Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Found this old editorial on the Inquirer, lamenting the state of our nation when it comes to traffic. This was written a few days after the tragic accident involving the Saguisags.

Sorry for posting the whole thing, but it tackles so many of the issues that plague us everyday that it was too difficult to provide a summary or selective quotes.

Tragic reminder

Last updated 01:27am (Mla time) 11/11/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Party and political affiliations were set aside in sympathy, following the tragic accident that cost the life of Dulce Saguisag and left her husband Rene fighting for his life in a hospital. It is no exaggeration to say that the country united in grief over the passing of Dulce, and continues to follow with keen concern the medical condition and recovery of Rene himself.

Truly we are a compassionate people; also a people who are driven to take stock of the problems that such tragedies starkly remind us of. In this case, the behavior of motorists.

A near-total absence of road courtesy has long been the bane of motorists, commuters and pedestrians alike. And the public has constantly bewailed the low quality of driver education. Likewise, the opportunistic—instead of fair and consistent—application of driving laws, invoked for the financial benefit of local governments and individual policemen and traffic aides, has been a cause of constant frustration and the continuing erosion of respect for law enforcers.

As exasperating, if not more, is the fact that the use, or abuse, of police power and the selective application of regulations start from the top and extend all the way to the bottom. All sorts of executive issuances exist limiting the use of sirens and police escorts to only a few officials, but even those officials entitled to such escorts violate the law. How many presidential and Cabinet convoys have we seen that include cars that don’t even have license plates? How many officials not entitled to escorts do we encounter weaving in and out of traffic—or causing traffic themselves, or engaging in counter-flows—on a daily basis? No official could possibly be in such a rush all the time, particularly during peak traffic hours when the rest of the citizenry patiently endures the congestion of our roads.

And when it comes to official plates which, besides being a sign of rank, are supposed to have the practical purpose of informing the public of what officials are up to and where they’re going, how many vehicles with such plates are used by the wives and children of officials, with neither the public nor school authorities penalizing such abuse?

The list goes on and on, down to the spotty implementation of laws requiring the use of seatbelts and prohibiting cell phone use while driving, as well as laws on the clear marking of license plate numbers on motorcycle helmets and anti-smoke belching ordinances; not to mention archaic laws such as the penal code prohibition on citizens sorting out traffic jams because it constitutes “usurpation of authority.”

It is only government that has the power to issue driver’s licenses and land transport franchises. But we have rampaging buses on the roads, because of the promiscuous awarding of franchises without imposing regular schedules at bus stops. The result, particularly at night: buses racing against each other as drivers compete for passengers with murderous results. Add to this the problem of drug addiction among bus drivers.

These perils become magnified once darkness falls, with major thoroughfares unlit, traffic lights permanently put on yellow out of laziness, signs that are either obscure or unhelpfully placed, enforcers absent from the streets—again, the catalogue is endless, and the miseries are constant yet unnoticed precisely because they’re so commonplace. Until the prominent become affected.

There should be no contradiction between the desire of people to drive for a living, the different kinds of transportation required, the government’s licensing power, and the expectation from commuters, drivers and pedestrians alike that some sort of order and reason can exist on our streets, throughout the land, at any time of the day.

But this requires a fundamental adherence to public service. This means officials showing courtesy to the public on the road, and this starts with government ensuring that only those who are qualified get to drive, and that those who drive for a living do so for wages and for periods of time that do not challenge the limits of their physical and mental endurance.

But it seems that the prevalent attitude treats vehicles and drivers only as objects to be extorted from, at licensing or for traffic violations.