Monday, February 26, 2007

Daily slaughter of the innocents

There are murderers on the loose in Metro Manila. They have killed 196 people and injured 4,339 persons in the metropolis in 2006. These numbers mean that they maim 12 persons each day and kill one every other day. No, they are not the usual gun-toting killers because their favorite weapons are their vehicles: cars, trucks, buses and jeepneys.

If we assume the same figure each year, it means that more than a thousand innocent people died and 22,000 injured in the last five years. Certainly, this is massacre using the bluntest of weapons. But the greatest tragedy of all is that the Philippine society as a whole doesn’t seem to care. Politicians, “civil-society” groups, do-gooders and the gallery of save-the-world types don’t even mention this mayhem in the streets.

The killers are vehicle drivers and their victims: the pedestrians, as reported by the “Metro Manila Accident Reporting and Analysis System” of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

What this statistical report suggests is that Metro Manila, especially cities like Quezon City and Makati, has become a killer zone, a cannibal of its own children.

What’s the government doing about this now? We would like to know because we really don’t know who will be fatally hit by the bus next time. It might be the ones close to our hearts: our children crossing the streets from schools, our grandparents buying medicine, our spouse carrying food stuff from the grocery stores. It may be us.

Policymakers in this country, starting right at the Office of the President or the Department of Transportation and Communications, down to MMDA and the local government units, should really take this issue seriously. By the sheer volume of the victims, this issue should dwarf all other issues related to health and the loss to lives and limb. More so because it almost assumes the proportion of class conflict: pedestrians, the hoi polloi, versus vehicle owners.

That seems to be an oversimplification but the truth is that 70 percent of travel demand, or seven out of 10 people, move around to work, home and leisure, using public transport. That should suggest that those who are killed—those almost 196 unfortunate souls killed each day and 200 injured—mostly belong to the poorer segments of society who can’t afford the latest or even the second-hand beaten-up Toyota or Nissan.

At the root of this problem is attitudinal. Drivers and vehicle owners here simply don’t respect pedestrians. And we guess it reflects the contempt of the haves toward the have-nots in society.

Many bus or jeepney drivers are peons themselves but, because of lack of proper orientation and training on proper driving behavior, many simply carry the same negative attitude toward pedestrians. When a pedestrian raises a hand to signal an intention to cross, drivers here would simply blow their horns as they press the accelerator to bully pedestrians off the street. No wonder, accidents are common.

The immediate solution goes right smack to better traffic law enforcement. For long, traffic managers in this country have allowed rascals behind the wheels to go around violating traffic rules, especially on speed limits and traffic lights.

Of course, most of the drivers here actually don’t know traffic rules as it is common knowledge that people from the Land Transportation Office (LTO) would issue them licenses anyway —presumably for a fee. Thus, revamping LTO’s licensing system, making it transparent, is certainly one solution. If the government has the will, the government may actually outsource this function where the private sector could bid for the right to deliver this service based on certain criteria like cost-effectiveness, transparency and effectiveness.

Traffic managers and enforcers themselves, of course, are part of the problem. Just like vehicle owners and drivers who see pedestrians as lesser mortals, people who run these traffic management agencies have the same attitude toward the ordinary man on the street.

They see pedestrians as a nuisance who should get out of the way of vehicle traffic. They see them as ignorant mortals, nay cattle, to be prodded and controlled against cages and steel barriers. Thus, instead of enforcing the rules on driving behavior, government agencies like the MMDA simply penalize pedestrians even more by establishing cages and barriers that would even pin down and restrict people’s movements, thus endangering people’s lives.

Just try taking a bus at Edsa adjacent to SM in Makati City and see how the cages constructed by the MMDA under Bayani Fernando are a veritable death trap should a stampede occur. This is the only country that uses cattle cages and chicken wires to control pedestrians and traffic flow. We should be ashamed of this utterly fascistic form of urban “management.”

Somehow, this problem may reflect the greater social malaise that afflicts Philippine society. By some technical definition, more than half of the Philippine population lives in “urban areas.” But at heart, the average Filipino is still a hillbilly whose frame of mind does not transcend beyond his immediate family, network of friends and extended relatives.

Unlike countries that underwent an industrial revolution where people had to live by the rules and rigidity of a synchronized second-wave economy, the Pinoy, the rural dweller trapped in the urban jungle, has not learned to live properly in an urbanized setting. Thus he snarls when a pedestrian, a lesser mortal, gets in the way. And sometimes he hurts or kills them—“accidentally.”

Most Asian countries of course also did not experience industrial revolution to engender urbanity in their citizens. But the State came to fore to perform such function. The State, through its powers in traffic management, land-use planning and day-to-day urban management, played a crucial role, something that we sorely lack here in the Philippines.

That is why all sectors of society—especially schools, churches, businesses and civil-society groups—should help in addressing this problem. We need to bring the Filipino drivers’ attitudes and value systems into the 21st century.

We have no choice but to do it, otherwise the daily slaughter of the innocents in the streets will continue.


m o t said...

lack of enforcement...

Dave Llorito said...

and more!