An old German proverb states that a man should do three things in his life: plant a tree, build a house and father a child. So far, I’ve managed two out of three. There’s a fir tree growing in the Bavarian town where I grew up, and while I haven’t technically built a house, I’m just going to argue that buying an apartment is just as good. That only leaves one accomplishment to be completed, but one thing has become increasingly clear to me: I won’t be raising my child in Metro Manila. While you could list countless non-motoring-related reasons as to why this city is toxic, just taking a look at what’s happening on the roads is enough to make you want to remain childless forever.
Let’s start with the often-invisible killer that surrounds us all: air pollution. A study by the World Health Organization released earlier this year ranked the Philippines third in the Asia-Pacific region for deaths due to outdoor air pollution, at 45.3 per 100,000. Only China (81.5) and Mongolia (48.8) had more people dying as a direct result of the toxic air we are forced to breathe every day. This is an issue that could, at the very least, be properly addressed—if not mostly resolved—if the political will existed. Sadly, the omnipresent mixture of corruption and general disinterest among the powers-that-be means that change for the better is happening way too slowly.
Which is actually quite narrow-minded of the people powerful and influential enough to clean up our roads and air via the political process. Do these folks really think that just because they live in a posh village and send their kids to school in the back of an S-Class instead of a school bus, pollution will stop at their doorstep? Hardly. Dirty air surrounds us all and doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor. It brings the gifts of heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer to everyone eventually. So, based on air pollution levels alone, it’s safe to say that this is no place for young lungs to take their first breath of life.
Based on air pollution levels alone, it’s safe to say that this is no place for young lungs to take their first breath of life
Even if you disregard the bad air, kids at some point need an education, and that inevitably means a daily school run. Let’s say I’m driving Frank Jr. myself—having passed the quite strict German driving exam many years ago and managed thousands of kilometers of crash- and ticket-free motoring since then—I’m still joining a giant game of Russian roulette on wheels every day. Basically, it doesn’t matter if you’re a sensible driver sitting in a safe car if the tired truck operator behind you “loses his brakes.” To drive a truck or bus in Germany, you normally have to complete a three-year apprenticeship that will give you a proper qualification as a professional driver. To drive the same heavy machinery in the Philippines, all you need is a good fixer at the LTO.
Road safety standards around here are shocking in more ways than I could ever describe in a single article. From lethal steel-bumper jeepneys to bus drivers who seem to have won their driving license in the lottery—it’s a motoring jungle out there. Not even mentioning corrupt traffic officers who only make things worse (and who love to stop foreigners, by the way), and the many other issues that come with driving.
That is, of course, if you manage to do much actual driving. Traffic keeps getting worse as more and more households are buying into the dream of automotive freedom—a dream that quickly turns into a nightmare when you notice that Carmageddon has now become an almost regular occurrence. Sitting in your car for long periods of time not only robs you of precious moments you should be spending with your family or friends, it also shortens your lifespan. Hypertension, respiratory problems, ulcers, neck and back pains, and even heart attacks can all be induced by sitting behind the wheel for too long. Extra life-shortening points if you’ve already been sitting at work all day before driving home, of course.
Don’t get me wrong: I still love this country and this megalopolis. But all the opportunities hidden within the fascinating madness that is Metro Manila are worth nothing if the sum of all things ends up making your life miserable or worse. If we want a prosperous future for this place, then things have to change and we can no longer afford to wait for government to do something. I’m by far not the only one who thinks like this, with more and more people noticing that we cannot continue the way of life we have now. The choice is either leave the city or do something so it becomes a better environment. Go cycle, buy an electric scooter or rally your local politicians for better urban planning. There’s always something you can do, and we owe it to the future generation to at least try.