Main Roads and Back Roads: Extremes in the Philippines

One of the things I could not help but notice in the Philippines is the contrast between wealth, modernity and efficiency at its peak and the backward and the extremely inefficient.

One of the things that most highlight this contrast is road maintenance.

In the Philippines there are long stretches of road that are very well maintained and there are no potholes in several miles. I remember, for example, driving all the way from Bulacan to La Union and I must admit that several stretches of the Mc Arthur Highway were perfectly paved.

Most back roads and country roads however are lubak-lubak or filled with potholes and it is quite clear that they have been paved using inferior materials.

In my wife’s town, namely San Ildefonso, Bulacan, the main road, which is a National Highway that leads all the way to Isabela, is perfectly paved while the road leading to my wife’s barangay is in very bad shape, the asphalt is uneven and there are potholes everywhere. Also many back roads are not even paved, they are gravel roads at best.

Road maintenance is one of the metaphors that illustrate what the Philippines is like. The Philippines is a land of sharp contrasts: you either find things that are well-built or things that are made in a diskarte fashion.

There are homes that I call “patchwork” homes where the walls are made up of whatever is available and the roof is just a metal sheet somehow welded on top of the “patchwork” walls.

Other homes are incredibly well-built (I am not an expert in the field of construction so mine is a non-technical opinion, it is just what appears to my eyes). For example I noticed that in my wife’s house the roof rests on pillars made of reinforced concrete and between the pillars the walls are built with hollow blocks and the walls are reinforced with more concrete and steel bars so, to me, at least compared to how many homes have been built in my country (using very little steel, if any at all), it seems that in the Philippines they have very advanced building techniques that are in sharp contrast with the “patchwork” homes and in San Ildefonso Bulacan alone I have seen several homes built that way.

So, my impression is that Filipinos are people who either do crappy work or they do an excellent job, there does not seem to be a middle ground. My impression is that Filipinos are capable of doing quality labour and meeting the highest standards and in the Philippines there are several areas where you don’t really have the impression of being in a third world country. There are areas where roads are perfect, buildings are modern and where you find all kinds of modern conveniences and where a foreigner may well have the impression of being in a first world country.

It is just that behind the corner, few blocks away, a much different reality reveals itself and you realize that you are neither in Japan nor in South Korea but in a land where very low-quality structures and infrastructures are situated close to the most advanced ones.

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