Why did the Philippines grow a car culture to begin with? Filipinos can neither make cars nor fuel them using their own domestic resources. They neither have the roads on which to drive them comfortably nor the discipline and precision of design to keep traffic flowing smoothly. Indeed, what the supposed “car culture” Filipinos take pride in actually achieved was to reveal to the world the true nature of Filipino character.
One can learn a lot about the Philippines from the perspective of motoring. This is a culture — and industry — that Filipinos acquired from colonisers and is an industry bankrolled by foreign capital. It drains Filipinos of their savings and disincentivises investment in modern public mass transportation. Despite how pervasive motoring is in the Philippines, however, it is not as deeply-ingrained in the fabric of Filipino life as everyone thinks it is.
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For a motoring culture to be truly ingrained in a society, said society needs to know how to make motor vehicles to begin with. No such industry of consequence emerged in the Philippines. This is because the Philippines lacks a strong tradition of engineering and technological achievement. To run a world-class automotive industry, a society needs to possess a strong appreciation for precision. Unfortunately, precision is not a Filipino thing. Filipinos plan for the future in an imprecise manner, citing a point in time as a vague mamaya-maya. They refer to something that needs to be produced as yung ano, and where to deliver the product as doon lang sa tabi-tabi.
Indeed, the very language Filipinos speak is imprecise. Every Tagalog sentence is hopelessly subject to such a wide range of interpretation as to render it useless for managing modern enterprises or mounting large complex undertakings. Take the instructional sentence Paki ano yung ano dyan sa tabi-tabi mamaya-maya. This could mean anything from “Could you please clean the bathroom downstairs near the exit this afternoon” to “Please finish this report and send it to Juan up on 20th floor tonight”.
It is also difficult to cite specifics when using Tagalog. Whereas the English language has several words for a tool used to pound something — a hammer, mallet, gavel, sledgehammer, etc. Tagalog only offers martilyo. Thus it is no wonder Filipinos have no ethic of using the right tool for the right job — it is because they lack a precise regard for tools. The fact that Filipinos are happy with their language and defend it like rabid fundamentalists is a testament to this bizarre embrace of the nebulous and imprecise.
This ethic of imprecision is behind why no modern technology-dependent infrastructure ever runs smoothly in the Philippines. Trains don’t run on time. In fact, no trains run to a timetable to begin with. This is because Filipinos cannot be bothered to run things to a schedule thanks to their comfyness with notions of mamaya-maya as bases for their timekeeping. For that matter, trains frequently break down because scheduled maintenance is just not a Filipino thing. This is, after all, a society with no notion of scheduling. In fact, there is no Tagalog word for schedule. Thus no trains and no buses run on time. Because “on time” finds no reference in Philippine society. There is only Filipino Time and it is based on the unit of time Filipinos refer to as mamaya-maya.
What does this have to do with driving? Well, everything.
For traffic to run smoothly, you need precise road rules and roads and signage designed to be precisely consistent with these rules. The rule “right lane must turn right” only means something when there is a lane marked with an arrow pointing right on a road to guide motorists accordingly. “No Parking” or the “P” encircled in red with with a red slash across it should always mean no parking. There is no “strictly no parking”. Precise words need no further qualification. When there is no consistency across rules, guidance in following these rules, and the means to enforce them, there can be no order on Philippine roads. That fact is glaringly evident. The root causes, perhaps, not as.
Because Filipinos possess nothing in their cultural tradition to appreciate the profound disciplines needed to run cars and make them, it will be very hard to change the way Filipinos use and share their roads anytime soon. Filipinos are like kids living in their parents’ homes. They consume but have no understanding nor appreciation of how what they consume comes about.
Next time a Filipino complains about rising fuel prices, ask her this: Why are you so dependent on a car? The answer to that will, of course be “Because public transport is inefficient.” And from there, the conversation becomes even more interesting.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.