As though to attempt to illustrate how a European study could list Manila along with Baghdad, Cairo and Karachi among the 10 most stressful cities in the world, three MRT trains conked out and disgorged its passengers in the thick of rush hour Friday morning — just one among many incidents of mind-numbing inconveniences that residents of the metro have to put up with.
The study, conducted by Zipjet, an app-based laundry and dry cleaning service based in three European capitals — Berlin, London and Paris — notably ranked Manila more stressful than war-torn Damascus in Syria. Manila scored 8.92 points out of 10 in terms of stressful living; Damascus, where a virtual civil war is taking place, scored 8.66.
Is life in Manila really so bad? Just consider the numbers: over 1.60 million people living on 42 square kilometers, or a population density of over 40,000 per sq km. Yet Filipinos have developed a brave, adjustable attitude that has enabled them to cope with the urban challenges.
Of small consolation is the fact that nine other cities, notorious for violence and instability, come ahead of Manila in the list. Baghdad in Iraq is deemed the most stressful of all, notching a terrible 10 of 10, with Kabul in Afghanistan coming in second.
Other cities in the top 10 most stressful list are Lagos, Dakar, Cairo, Tehran, Dhaka, Karachi and New Delhi.
On the other side of the spectrum, Stuttgart in Germany ranks as the world’s least stressful city, followed by Luxembourg, Hanover, Bern and Munich.
Zipjet studied 500 locations, factoring in elements such as individual stress levels, unemployment, population density, security and public transportation, among others. Its final list ranked 150 cities from most to least stressful.
“We hope that by pinpointing how the least stressful cities are managing this issue, those cities struggling with a stressed-out population can overcome it,” said Zipjet managing director Florian Färber.
While it would be easy to question the authority of the Zipjet study, it’s hardly a secret that life in the metro is extremely stressful. Public transportation is something that millions of Filipinos struggle with every day.
In what can easily be seen as a metaphor for daily life, MRT-3, the most important of the city’s transportation lines, broke down five times on Sept. 14. The next day, three different trains broke down just in the morning. Imagine the daily agony of the commuting wage earners who depend on the trains to get them to and from work.
And yes, there is a multitude of other problems, including inadequate garbage collection, expensive utilities and ghastly traffic conditions.
In 2015, the GPS navigation app Waze ranked Manila as the city with the worst traffic in the world, beating Rio and Jakarta. Ninoy Aquino International Airport was ranked for several years as the world’s worst airport. (It’s now just the fifth worst—take that however you will.)
And safety is one worrisome issue. The administration’s war on drugs enforced by the Philippine National Police, with its expanding number of fatalities, has people afraid to leave their homes particularly at night.
A March survey by Social Weather Stations showed that 73 percent of Filipinos were afraid that they and their loved ones would be killed. The net satisfaction rating of the war on drugs dipped 11 points, from +77 in December 2016 to +66 in March 2017. The survey also featured Filipinos divided on the truthfulness of the PNP, with 31 percent saying the police were lying about the war on drugs and 24 percent saying they were telling the truth.
This sense of uncertainty and division adds to the many burdens of living in Nick Joaquin’s “noble and ever loyal city.” Its residents get by every day with admirable gumption combined with a profound faith in the divine. Many dream of escape to less hostile environments; the rest have no choice but, indeed choose, to stay.
And somehow there is the enduring hope that living conditions on all fronts — security, transportation, employment, etc. — will get better, and that their children will have it easier and will live a life of less stress in the future.