Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Old habits die hard

The revolution is stuck in a traffic jam

By M of www.eBalita.net

After many years, I came back to Bangkok to see old friends.

I have heard how Thailand has overtaken the Philippines economically. Don Muang airport looked the same. Honestly, I was not immediately awed by what I saw.... till the drive to the hotel.

The Bangkok I knew was still there. But it was hidden under the concrete highways and rail system. This definitely not old Siam .

Thai toll roads that would put our NLEX and SLEX to shame.. I saw a monorail system that was extensive and efficient. Underground, there was a subway system that is not even in the planning stage in the Philippines.

I read somewhere that it would take the Philippines ten years to catch up to where Thailand is now. Wow. Ganoon na ba kalayo ang agwat? Old time Filipinos in Thailand remember when it took 3 Thai Baht to buy a Philippine peso. Now the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas affirms that 1 Peso is equal to 1.43 Baht. Still it does not tell the whole story. A US dollar is equivalent to roughly 38.68 Baht. It takes roughly 56 pesos to match a dollar.

What happened? The question has been asked and answered in many fora. The topic has been beaten to death. Yet no solution is at hand. Pick your scapegoat. Religion? Culture? The World Bank? The Americans? Politicians /Government officials? The Military? The Rich? Marcos? Erap? GMA? The Enormous Debt, The Muslim and Communist Insurgency? Pick your excuse!

Traffic in Bangkok is just as bad as it is in Manila. The air pollution is noxious in both cities. Noise pollution though may be a different matter. I noticed though that our Filipino drivers honk their horn so much more than their Thai counterparts. I would go out on a limb and say that we Filipinos tend to be “noisier” than Thais. I may of course be wrong. But when I was in line at the Immigration and Customs line in Thailand’s Don Muang Airport, I swear you would hear a pin drop. It was quiet like a library. In contrast, while standing in line at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, I could have sworn that I was in a wet market. But let’s go back to talking about traffic. It is impossible to talk about the Philippines without talking about the horrendous traffic jams caused by uncaring drivers and pedestrians.

For those who have not been to Metro Manila in a while, driving will push you close to killing somebody or being killed yourself.

There is no such thing as “right of way.” Road courtesy is hard to come by. Lines on the street are either non-existent or not followed. Traffic signs are mere suggestions.

Traffic often crawls to a stand still. When this happens, people will drive on the shoulder. Worst yet, they will drive on the opposite side of the street - The locals call it "counter-flow." The practice does make sense when law enforcement uses a lane or two of the opposing lane to ease traffic on a more congested opposite lane. However, when drivers themselves decide when to "counter-flow" it is pure chaos.

Many will be shocked to know that at night, following traffic lights in Metro Manila's thoroughfares is optional. If you stop at a red light past midnight, and there are fewer cars on the road, drivers behind you may honk their horn at you and curse you if you wait for the light to turn green before you drive through an intersection. Come night time, Red does not mean STOP in Metro Manila.

Everybody knows that buses and jeepneys load and unload passengers anywhere they please. They honk their horns incessantly. It does not take a mechanic to know that vehicles are in such poor states of maintenance because they spew black poisonous smoke. Tricycles, pedicabs and even calesas vie for the limited road space available – dodging pedestrians along the way. It is pure hell.

Of course there are certain Filipino driving habits that just make you scratch your head. Have you noticed that many drivers in the Philippines will switch off their headlights to "save" on energy. Or how they pump on the gas just before they turn the engine off? Or how some drivers refuse to shut off the engine when filling up with gas? The traffic mess is so symptomatic of what is wrong with the Philippines.

Everybody wants a better Philippines. Everybody and his uncle always say progress is impossible without funds. Well here is something we can improve without money – How about discipline? It should not cost us a centavo. Gaano ba kahirap to follow internationally understood traffic rules. Red means Stop, Green means go. Even my 4 year old nephew understands that. Bakit di natin masunod yun? Di naman siguro tayo tanga. If people from other countries see this, will they not say na di tayo sibilisado? Ano ba naman ang kailangang gawin para sa tamang tawiran tumawid ang mga pedestrian? I pity Bayani Fernando, he is constantly fighting an uphill battle.

He recently put into effect a novel yet controversial way of keeping pedestrians off the streets.Called the Wet Flag Patrol, it is a truck-mounted 2-m-by-3-m ‘wet flag’ driven along the city’s streets, soaking pedestrians who stray off the curb.

People are divided about its efficacy. Some say it has come to this. Others say that embarrassing people into following the law does not work. One wrote a Manila broadsheet to say that the only thing it does is proclaim to the world that Filipinos are “morons.”

But are we morons? When did we stop crossing at pedestrian crossings? When did we stop heeding traffic signs and traffic lights? Personally, I think this illustrates the very basic flaw in Filipino society. How can we tackle huge economic debt, moral decay and other gargantuan tasks that confront us when we have a people who do not care to do what is right?

Everywhere you go in Manila, it does not take long whiff the putrid smell of garbage. In case you can’t find it, it should be where there is a huge sign that says “Bawal Magtapon ng Basura Dito.”

We are always quick to blame the lack of enforcement. True, our enforcement of laws could use a lot of improvement but if people do what is right, it should not matter.

Many essays and editorials have been written about what needs to be changed in Philippine government before, but for any change to take place, we must change the way we think. It is such a cliché that I throw up just a little. But it is true.


Sagad na nga ba sa buto ang pagka corrupt ng Pilipino? Corruption is a cancer that does not spare any of us.

Everytime one buys a pirated DVD, every time one dons a fake Lacoste shirt, every time one hands an MMDA officer money to get off a traffic ticket, every time you use a fixer to get your passport renewed, every time one asks or gives a favor in violation of some procedure. We are stained.

The true measure of a man’s character is what he does when nobody is looking. Often, we celebrate beating the law. As a people, we applaud when we escape punishment. We rejoice at beating “the system.” Tuwang tuwa tayo pag nakalusot! Masarap pag nakakalamang. Small pleasures of a downtrodden people. Are we so demoralized by society that we need to cheat the system for enjoyment? Have we lost our sense of what is good or bad?

Henry Mencken said that "The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught." Beating the system is a way of life in the Philippines. Many will swear it is the only way. But if we bribe our way out of the traffic ticket, we are just as corrupt as the MMDA officer who takes the hundred peso bill tucked in our driver’s license. It is a deadly circle of corruption patronage.

It is easy to see that corrupt men do not make good citizens. A national conscience so immune to corruption can not be free. Our brand of democracy is world-class in its dysfunction. It is such a bad example of what democracy is that people in the Philippines actually consider being ruled by a tyrant as a better alrernative. Can you imagine any other nation on earth asking to be ruled by a dictator?

Because of the culture of corruption and chaos. Our youth are disillusioned. The fire of idealism has been drenched with indifference. Marching in the streets has proved futile. Our farcical elections are useless money pits that only the rich can join. Our religion has become detached from what is real. Things are not looking too rosy.

The nation has not been able to nurse her sons and daughters at her bosom. Our doctors are leaving the country to become nurses. Our teachers have left to become domestic helpers. Our men have left our shores to work on foreign ships. Our women scurry to Japan to become “entertainers.” Who can blame them. Our country’s coffers and resources have long been drained. It is every man, woman and child for himself, yet they die of starvation. Bahala kayo sa buhay niyo. Basta ako ok mentality is the norm.

What is even more painful is that millions of Filipino OFW eyes have seen what a prosperous, thriving nation can be No not in their own country but in countries they toil in.

Their own eyes have seen that road discipline can amount to commuter convenience. That a well-planned system can accomplish efficiency. Filipinos who have gone abroad have rubbed elbows with citizens of other countries who willingly sacrifice their personal gain for the greater good. Yet when we are back at home we subscribe to the same destructive behavior that we frown on when we are on foreign soil? This has all been been said countless of times before. Maybe saying it just one more time will help us see how foolish we often are.

The reality of our dream for a better Philippines is not even in the horizon. The overdue revolution that we all desire has not happened. The change that would put us back on track will not emanate from a messianic leader. It will not be enforced by a junta. It needs to start with every Filipino wanting the same thing - a better Philippines.

It is postponed every time, we cheat. It is scrapped every time we give or take a bribe. It is aborted every time we put ME before ALL. At this rate, it will not happen in our lifetime.


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