Driving In The Philippines

by Ronnie Hoyle

VISITORS to the Philippines find many things ‘odd’ about the country…for at least the first half century…but after that they seem to get used to it – except for one thing: they do not know how to drive Philippine-style.

It is, in fact, very easy: jump into the car, slam it into gear – any one is acceptable as long as you put one foot on the thingy nearest the door first to avoid that crunching sound – take off the handbrake (if you have one that works), put your other foot down on one of the other two pedals and see if the car moves. If it does, push that thingy to the floor and hang on to that other round thingy in front of you. Nothing else could be simpler.

Oh, one other thingy: try and keep the car on the road if you can (avoiding that palm tree which just jumped to where you were going to drive) and do not drop your cell phone – an important text message may come through at any second asking where you are and you will need to answer it immediately while on the move and before you get anywhere else.

Road tax? Insurance? Learning how to drive the car and read road signs? Driving licence? The man at the Department of Transport took my photo and gave me a bit of paper with a lot of questions on it, but since he knew all the answers already he just filled it out himself and asked for a couple of hundred pesos and told me to come back in a few months for a bit of plastic: what more do I need?
A driving test? A what???

That only applies to ‘foreigners’ who produce unreadable bits of paper in German, Japanese, French or some other foreign language, which actually says they have taken a driving test and have an International Driving Licence: it will take three months or more to decipher that one into Filipino-English. So, you do not have a licence or have not passed a test: where is the car you drove here?

As for any other rules and regulations, they were only made up by spoilsport politicians so they could be ignored by people having fun. Of course, everyone knows you are supposed to drive on the right, but that only applies to the person coming towards you and that stupid guy behind with the flashing lights and wailing siren who is trying to overtake you when you are trying to overtake everyone else.

Forget about the origins of the English driving system, where you rode your horse on the left side and also wore your sword on the left side so you could draw it with your right hand and engage the enemy sword-to-sword in the middle of the track – protecting most of your body - as your horses rode toward each other…it does not work quite that way in the Philippines: there are few horses and most people seem to be left-handed anyway, and fighting bolo-to-bolo on carabao-back has always been a mite more slow and artistically complicated.

Not only that, you actually have to know your left from your right…and many Filipinos have not mastered that particular art yet.
And those rocks all over the road? Avoid them if you can: the big ones are where someone’s’ parking brake was left after it dropped off following a visit to someone else’s girlfriend and the pile of rocks with the lamp/candle on top is where someone got killed and his relatives want someone else to join him quickly because he does not know the way to where he is supposed to go…

* Signalling? If you have successfully passed the left-right examination, play with those little levers on the steering column and go in the opposite direction: if not, stick a hand (any one) out of the window and wiggle it about a bit. If you still haven’t decided which way to go, blast the horn, turn anyhow and let the other driver sort it out by reading your mind. Turn, grin and wave back nicely to the other gentleman waving to you once your manoeuvre is complete.

* Road junctions? Do not stop and look right or left – keep staring straight ahead and concentrate on keeping your vehicle moving forward in any direction. The other drivers on the road have eyes (and may possibly have brakes) so let them look at you and take any avoiding action that is necessary. If that proves impossible, try and blame some other sucker, including your wife’s dead grandmother, who suddenly materialised in front of you from nowhere as a ghostly white lady.

* Pedestrian crossings? If you see one, ignore it. These are only made to fool pedestrians into thinking that it is a safe place to cross the road: they are simply put there so you can line pedestrians up and run them down far more easily – continue taking advantage of the Government’s generous offer.

* Corners on the road? These, too, can be ignored. They are made to use up a microscopic amount of your gasoline and stop you getting to where you want to go as fast as you can. In fact, they were the road construction team’s design fault which should have been straightened out years ago – you are simply helping by attempting to correct their mistakes now.

* Yellow lines? An inexcusable and complete waste of money by the Government, often used on so-called dangerous corners – which years ago never existed - and which should never have been built in the first place: ignore them and the dangerous corner will disappear once the road straightens out. You can, of course, take a corner at speed in a car without going over the yellow lines if you manage to get two wheels of the vehicle off the ground.

* School signs? Designed to give you advance warning of where you will collide with frolicking children next or oncoming traffic if you continue at your usual speed on the wrong side of the road: a useful indication of a cheap sari-sari store in the vicinity.

* Rumble strips? Any rough road which accidentally links two sections of either asphalt and/or concrete is a rumble strip and can be ignored by most traffic: it is meant to slow you down and wake you up before road junctions. Going faster makes the rumble strip smoother by compacting down the rubble which makes it up or makes the holes deeper: both of which are advantageous to some motorists.

* Holes in the ground? These are placed strategically a few meters before the approach to a vulcaniser. If not, they are another form of rumble strip or a test of your ability to keep the vehicle on the road without bursting the tyres or needing the services of a garage to repair your springs.

* Parking and reversing? Get someone else to do it: you’ve caused enough damage already this week and you’ve been lucky enough to get away with it without anyone else noticing the extra dents in either vehicle or the hole in the side of the house.

* Lights? Only to be used in extreme emergency – like driving on the dark side of the moon or finding out whether you have enough money left over for another couple of beers and a bottle of rhum before you get home. Anyway, the other guy has lights so he can see your car just before he or you rear/front-end each other.

* Brakes? Well, they might be useful in some cases, especially if you have the type that squeak, squeal and shudder nicely and sound very dramatic and make everyone else jump out of the way and turn around to look at how important you are, but it is much better to give a good old blast on that really essential horn and see if the other chap has more effective brakes that stop him from crashing into you.

* Road signs? Only take notice of any that you can see or read, or which tell you to do what you want to do anyway. If you can see and read a sign that you do not like, try and run it over so you can pretend it was never there. If a policeman signals you to stop, speed up…he will not even bother to try and outrun you and his police vehicle probably has no gasoline, because he used it all up yesterday when he took his family out shopping with his ‘tips’ from work last week.

* Traffic lights? Where you see them, ignore them in any town or city: they are leftover Christmas decorations and do not mean anything for motorists, even if they work. Flashing stop lights on vehicles, however, indicate that the driver is not a mechanic and has not learned how to use them to add extra decoration to his karaoke machine at home.

* Passenger safety? Do not bother with the seat belts: they only get in the way when you are smooching with your latest girlfriend as you drive along or when stretching for the beers that are always just out of reach on the passenger floor.

* But what if you do crash? Immediately stop and look around quickly for someone else to blame, especially if you see a person who looks like a ‘millionaire’ white man in the vicinity. It is his fault because he was in the country doing nothing whatsoever, except looking at where he was going or window-shopping, so you had to stare at him blankly and could not see the truck/jeepney/bus/car/people/carabao/pig or tree immediately in front of you. If he was not there at that precise moment, you would never have been distracted and the accident would never have happened: ergo – it is his fault that you cannot drive safely so he must pay for any damages to anything as well as all hospital bills, including your grandmother’s hysterectomy operation. If you unfortunately see no one else to blame, drive away at double the speed before the other driver comes to and knows who was driving your car.

* And if you see another car in an accident? Close your eyes and keep driving and try and cause your own: pretend this one did not really happen; it was just your imagination. If you do stop for some reason (maybe the road is blocked by dozens of other voyeurs wandering around helplessly like yourself) start to scream and shout like everyone else and get in the way of any would-be rescuers, but do not help the victim…you will be blamed for the accident, even if it happened half-an-hour before you arrived on the scene. If, however, you really cannot get past after blasting on the horn a few times, turn around and go home as fast as possible…or hide behind the nearest bush until someone else clears things up and it is safe to proceed to the nearest bar without being followed. You may, however, follow someone else to a bar if he/she will pay for the drinks needed to calm your nerves and will also pay for anything else you may have found at the crash scene, including the victim’s left arm still sporting his gold rings and the fake Rolex wristwatch.

* Best driving technique? Employ someone to drive you anywhere and everywhere: there will always be someone else to blame for anything at all…even your grandmother’s hysterectomy.