No need for me to say that traffic is one of the banes of our life in this city of 12 million and counting. No adequate roads, hardly a modicum of discipline on them and finally the little despots along the way that drive us to the edge.
The following are the incidents within a week that my driver and I had to go through navigating through Metro Manila. Believe me, like many another I long for decent, safe and timely public transportation, something we apparently only experience when we are in a more orderly and better appointed city where its quality encourages the commuter to leave car behind and use it. Alas, we are not quite there yet.
On Wednesday last week, I was invited to see the sunset from the Bayleaf Hotel terrace in Intramuros. Some balikbayans were in town and what more appropriate event than the Manila sunset to experience. It was billed as starting at 5 pm for which I left my Mandaluyong residence at 4 pm. Passing Magsaysay Boulevard turned out to be the wrong choice, but maybe there was no other choice. I arrived after the better part of the sunset at 5:45 pm. But the company was good and the drinks and dinner were fine so happily I forgot the ordeal in time.
On the way home my driver and I agreed to take Roxas Boulevard, turn at Buendia and then reach EDSA. Traffic on Roxas Boulevard was moving and turning into Buendia was almost a breeze relatively speaking. As we approached the Buendia-Taft Avenue junction, it had surprisingly very light traffic and no mass of vehicles waiting at the corner to proceed. In fact as we got nearer someone on the island waved a flashlight to go ahead. As soon as we crossed, the flashlight holder, a Pasay City policeman judging by his blue uniform, dashed over signaling us to stop. We had intruded into some line that made for a traffic infraction. Neither my driver or I could decipher the line, there was no sign that said keep out of it if it was there at all, no red light had been passed. And didn’t his waving his flashlight back and forth mean proceed? So, when my mild-mannered driver asked what was wrong he was met with a high voice bellowing that he had committed a traffic violation. I was by then furious and told the so-called lawman there was no such thing as far as we could reasonably understand. More screeches about how we did this and that and where was the driver’s license. In cases like this, I prefer for the driver to surrender the license, get the receipt or ticket and pay the fine at whatever traffic management office. I will pay a fine, if necessary but not to a traffic policeman. But we noticed that he was not bringing out a receipt book or traffic ticket pad. He just went on and on about the “violation.” I let my driver take over and he mildly said for him to be told exactly what he did so he would not do it the next time. He stuck to that position over and over again until the now obvious extortionist realized it was not going to be easy getting a bribe from a cranky passenger and a mild driver. He let us go. I immediately reported the incident to my street-smart son who told me we had just been to the traffic trap of the Pasay City traffic aides – Buendia corner Taft. There they lie in wait.
He had been flagged down there too for nothing he could think was a violation. He even described the would-be extortionist to a T – a man well into his fifties, corpulent and bald. Then my memory came back that the last time I was stopped for a so-called traffic violation was also in that very place by a female policewoman in full police uniform of Pasay City. So, beware of this traffic trap that seems to have escaped the Napolcom, the Highway Patrol, Metro Manila Development Authority. I am sure it has not escaped the local government of Pasay City.
On Friday I was due for the 8pm Ballet Philippines opening of SarungBanggui at the CCP. Having experienced the traffic on Wednesday and it being a Friday, my driver and I decided we should leave my Mandaluyong home at 6 pm to make the 8pm curtain time. It took us an hour to get to Edsa and another hour to traverse it up to the Diosdado Macapagal Road that was equally busy. So much so that by 8:05 we had just turned into the wide road that leads to the side entrance of the CCP. The wide road was half vacant on the CCP side and clogged on the other half. My driver mistakenly thought the vacant side was to accommodate CCP goers so he slowly turned to it only to hit an improvised iron barrier and one motorcycle (among a whole slew parked nearby). CCP security guards who were gathered there in the dark for some unfathomable reason materialized and started yelling and screaming for my driver’s license, that he had caused an accident and that we could go no farther. I looked out of the window and saw a motorcycle lying on its side with no outward injury and said something to the effect that it seemed that it had not been damaged.
Whereupon the security guard owner screamed and said that that was an outright lie as there it was on the floor. How dare I said it was undamaged. I got down and looked, still no damage perceived. The boss came by flaunting his authority and said that this was the scene of an accident and no one could leave the scene. Well, I left the scene, hoofed it to the CCP side entrance. But before I left I said they had provoked the accident by putting an improvised bar with no light in a dark place. That considering what an obstacle course it is to get to the CCP from anywhere in Manila, they had to add one last obstacle of their own. And why was the road closed by half?
If these are the user- unfriendly traffic regulations that CCP security guards put up to frustrate already-late and harassed theatre-goers, it is time to re-think, re-train and re-do that security guard contingent. Totally unprofessional, incompetent and self-serving. And unprofessional by the way they yelled accusations. They had parked their motorcycles right behind the barrier for their comfort and ease and to hell with those who they are supposed to assist.
My last statement to the boss was that they were bullying my driver, all eight of them, against one who did hit the barrier in an accident they had provoked. I went off in a huff, late by one number and taking some time before I could enjoy the rest of the program for the unpleasantness outside.
When I got out, my driver materialized unscathed. He said that upon close inspection the motorcycle had not been damaged, that they finally admitted the improvised and unseen barrier had provoked the accident and had actually apologized. Too late for me who hardly could enjoy my visit to the CCP for what occurred along the way. If those traffic arrangements in the CCP are kept up, I will not be the last to experience the unpleasant experience.
It is not just traffic that one contends with in this city, it is egotism, venality and tyranny of those in charge of our streets.
[OpEd Editor’s note: This column should have appeared last Friday, but failed to make the deadline.]