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
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
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
* 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.
Kilroy Was Here © 2006