Traffic > Gridlock

Dear Filipino drivers, please stop going with the flow

A German expatriate’s appeal to Pinoy motorists

Filipino drivers park wherever they want to. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Having lived and worked in a few countries around the world by now—including the Philippines, of course—I have made an observation that I would like to share with you. A hypothesis, if you will, formed from looking at daily life and presented here for your opinion and comment.

Filipinos are among the best drivers in the world. They are disciplined and law-abiding when behind the wheel of a car, well trained and fully qualified when driving a bus or a truck, and always courteous and wearing a helmet while riding a motorbike. Yes, Filipinos are among the best drivers in the world—as long as they’re driving outside of the Philippines.

Filipino drivers don't like waiting in line. PHOTO FROM ERWIN ELIAS DAVID

See it for yourself. Go to another country and have a look around, or simply search the news in a place with a large OFW population like Greece or Great Britain. I bet you five liters of diesel that you won’t find much. You’re not going to encounter many stories about Philippine passport holders getting into trouble on foreign roads.

The problem seems to start when Pinoys get into the driver’s seat on home soil. For some reason, around here, turning the ignition on also seems to flick a switch in everyone’s head that engages Wild West mode and causes the rule book to be thrown out the window. You can be the most law-abiding driver elsewhere in the world, but take to the road in Metro Manila and Driving Miss Daisy instantly turns into The Dukes Of Hazard meets Falling Down. The $64,000 question, of course, is why.

Filipino drivers don't care about others. PHOTO FROM ROMMEL ZAMORA

One theory to explain the mess we’re in puts the blame at the feet of the system itself. Or, to be more precise, at the corrupt and broken condition of it. Over time, the state of traffic—as well as many other aspects of everyday life that ultimately affect what happens on the road—has been allowed to deteriorate so much that, these days, you stand out if you’re not breaking the rules. That’s a sad state of affairs that sometimes leads to abnormal situations where it actually becomes harder to stick to the regulations than to just go with the flow and be done with it. Example: The good old melodramatic money dance performed by unscrupulous traffic enforcers who pull you over for a made-up violation and then pseudo-caringly explain to you that retrieving your license from the city hall is such a hassle, and that settling matters here and now would be sooooo much easier.

Metro Manila is a chaotic, unruly and rough playing field for a giant game of Last Man Standing

The whole system has simply been tainted from top to bottom. Once in a while, you hear someone publicly claiming that if only drivers were more disciplined, or if only we were all nicer to each other, the traffic woes would soon go away. Such an attitude is not only dangerously naive, but it also completely ignores the reality of things. You just need to look at the state of Metro Manila to understand that. As much as I have learned to love this place with all its imperfections, it’s still not a nice megalopolis and probably never will be. It’s a chaotic, unruly and rough playing field for a giant game of Last Man Standing, where 20,000,000 people compete with each other every day on everything from getting a parking space to making it home before the kids fall asleep. It’s a dog-eat-dog world filled with stress, noise, pollution and little to no social net or backup if things go wrong. You don’t fix this place by telling people to be nice to each other.

To put it bluntly, it’s not easy to be the better man when the system is rigged against you and when things are so messed up that wrong has become the new right. If you check the laws of the Philippines, you will see that pretty much everything already has regulations. There are traffic rules, checks against corruption and bribery, and even a Clean Air Act. Yet look around you and you’ll get the sense that none of them exist. The cold truth is that rules and laws are worth nothing if they are not enforced properly and applied equally. I’m a true believer in leadership by example. You cannot make rules for others and then not stick to those rules yourself. “Do as I do” and not “do as I say” is what moves people forward.

Filipino drivers like to go on a constant power trip. PHOTO FROM JOSEF REYES

The single biggest cause of traffic problems in the Philippines are dishonest and iniquitous minds operating within a venal system. There are glimmers of hope and progress shining through the darkness though, and this is where the focus should be placed: on the good people, the commendable political leaders, and the exemplary individuals on all levels. It may seem that there are just a few of them, but don’t be fooled: This country is populated with millions of honorable souls who want a better future—of that there is no doubt. The required change to sort out this mess has to come from above and within, so if you know any people who are doing a good job and the right thing, then support them in any way you can and let us know as well. We would much rather write about good deeds and positive developments than constantly rant about the same old tales of negativity.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.