Mar 24, 2008

Sigh

The sight of a group of policemen standing by the road, knee-high boots, Ray-ban sunglasses, holstered gun at the waist, the nobody-messes-with-the-guy-with-a-badge swagger, motorcycles leaning at the curb, never fails to startle me. Immediately I would feel for my wallet where my license is for fear that I have left it at home, try to remember if I have registered the car, look around for any traffic signs that I may have missed. As I get nearer, my heart beats faster, and will only slow down if they don’t flag me down as I go past them.

And then, after passing them uneventfully, I’ll realize that I didn’t have my seatbelt on. Which almost always makes me wonder, whatever happened to the seatbelt law? I remember when it was newly introduced – taxi drivers would refuse to move if you refused put on your seatbelt, jeepneys and buses installed seatbelts in their front seats, and the government made a killing apprehending violators. I remember the complaints of drivers of public utility vehicles, how cumbersome that darn seatbelt is, how they went out of their way to loop that seatbelt over their shoulders at the sight of a traffic cop to avoid being given a ticket, but never lock it in place, which would have taken them two seconds to do. Once I sat in the front seat of a jeepney and automatically reached for the seatbelt. As I looked for the clasp to lock the seatbelt in place, the driver, without even looking at me, said, “ipatong mo lang sa dibdib mo, ok na ‘yan, hindi na tayo huhulihin.” I wanted to tell him that I also wanted to be safe while riding his jeep, but I thought better than to argue with the man on the wheel while sitting in front without a seatbelt on.

The seatbelt brouhaha lasted a few months, a year perhaps at best. And now it’s forgotten. And it’s practically the same thing about most of the seemingly small things that are supposed to make our city, nay, our country, maybe the world, even, a better place. I wish I were exaggerating.

Take those signs that dot the barrier along the length of Magsaysay Road – “No Jaywalking, Violators Will Be Apprehended.” I wonder how many jaywalkers, those who are too lazy to climb the steps of the pedestrian overpasses, those who put their own and other people’s lives at risk by playing patintero with the swerving jeepneys and over speeding taxis and arrogant drivers in giant SUVs to cross the street, are apprehended. There must be a lot, since I it never fails to amaze me to see jaywalkers doing their thing right in front of policeman on stand by mode. In the same way they just do nothing about the motorists along Session Road, especially taxis, who play tag with pedestrians that actually use the pedestrian lanes to cross the road: you get tagged, you’re dead. Seldom do we see a car slow down as they approach those stripes on the road, a lot of times they actually go even faster.

I know that this community fought hard to uphold the law that says the streets are beyond the commerce of man, driving out an arrogant pay parking corporation slash milking cow in the process, but it breaks my heart every time I see old women carrying bilaos of vegetables being chased by operatives of the city government for illegal vending, while an ambulant cigarette vendor lights up a cigarette for a policeman as they brazenly go about their trade right in front of police substations.

Trancoville and Aurora Hill jeeps idling right in front of “No Loading and Unloading” signs behind the post office (again, right in the face of policemen). “Parking attendants” directing motorists to park in front of “No Parking” signs (again, right in the face of policemen). Cops on big bikes and delivery men on scooters going through a red light, and making u-turns where they’re not supposed to. All seemingly trivial, negligible, inconsequential infractions, perhaps. But how can we expect the community to respect our laws when they know these are not really being enforced? How can we expect the community to obey more abstracts concepts like saving the environment through garbage segregation when we can’t even enforce simple rules on crossing the road?

The law enforcers don’t care, the public stopped caring, and the policemen standing by the road, knee-high boots, Ray-ban sunglasses, holstered gun at the waist, the nobody-messes-with-the-guy-with-a-badge swagger, motorcycles leaning at the curb, didn’t care when I passed them with my seatbelt unfastened. I heaved a sigh of relief, then after a brief afterthought and images of illegal vendors on the road, garbage on the streets, smog in the air, I heaved another sigh, one of a different kind.


(A repost of my column, Tales From A Hill Station, in Cordillera Today March 23, 2008 issue)

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