How I Survived Manila

Buildings crowding like people

Buildings crowding like people

I spent most of my life in Metro Manila, but I must say that the animal that it has become today is much different from the place I used to call home. Growing up in the city, I was not afraid of crowds. I crossed the roads with impunity, challenging all vehicular traffic to hit me at their risk. Back in college, I even taught some of my friends to follow the maxim: “Cross as if you own the road”. To be fair, this maxim has kept me alive from the age I started commuting on my own (all of 10 years old, but I have been commuting several years prior with company) and, also, this was something taught to me by the drivers back in the day. They said that it was better for people to walk with confidence in crossing the road because it was easier to predict where they would go. In comparison, hesitant crossers would be difficult to second guess so the driver does not know whether to drive behind or cut him at the front.

All of last week, I realized that this no longer holds true. Drivers are now driving as if they own the road. Another maxim learned from my traffic safety mentors in the past (drivers of old) was that it made more sense for drivers to give way to pedestrians because the damage that they can cause is greater–with great power comes great responsibility, after all. Today, it seems that drivers no longer feel accountable if they hit a pedestrian, thus making them feel as if they can drive around with impunity and express road rage when thwarted by the pedestrians. The excuse? They are not walking along the pedestrian crossing, so it’s fine to hit them–legal liability will be on the pedestrian and not the driver. From a legal standpoint, true, but in terms of driving ethics I think there is still room for debate. Of course, culpability is shared when the person hit is crossing outside of the pedestrian lane. In this case, pedestrians need to assume responsibility for the consequences of crossing illegally. However, it is beyond the pale when drivers do not even respect the pedestrian space and lash out in rage when pedestrians walk all over–especially during the red light. They refuse to give pedestrians space, but they resent it when pedestrians cross anyway.

When I was younger, the symbiotic relationship between pedestrians and drivers were regulated by a feedback loop of communication. Drivers talked to young kids (and other likely inexperienced pedestrians) like me, mentoring about traffic safety. If children are precocious enough, they learn more about etiquette and rules that would keep the peace between drivers and pedestrians.

Unfortunately, those old curmudgeonly drivers have become scarce in the cities. Drivers of public utility vehicles go about their work with anger and get very aggressive when approached. Road safety and traffic rules are not taught in schools and parents–beyond giving one line or two about keeping safe–are not always present to impart lessons that could save lives.

Nationalism is a key term lately because of that (excellent) movie Heneral Luna. Although when Luna was asking the people to serve their country, it was in the context of the war against the Americans. Today, I hope that people imbibe the spirit of nationalism by serving people the best way that they can. If you are a driver, don’t get angry at pedestrians, other drivers, and your own passengers. Serve them well because they are people that you have to keep safe while you are in a position of power in the road. If they don’t return the favor, let it pass. Most probably, they have yet to be educated in proper etiquette–and as a person once said to me–“Hindi kasi yan Pilipino”.

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