Sep 27, 2008

May pulis sa ilalim ng tulay and a photojournalist

Much have been said about the case of a photojournalist who had a run in with a taxi driver. According to media accounts, what was simply a fender-bender case got blown out of proportion when other cab drivers came to the rescue of the taxi driver whose cab was accidentally hit by the photojournalist as he tried to maneuver out of his parking spot. The photojournalist drew his gun, and some 80 hours of jail time later, the crap hit the fan. While media attention has been focused on the legality of the media person's incarceration, and the alleged conspiracy involving the arresting officers, let's not forget another major issue in this brouhaha: the mafia composed of two-way radio-toting cab drivers. At this point I'd like to narrate a quite similar incident that happened to us:

It was during the flower fest several years ago, it was nighttime and getting a cab was quite an ordeal. And not just because there were lots of passengers and not enough taxis to go around, but also because a lot of the taxi drivers wouldn't take in passengers if they didn't like the destination. While waiting for a cab, we bumped into a couple of friends who have also been waiting for a ride home for hours already. Finally, at the corner of Gov. Pack and Harrison, we were able to flag one down. We lived in Quezon Hill then, and our friends lived in Irisan, so we decided to just share the cab. When we told the driver our itinerary, he refused, saying that he won't take the short detour through 1st Road before going to Irisan. We offered to pay for the flag down to Quezon Hill, and then he can reset his meter for the trip to Irisan, and yet he still refused. I asked him then to drop us off instead at the Baguio City Police Office for two reasons: to subtly remind him that what he's doing is illegal and also I thought we had a better chance of flagging down another cab in front of a police station. After a threatening "A, ganon?!?," he pulled out his radio and called for back-up. Not knowing exactly what was happening, I told him to just let us out and we'll just try to hail another cab. He refused to let us out, he kept going. He finally stopped at the corner where Baguio Patriotic School is and in a matter of seconds, three other cabs surrounded us. We immediately got out of the cab but we were practically held hostage by the four cab drivers, hurling threats and provocations while preventing us from leaving. We had just finished shooting the Dial 117 infomercial at the time and luckily, we still had the mobile phone number of a policeman who helped coordinate the production. I called the number and when they heard that I was talking to the police, they rushed back to their cabs and drove away.

I recognize the pros of having cab drivers equipped with communication equipment - they can easily call for help during an emergency, they can update each other on road traffic situations, report criminal activity that they chance upon, etc. But, as in most of us who are given even just a hint of power, like those abusive police interns who think that their uniforms entitle them to lord it over private citizens, we abuse that power. That's what those two-way radios have become for taxi drivers: power, power that they abuse. That piece of communication equipment have turned local cab drivers, once known for being among the most courteous and honest in the country, into thugs, some kind of a mafia no one should dare go against. And it's not even a case of a few bad apples ruining the whole lot in the basket - on the road, they fill up the whole side of lower Abanao Street or Session Road, to wait for passengers, unmindful of the traffic mess they create in doing so. They drive like maniacs on busy roads endangering both themselves and pedestrians. Going to Loakan, or San Luis, or Tam-awan, or Tip-top at night? Good luck finding a cab that will take you there, and if they do, more often than not, they'll charge you double for "backload."

See, at the end of the day, remember that ditty, "May Pulis Sa Ilalim Ng Tulay?" In that song, beginning with seeing a policeman with a rotten bag of pancit under a bridge, depending on which version you know, it goes on to say that, "namatay ang aso na kumain sa patay na pusa na kumain sa patay na daga na kumain sa panis na pancit ng pulis sa ilalim ng tulay." While it is necessary to investigate the death of the dog, let's not forget to look into that rotten bag of pancit and what that cop was doing under the bridge in the first place. While we do need to look into the alleged violation of the journalist's basic rights in this case, and perhaps even the alleged conspiracy between the cab driver involved and the arresting officers to file trumped-up charges against the journalist, let's not forget to look into how it all began - cab drivers who illegally take up half of Session Road at night and abusing the power they get from those two-way radios.


Anonymous said...

It's a worrying issue, makes me think about this underlying culture we have. We have the worst cab drivers in the world. It's the illusion of power and their knee-jerk reaction to misuse it. Give a regular guy a badge & batuta and he thinks he owns the mall rather than guards it.

The worst are those with middle manager level positions in government. How many times have you heard the phrase "kilala mo ba kung sino ako"?

But that is sad to know that that attitude reaches all the way up in Baguio. I was hoping that was just in Manila.


Altomonte Projects said...

Bingo! Here's another one, my wife was in a cab the other day and ahead of them was a biker who was zigzagging in the middle of the road. The cab driver honked and the biker stopped in front of the cab... after a few cuss words he said, "kilala mo ba ko? NBI ako!"

So I guess being a jerk on the road comes with being an NBI employee.