POSTSCRIPT / October 23, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why don't we protest gas price hikes instead?

LAST FLING: Driving out today? Maybe you should, if only to escape even just for a day the insidious insanity of city driving and to soak in the verdant fields and the mountains in the horizon.

Value-Added Tax will pad fuel prices soon by about 6 percent over and above the weekly 50-centavo-per-liter increases that a conniving government has allowed to creep in during the past several months.

We cannot hoard the high-octane commodity, so we motorists survive from tank to tank, from day to day. It may sound crazy, but if you can afford it, you might want to enjoy a weekend trip burning a tankful of gasoline before VAT barges in to spoil the fun.

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BOYCOTT IDEA: Some harassed motorists are campaigning to have everybody patronize only one chosen gas dealer (say, Petron or one of the small players) so the sale of the boycotted stations will drip dry and they are forced to lower their prices to win back customers.

The boycott said they want to spark a price war, but this weary motorist logging about 200 kilometers a day still cannot comprehend how it works to our advantage in the long run. I wish they could explain the boycott in a 60-word paragraph.

What many of us want to see is for the bishops, the radicals, the politicians, and everyone claiming to care for the suffering population to stage massive demonstrations against the avaricious oil companies short of burning some service stations and tankers.

With such a pro-people intention, protesters can draw huge crowds from all sectors — provided no red flags are seen within a kilometer of the march or procession (or whatever synonym they want to call the protest action).

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OIL OLIGOPOLY: Price is supposed to be dictated by supply and demand. But in the case of oil products here, the market is distorted. It is manipulated by an oligopoly whose interest is to rake in more profits for the mother company abroad, never mind the natives.

In this lopsided setup, the government is expected to provide the counterforce to rein in the greed of the oil firms. But with co-opted regulatory officials having failed us, the people — as in People Power — should now directly take over this leverage function.

Protesting bishops, billionaire-senators and ageing trapos who should know better can shift targets to oil price increases instead of playing into the hands of politicians plotting to seize power and anarchists marching to topple whatever system is in place.

Such protest action against runaway fuel prices is imbued with public interest since it will help save this country from disintegration.

We hope the bright boys of the Arroyo administration have sensed by now that coming anti-government rallies and street fights will be mostly over taxes and soaring prices, particularly that of oil-based fuels that affect almost all items downstream.

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MISEDUCATING DRIVERS: You might have noticed it yourself — that we motorists, and also pedestrians, are being miseducated as we venture out daily into the streets.

In fact, if you want to find out what is wrong with this country, all you have to do is look at what is wrong with us in the streets.

Let us take specific cases of miseducation. Even at past midnight, traffic lights in Metro Manila are still on, flashing alternate red and green (with a super-fast yellow in-between) regardless of the actual traffic situation.

At night, a growing number of motorists in Metro Manila habitually ignore the red lights when in a hurry, or in their judgment there is cross traffic anyway and therefore no safety reason for them to stop and wait for the green.

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NO GUILT FEELINGS: This goes on night after night for many drivers who are probably unaware that they are being conditioned into taking lightly those regulatory red traffic lights.

This may look like a minor infraction to some of us since there is no cross traffic anyway and no life or property seems to have been put in jeopardy. Besides, the driver’s human mind is supposed to be superior to an unthinking gadget.

Small seeds thus sown in our minds later grow into huge trees of habit. Even during the day when traffic is heavier, we sometimes indulge in occasional violations of the red light without much thought or feeling of guilt.

The traffic lights in Metro Manila that the authorities fail to turn off, or to switch to blinking red and yellow, are doing an effective job of miseducating all of us creatures of (bad) habit.

Then the same MMDA officials who should have done something about the red-light syndrome wonder aloud why Filipinos do not seem to respect traffic rules.

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STRAIGHT LINE: Many thoroughfares — such as EDSA, Commonwealth Avenue and Quezon Avenue — were designed to allow the movement of bigger-volume and faster traffic.

These thoroughfares were made as straight as possible to minimize hazardous lane-switching. Lanes are, or were, clearly marked out so everybody will stay on his proper lane with a minimum of stress and distraction from other vehicles.

We used to tell new drivers afraid of everything else that moved on these wide roads to stick to the leftmost lane until they got to their destination. (I know this is not sound advice, but that was it.) Now even veteran motorists cannot drive like this anymore.

Some bright boys from the MMDA entered the picture and destroyed the well-thought out scheme that works fine in well-ordered societies.

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LANE-SWITCHING: Now, driving through those thoroughfares has become nightmarish.

If you make the mistake of taking Lane 1 (the leftmost or innermost), you must be ready to maneuver to the lanes to your right every a hundred or so meters — because of the U-turns marked out by concrete barriers jutting out and eating up one or two lanes.

There are also the pink wire fences separating the lanes. Many times one cannot see them, because their silhouettes are thin and their front ends are not adequately marked. I have seen many vehicles run smack into them.

Instead of avoiding lane-switching as they should, drivers are forced to swerve every so many hundred meters, fighting for space with buses, jeepneys and the wild assortment of vehicles also scrambling for space.

To complicate matters, many barriers have not been adequately marked, most lanes have been worn away, no officers are around to jump into a developing problem, and at night there are no early warning aids and sufficient lighting.

This is a case of motorists being miseducated into habitual lane-switching, discarding courtesy in favor of grabbing lanes from others, swerving in disregard of the lanes.

Then a MMDA traffic officer suddenly steps in to flag us down for swerving!

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‘ABILIDAD’ NEEDED: When traffic is not moving on our side of the road and traffic on the opposing lane is light, we patiently wait for traffic to move.

What happens? An idiot suddenly breaks away and drives in counterflow. We curse him and say “mahuli ka sana!” (“May you get arrested!”). We crane our neck to see what traffic enforcer lies in wait to catch him.

After several hundred meters, the fastbreaker is able to insert himself back into the lane, safe and probably smug with the thought that he did the right thing.

If he was driving with his kids, he was educating them on how to get ahead in this country. Kailangan abilidad, mga anak! (Roughly, that says “Children, to get ahead in life, you must cheat” or something like that.)

Seeing that he got away with counterflowing, many of those left behind stuck in traffic are tempted to follow suit. Why not, our distorted street education tells us, if that is the only way to get ahead in this country?

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TRY CATCHING HIM: We can go endlessly citing other illustrations of how the MMDA bosses are turning out everyday street-wise graduates carrying with them, maybe for life, that warped sense of discipline.

These are the same street alumni who will graduate to bigger violations. They would not think twice cheating in their tax declarations, especially because they see moneyed individuals “counterflowing” and paying less tax and getting away with it.

These is the same miseducation that explains why sometimes you are following a gleaming Mercedes Benz in slow traffic then suddenly see a passenger window open and somebody tosses out junk food wrapper. The dolt knows nobody will catch him anyway.

I would not be surprised if the litterbug were a street-smart negosyante who had made a dirty pile in smuggling or some business where shortcuts are the rule. Or maybe the litterbug was one of his kids who had taken after the father!

Et cetera.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 23, 2005)

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