“Oh, no, the trucks are out from hell,” I tell myself in dismay when I’m caught on Katipunan, or worse, on CP Garcia, in Quezon City during the hours that the truck ban is lifted. That’s from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then again from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays, and all throughout the day on weekends and holidays.
The trucks race down the roads and I try to be charitable, thinking of how they need to deliver their cargo, but I worry that the recklessness comes with impunity.
I should know, now living in the Balay Tsanselor (chancellor’s residence) at the University of the Philippines, which is right on CP Garcia. Many times I’ve had to hold my breath, seeing vehicles going through the red lights, barely missing hapless UP security guards trying to enforce the rules.
Once, a few weeks back, as I tried to cross CP Garcia, I was nearly hit by a speeding truck trying to beat a red light. Even worse, twice in the last few weeks, two serious accidents happened right in front of my eyes as I was waiting to cross.
The accidents that I witnessed involved compliant taxis, who dutifully stopped when the guard flagged them at the red light. But, both times, there were trucks behind the taxis which refused to brake. They rammed into the taxis like elephants, propelling the taxis forward by several meters. Both times, miraculously, the taxi drivers suffered no injuries, at least not visibly, but their vehicles were wrecked.
All throughout Metro Manila, if not the entire country, road recklessness is growing to dangerous proportions. I do not have hard statistics, but neither does the government, considering that many of these accidents go unreported, in part because motorists expect no justice from the traffic enforcement authorities and work out extrajudicial settlements.
All I know is that not a day passes where I do not see an accident. When I visit other places in the Philippines, I see the same disturbing pattern of a growing number of accidents, sometimes worse than those in Manila because there’s less traffic and vehicles are driven at breakneck speeds.
Twice in the last year, I’ve had staff who had to rush to their home provinces to bury a brother. In both cases, the brothers were on motorcycles. It’s a jungle out there, trucks and buses hitting cars, cars hitting motorcycles, and, of course, the pedestrians are at the bottom of the heap.
What’s so frustrating is the overwhelming sense of helplessness. The UP president has written the Metro Manila Development Authority, asking that trucks be banned from CP Garcia mainly because of the damage they cause the road, and the rumbling vibrations wrecking sensitive laboratory equipment in UP’s science and engineering buildings facing that road. I’ve written to the MMDA, too, pointing out how the trucks endanger students, faculty, staff and homeowners who have to use that road.
The daily newscasts are full of stories of road accidents throughout the city, and I wonder at times if these newscasts just desensitize people. Newscasts need to do more than feature the accidents. The victims in hospitals, the relatives in funeral parlors, should also be interviewed.
One early morning in September, I received a text message from my parents’ driver telling me he just had an accident and could not make it to work. He was on his motorcycle and had been hit by a car. The motorcycle was completely wrecked and the impact of the collision was so strong that the car’s bumper fell, hitting the driver’s right foot and breaking several bones. Our two feet together have 54 bones, a fourth of the total number in the body. That’s how important the feet are.
When I visited the driver the next day at the National Orthopedic Hospital, he glumly told me it would take two months before he could get back to work. Surgery was needed to insert metal pins to stabilize the foot while the bones healed.
Two days later, right before the scheduled surgery, my son went to the hospital to visit the driver but came home with a story both tragic and comical. He got to the hospital to find an empty bed where the driver was supposed to be, and a nurse explained what had happened. A pack of cats were inside the ward (a normal situation in government hospitals) and broke out, well, in a cat fight, jumping on to our driver’s bed and scratching him in the process. So he had been sent to San Lazaro to get antirabies shots.
“Dobol dead,” my son teased the driver later.
Almost three months after the accident, the driver still can’t back to work; the bones on his last toe refuse to mend. I have the driver covered by the Social Security System, but it’s been taking a while for the disability and unemployment payments to come through, so I’ve had to help out with his expenses. The person who hit him has been sending some money—P750 a week—but has been warning that they’re hard up and will have to reduce the amount.
The driver has asked the doctor to just amputate the last toe, but the doctor said: You can’t do that, God gave you that toe.
February is when the doctor estimates that the driver can resume work. “Pebrero pa” was the driver’s glum reply by text when I asked. I could just see his face as he was texting.
We forget that behind every vehicular accident, there is not just the direct victim but also entire families.
Going back to CP Garcia: On Monday afternoon while I was waiting for my son to join me for a university event, I got a text from my UP driver. Crossing CP Garcia, they had been hit by an armored bank vehicle. My son was in the vehicle.
Fortunately, because of traffic congestion, the armored vehicle wasn’t going too fast. But the collision was enough to shake up my son. I had him brought to UP, where I was waiting at the steps of Quezon Hall, where my office is. The damage to the vehicle was so bad that the guard could barely open the front passenger door. And I realized that a foot more and the armored vehicle would have smashed into the door… and into my son.
The boy came running out and into my arms. I’m not usually into hugging, but this time I did, as if my life, and my son’s, depended on it.
By coincidence, the UP ROTC symphony band was rehearsing in the lobby with Bella Voce, an alumni chorale group, and I told my son we could stay and listen. At one point they began to play Albert Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer.” I held on even more tightly to my son, and sang the song softly for him.
A few minutes later he was off biking and showing photos of the accident to the security guards. I felt, I hoped, he would be all right. We were lucky. But many more people in our concrete jungles are not.
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