‘The gates of hell’


TWO years ago, many Filipinos were enraged over best-selling author Dan Brown’s depiction of Manila as “the gates of hell” in his novel “Inferno”. A fictional character in the book mentioned “six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, horrifying sex trade.”

Filipinos who reacted strongly against the use of these offending words would now probably agree with Dan Brown especially if they get stuck in horrendous traffic jams almost anywhere in Metro Manila, not just in the city of Manila.

In a Vogue magazine interview in 1998, American actress Claire Danes described Manila as a “ghastly and weird city” and said in another magazine interview that it “smelled of cockroaches” and that “there’s no sewage system in Manila, and people have nothing there…people with, like, no arms, no legs, no eyes, no teeth.”

If those who declared Claire Danes “persona non grata” have been traveling around Metro Manila these days, I wonder how they now feel, 17 years after.

My parents who were born in the province before the war used to say that during their younger days, Manila was like a dream land. It was their ultimate dream to study and reside in Manila.

Perhaps they were equating Manila to success, that you are “big time” when you finish your studies and work in Manila.

However, when they were older and they had to go to Manila for a few days for a medical checkup or brief vacations, they were often in a hurry to go back to the province, which was just over an hour away.

I read somewhere that Manila was one of Asia’s most beautiful cities while Singapore was a crime-ridden part of Malaysia. The tide has turned. Singapore is now an independent state and is one of the most prosperous in the region while Manila is earning a negative image as a crime-ridden city that stinks.

It is sad, but true. And it is not just Manila, but Metro Manila. Manila is just one of the 16 cities that comprise Metro Manila.

The worsening traffic congestion all over the megapolis is a clear indication that it is overcrowded. Pollution is turning worse and many basic services are severely lacking, if not absent. It is not the nicest place to live in anymore.

Metropolitan areas in other developing countries face the same problems of traffic jams, pollution, and poor basic services, but not in the same magnitude as Metro Manila’s. And we have not seen the worst. I can’t imagine how the traffic situation would be during the Christmas season.

No amount of ranting on social media or in the privacy of our cars and homes can help solve the traffic congestion that seemingly gets worse by the day. It used to take me just 15 minutes from my home to the nearest shopping mall. Then it became 30 minutes. The other day, I wasted an hour and 10 minutes to meet a friend there. Argh…!

What caused the congestions? Too many cars on the road, many with either undisciplined or irritated drivers; retrofitting of a short bridge that will take five months to finish; outer lanes used either as parking space or talipapa; pedestrians refusing to use the sidewalk to wait for a ride or crossing just anywhere, rendering pedestrian lanes and footbridges useless.

Roads get flooded after a brief rain because waterways are clogged with garbage. Creeks and canals direly need desilting.

We cannot and should not blame everything on government, especially on a government with priorities other than making sure that the limited road networks are maximized.

We have more than enough rules and laws to make sure that things work, that vehicular traffic flow moves smoothly, and we can only wish that these are observed and enforced strictly.

Most of the taxi drivers I have talked to in recent days admit having violated traffic rules, but they said they and others still do it because most of the time they can get away with it. They just needed to always have a “Ninoy Aquino Bill” ready for a traffic enforcer who would try to accost them for the violation.

Mang Roger, who has been driving a taxi for more than 10 years, said he would behave on the road if law enforcers cannot be bribed and if rules are enforced strictly for all, not just selectively, or at random. He believes that other drivers would do the same, if only the laws prevail, regardless of who is involved.

The problems we face now are caused by many years of neglect. These did not just spring up in 2010 when the present administration took over power. But mismanagement made it worse. Dan Brown’s depiction of Manila as the “gates of hell” seems to be turning real.

The Highway Patrol Group (HPG) has yet to show its efficiency and competence in easing the hell-like situation on Edsa. They better make sure that a smooth traffic flow on Edsa won’t mean hell on C-5 and other alternate routes.


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  1. Not only are metro manila creeks and waterways clogged with silt and garbage, most no longer exist. Many well connected developers and powerful individuals have managed to reclaim what used to be protected waterways and built structures over them causing great harm on our environment.

  2. The smell of cockroaches, smell of sewage, smell of garbage, gates of hell and other ghastly depiction of the metro Manila area are all accurate there is no other way to describe it. Filipinos can be personal and offended by this issue but the air in Manila is so horrible it will make you sick as soon as you deplane and set foot at the airport. Overpopulation is every nations problem, but there is no excuse about having a nation that smells like sewage.

    Keeping its environment clean is not really a Filipino thing and if “God” were to descend on planet earth I’m sure the Philippines is not a place He would want to be.

  3. that’s why its a failed state and the people themselves is the problem. no discipline. the country will remain as such until the citizens change themselves.

    • this attitude of the pinoys are due to what we call ‘ningas cogon’ attitude of gov’t in implementing laws or ordinances, for lgu. mahihigpit ngayon at bukas pero sa susunod na mga araw ay wala na. everybody back to the good old ways. just go to quiapo or even front of manila city hallduring weekends, jeeps and buses clogging the roads waiting for passengers while the traffic enforces of isko are hiding near the metropolitan theatre waiting to pounce on private vehicle drivers committing a non-crime/violation of traffic rules called ‘swerving’. they let the puvs clogged the roads and the poor private vehicle driver avoid them so he can pass, he is stopped for ‘swerving’. this also happens in cubao