ability of Filipinos to apply the right approach to solving their problems. Indeed, it has long been pointed out that the Philippines is a result of lots of action underpinned by very little thinking. So a lack of action does not seem to be the issue. The issue lies in the quality of the thinking applied.
We see a lot of initiatives put in place to solve Metro Manila’s abominable traffic. But it is difficult to see the sense in any of them. And the results are, therefore, not surprising. All of them — “number coding”, U-turn slots, bus lanes, truck bans, etc. — quite simply do not work. Even building new roads, widening existing ones, and constructing fly-overs and elevated highways fail to relieve traffic congestion or change its spiralling trajectory to gridlock oblivion.
Whenever a new bright idea comes up or a new “traffic czar” is appointed, you just know in your gut that the result will ultimately be a big fat fail.
So is the traffic situation in the Philippines hopeless?
It seems so. Everyone — from the President himself down to the lowliest “traffic enforcer” — is at their wits’ ends. It is easy to imagine the aspired-for target state. Any idiot can imagine traffic Nirvana — because they see it every night on primetime TV on American shows. But charting a course to getting to it is a virtually intractable challenge in the Philippine setting. This is because the landscape a traffic solutioneer needs to navigate is fraught with pitfalls, roadblocks, and show-stoppers. Indeed, the biggest one of them is, as mentioned earlier, the quality of Filipino thinking. Its spawn is the hopelessly inept bureaucracy, the system of government in place, the sorts of politicians the electorate breeds, and the layer upon layer of accumulated idiocy piled upon the country’s sad situation over several decades of Filipinos’ pwede-na-yan (that’ll do) and bahala na (come what may) way of life.
In short, there is no solution to Metro Manila’s traffic mess — because the very natures of the essential solutions are not compatible with Filipino culture in its current form. Filipinos are a self-centred, narcissistic, inconsiderate, discourteous, and thievin’ lot. A system where traffic flows smoothly is one where individuals trust said system — and one another to sustain that system. But such systems are built upon behavioural pillars that Filipinos simply lack. For that matter, the inherent nature of the way Filipinos think makes them wholly incapable of grasping the design principles of such a system! You cannot build a system based on trust and mutual respect if you are a people who lack both virtues.
This reality about Filipinos and its implications on any hope of solving their traffic mess lends its validity to the simple but wise words of Albert Einstein:
You cannot solve a problem using the same thinking that created it.
Filipinos, in short, need to change the way they think first before they can aspire to transforming their decrepit metropolises into world-class centres of commerce and culture that hum along rather than lurch awkwardly through a typical day.
Apply primitive thinking and you get primitive solutions. A problem created by primitive thinking can only be undone with modern thinking. And that is ultimately the solution not just to the Philippines’ traffic woes but to the Filipino Condition overall.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.