Last Monday, during an early morning drive, I chanced upon an ambulance with its side smashed at an intersection near Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City. A car that was beating a red light had crashed into it. Five people inside the ambulance were injured, including the emergency patient now doubly unlucky.
Later on in the morning, I read an account by the foreign news outfit, the Agence France Presse, reporting grimly that the “gridlock in Manila is costing lives as ambulances stuck in traffic face severe delays in the race against the clock to reach the city’s hospitals, medics warn.”
Last Tuesday, on a similar early morning drive, I was with an ambulance, its blinkers and sirens blaring, maneuvering towards the busy intersection of Vito Cruz Extension and Roxas Boulevard. Fortunately, cars beside the ambulance immediately gave way for the ambulance.
But as the ambulance reached mid-intersection of Roxas Boulevard, it screeched to a stop. An SUV coming from the south and going north barreled on a fast-clip run through the intersection.
The intersection was manned by four Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) traffic enforcers. They nonchalantly stood there, gazing at the ambulance as it went on its way. Neither did they stop nor apprehend the offending SUV.
I am writing down these personal on-the-road encounters with ambulances and traffic just this week with no other reason than to show all of us, at some point or another, have personally encountered what the AFP report has painfully made clear — many drivers among us are as personally responsible for an emergency patient ending up dead even before reaching hospital as the traffic.
In the AFP report, a traffic official had this to say on this driver’s behavior, which literally seems to be worsening on our traffic-choked streets: “Some people simply do not care. It is as if they are the only residents of this world.”
The official did not indulge us further about his insightful comment on the dangerous evolution of driver behavior and entitlement on Metro Manila roads and which have caused inadvertent deaths.
But in the same report, the same official said, “Drivers have become cynical, thinking ambulances might be using their lights and sirens just to cut through the traffic for non-emergencies.”
Evidently, cynical drivers had transitioned into callous drivers. The AFP report had much to say about cynical drivers.
Quoting an automotive journalist, the report said, “as a motoring public, we are jaded to the fact that everyone is taking advantage of us,” with the added emphasis on the maddening fact some politicians are using emergency vehicle escorts to avoid traffic gridlocks.
It is, therefore, a fact of life nowadays that for anyone caught in traffic he or she is overly sensitive at being taken advantage of. In other words, fighting for space during traffic means no one wants to give in to road abuse.
As a consequence of this condition prevailing in the head of the typical driver, the turn from cynicism to callousness is readily explainable.
Such social and historical realities, however, unfortunately has led to a damaging distortion. The ambulance or any other emergency vehicle is now seen as an object of suspicion simply because the use of legal and publicly approved emergency sirens and flashing can be abused, even if in general it wasn’t so.
At any rate, what goes on in the heads of drivers is an intangible thing. Many, in fact, believe such a state of mind can easily be corrected with tangible things like constructing more roads, limiting the sale of vehicles, putting more traffic enforcers on the streets, and, in the case of emergency vehicles, exclusive emergency lanes.
While such tangible things to solve traffic and its intangible consequences are all well and good and are correct, it is also a fact they may take some doing as we do need huge financial resources to make them work.
But what are we to do in the meantime to make traffic bearable?
Other than holding on to our patience for a much longer period of time and extending more and more road courtesies, we mustn’t stop expressing disgust or shaming obvious powertrippers committing abuse on the road, meaning politicians and their ilk.
None of us should be wary about showing disgust as a strong case can be made for cracking down on these people who, just because they hold public office, feel their power perks include the privilege of dispensing with traffic rules altogether, objectified by the use of police motorcycle escorts.
As far as I know, Mr. Duterte has not recalled his predecessor’s previous executive order of not allowing just about anybody the use of police motorcycle escorts.
Police motorcycle escorts are only for the President, the Vice President, the Senate President, the House Speaker and the Chief Justice.
Yet, escorts are all over the place and committing odious traffic-snarling maneuvers for everybody to see, like stopping heavy traffic at crucial intersections or doing the patently illegal traffic counterflow.
So, if a senator, a congressman, a Cabinet member, a mayor and even the police brass are not entitled to police motorcycle escorts, cracking down on them is not only legal but also practical as it keeps traffic anarchy at bay.
Anarchy, because if these powertrippers are getting away with traffic abuses, why then are we penalizing ordinary mortals who are merely doing the same?
It goes without saying such anomalous display of entitlement by power-tripping politicians or anybody high up in this government largely contributes to the present cynicism and callousness among drivers.
But yet no one seems to be lifting a finger. Why it is not being done is a question which Mr. Duterte and his government should confront, once and for all.