My Perspective on the Car Culture in the Philippines

Traffic in Manila
Trapik and usok

I remember getting up one morning at 4 am to go from San Ildefonso, Bulacan to Tagaytay.

Here in Italy people get up that early to avoid being stuck in traffic and all you can find on the road at 4-4,30 am is few people who work night shifts and little more.

Sure enough, even in Bulacan, the National Highway was clear at 4,30 am and so was the North Luzon Expressway. But when we got to the toll gate and entered the E.D.S.A. Avenue……… naku po(gi) grabe ang trapik! (“my goodness, traffic was a heck of a mess”).

It took us more than 5 hours to make it to the South Luzon Expressway as traffic was not moving an inch on the EDSA but, once on the South Luzon Expressway traffic was smooth again and we made it relatively quickly to Lake Taal.

But why are cities and even much smaller towns in the Philippines so jammed with trapik?

One reason is certainly the cronic lack of adequate infrastructures but, as a foreigner married to a Filipina, my idea is that way too many Filipinos often use cars, tricycles and jeepneys unnecessarily.

The palengke of Barangay Pinaod where my wife is from is only situated less than 500 meters from my wife’s house and yet people would rather flag down a tricycle than walk.

My idea is that one of the root causes (besides of course lack of an adequate rail system) of the trapik and usok (“smog”) problem lies in the deep-seated car culture of Filipinos or, more in general, the sasakyan (any means of transportation) culture.

I am one of those who used not to have a car and I had no desire whatsoever to have one, I walk a lot and I love biking.

Yet, after marrying my Filipina, things changed for me because of the car culture of Filipinos (at least the ones I interact with).

I remember being repeatedly told by many of my Filipino friends “Italyano ka, bakit wala kang kotse?” (“You are an Italian, how come you don’t have a car?”). For them mayaman (“rich”…..well, I am not rich but many Filipinos here only have dealings with their rich employers and so in their mind all Italyano are mayaman or rich) equals dapat may kotse (“you have to have a car”) and if you don’t you are tanga (“very stupid”).

Not all Filipinos have a car here but the ones who don’t have one are simply the ones who, right now, can’t afford one but, as soon as they can, buying a car is their number one priority, also because here trains and buses don’t take you to every single corner of the city and you can’t avoid walking at least few hundred meters to get to the bus or metro stop and we don’t have any tricycle service here…

As for me, simply going out for a walk with my wife (as I used to do with my old friends) doesn’t compute, going out equals going to a restaurant (or anywhere else) always by car.

So the strong car culture of Filipinos (or sasakyan in general) and lack of willingness on the part of many to walk even a short distance is largely responsible, I guess, for much of the trapik and usok in the Philippines but it seems to me that wherever they go Filipinos carry the car culture with them.

I have noticed that there is a debate going on in the Philippines about modernizing jeepneys, some would like to modernize them, some resist the change, but modern jeepneys don’t have wings and can’t fly and, even if they introduced electric jeepneys they would still jam the roads.

And maybe building new skyways invites even more cars.

I am not an expert so I can’t suggest long-term solutions but I think kaunting lakad (“a little willingness to walk a bit more”) would help reduce usok and trapik at least to some extent.

As for me, the bright side is that I can at least rely on the diskarte (“ability to creatively fix things”) and the bayanihan spirit (“helping one in need”) of most of my Filipino friends to fix my car at almost zero-cost….

A Filipino friend of mine spent the whole afternoon fixing a few issues my car had and he didn’t even want any money….I had to insist to give him something

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