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Taksi(l)

/ 09:37 PM October 09, 2012

I’m fuming mad because two dear friends, both Americans who have lived in the Philippines and served Filipinos for many years, were victimized by taxi holdup men, one of them just last Saturday night.

I don’t know what the authorities can do but we can’t sit back and wait passively for something to happen, so I’m going to share with you the stories of the two Americans, and how we can do something to prevent these taxi drivers from turning treacherous, taksil.

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The first one to be victimized was Jim, who e-mailed his account several months ago and who gave me permission at that time to share his story. Based in Baguio, Jim was visiting Manila and had just had an enjoyable evening at a jazz performance in Quezon City. The story is best told in his own words:

“…1:30 a.m. I get in a taxi and off we go to Makati. Except we DON’T go to Makati … we start driving in circles and down dark alleys … I am just carefully watching this, thinking of best options, when suddenly he turns into a really drug- and crime-infested area called Addition Hills… I thought, ok, I have to make a move here… I see a small community police substation… I act like I am agitated and when he slows down I take my shot. Jump out of his moving taxi and run into this station… Senior cop in back on a cot, maybe 50 years old NEVER bothers to wake up and snored like a baby the whole 45 minutes I was there…”

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To make a long story short, there is a happy ending. There’s one younger cop “in a crisply starched uniform” who “agrees to drive me in patrol car to a safer well-lit area and personally put me into a taxi so new driver can see I am a VIP. While we are driving I learn he is Ben, cop for seven years and he was especially on my side as his father has been an HONEST jeepney driver all his life.”

It was sadder with my other friend, actually a graduate student of mine. I will use a pseudonym here, Beth, since the incident was so recent and traumatizing. Beth took a taxi around 7:30 p.m. near the Robinsons mall on Ortigas and Edsa, was robbed by the taxi driver and two other men, and was dropped off at Bagong Silang near Novaliches. They took everything she had with her.

Taxi pickup

The stories of Jim and Beth can leave us feeling totally helpless. We’re warned about going out late at night, but how late is late? We’re warned to avoid boarding taxis in dark areas, or close to slum communities, but the Ortigas/Edsa area is well-lit and isn’t exactly depressed. Jumping out and running to the police did help Jim, but how many of us can do that, and how sure are we about the police?

We’re all vulnerable. Another graduate student of mine, a friend of Beth’s, sent a text message to say we can expect more robberies of this kind because Christmas is approaching. I was taken aback and wondered if that meant the robbers need money to buy Christmas gifts, or know that there are more potential victims because people are traveling around with more money for shopping.

Beth’s friends have advised her to use taxi pickup services, and I couldn’t agree more. You call them and give your location, and they radio all their cars to see who’s available. If a taxi’s available in your area and heads out to pick you up, the dispatcher will send you the plate number of the taxi. There’s a good Web guide to these taxi companies with phone numbers on a website, which I’ll give at the end of this column. I’d advise you enter the numbers in your cellphone so you can call any time.

There’s also Taxi Dispatch with an easy number to remember, 373-TAXI (373-8294), which I did check out. A friendly agent, Allen, explained that they are linked to five taxi companies, which means a greater chance that they can locate a taxi in the area you’re waiting.

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You do have to pay from P50 to P100 more than the meter reading for these taxis, but I think that’s worth every centavo for peace of mind.

Other strategies

What if you can’t get a taxi pickup service? Here are other strategies you can try to protect yourself.

During the Marcos dictatorship, those of us who were politically active were always worried that taxi drivers were military agents out to kidnap dissidents. So whenever a “kasama” would board a taxi, we would jot down the plate number of the taxi, making sure, too, that the taxi driver saw what we were doing. I still do that sometimes with friends. My 6-year-old son, already warned repeatedly in school about possible kidnappings, gave me another idea a few months back: “Dada, why don’t you take a picture of the taxi driver, too?”

Why not, indeed? Have your friends do that in a friendly way, “Kuya, para sa proteksyon natin, ha.  Smile!”  Maybe also check for the taxi driver’s ID.

The important thing is to send as many signals a possible to the taxi driver that he’s being monitored. Show you’re street-smart and your friends are watching out for you. As you get into the taxi, have one of your friends signal to you to check that the taxi has not been child-locked, which is what happened to poor Beth.

What if you don’t have friends to send you off? Then try to get a taxi at a hotel or shopping center where a dispatcher notes down the plate numbers. Another suggested ploy, which I haven’t tried, is to simulate a call when you’re already in the taxi, and pretend you’re talking to “Major,” “Colonel” or even, one joked, “General Espina”—loose talk to show you know the top brass. I’m not too hot about this ploy because the taxi driver may actually be a military person or policeman with his own connections.

I don’t want to generalize about our taxi drivers. I’m sure most of our taxi drivers just want to make a decent living. The ones outside Manila are generally more reliable and courteous—Baguio is known for drivers who will give you your change down to the last 10 centavos. I know, too, that taxi drivers also face many risks of being held up themselves by passengers.

So, if you do get a good taxi driver, who drives well, is courteous, keeps a clean taxicab and is honest about the change, you might actually want to ask him if you can call him for pickup.  A suki taxi driver, in short.  At the University of the Philippines, we once had a professor who was picked up every day by the same taxi and taxi driver. It worked out well, up to the day she retired.

Here’s the directory of taxi pickup services with other helpful advice: http://www.metromaniladirections.com/2010/03/directory-taxi-pick-up-service.html

* * *

Announcement: Fr. Ismael Zuloaga (“Father Zulo”), former director of Xavier School, San Juan, passed away on Oct. 8. He will be buried on Thursday after an 8:30 a.m. funeral mass at the school.

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