I was on my way to Mandaluyong when upon going up MRT Cubao platform I was greeted by lines of resigned and helpless-looking commuters snaking like venomous reptiles ready to strangle and stab with their fangs the authorities that allowed the state of public transport to worsen like this.
I have been tempted so many times to get a car. I thought that with the current two monthly amortizations I am paying for my mortgages and another monthly payment for a car loan, I can still comfortably live within what is allowed by my monthly earnings. But I am not getting a car soon.
Getting one feels immoral amid the current vehicle traffic in Metro Manila.
There was a time before when a mobile phone was a status symbol. I remember our school clinic administrator holding her elephantine analog phone for everyone to see and
marvel at. Never did I see her without her phone clutched by either her hands that are overwhelmed by a network of blue green veins.
Young and naive as I was then to the ways of the world, I knew it was the pinnacle of bad taste although I was unable to articulate it in the terms of taste. I saw it however in the purview of morality. It was laughable how she strutted her stuff in her public school teacher’s uniform, her sense of the ridiculous fully abandoning her, in front of impressionable public high school students who barely had anything for breakfast lining up during Monday flag ceremonies. It was scandalous (exactly the term I used at fourteen).
Eventually, in the latter part of my secondary school, mobile phones acquired the status of being semi-democratized. I got hold of mine when I reached college, a Nokia 5110i which was a hand-me-down from my sister who at that time had graduated to a smaller, lighter, and hipper Nokia 3210. It was a necessity because I was away from home. And hardly was a Nokia 5110i still a hot item then.
I had to text discreetly and had to excuse myself whenever my mother called.
From being a status symbol, a mobile phone has become finally available to everyone. From the time it was introduced to the time it became available to everyone, it took more than a decade. For smartphones, a little shorter than that.
In the Philippines, the democratization of cars took much longer, but it is bound to come. In fact, it seems that it has arrived. Manila is now seeing the inconvenience caused by this democratization. This is amid the infrastructures and mindset that still view cars as a commodity only the members of the elite class can afford. While the emerging middle class (both middle middle and lower middle) are avoiding in droves the inconvenience of braving badly maintained public conveyances, they take to the roads their cars that are a product of car loans they easily availed of because of lax government policies and favorable tax schemes that benefit car manufacturers.
Metro Manila is deteriorating each day, getting more unlivable by the day, a city so harsh and unforgiving to its inhabitants. But we are as much to blame. Our desire for comfort and our sense of entitlement to the same comfort that used to be only the rich can afford created this problem. We have magnified the discomfort for others and for ourselves. We feel we deserve the seat inside an air-conditoned car that artificially isolates us from the city, this amid getting caught for three hours in a gridlock on C5, Katipunan, or Edsa.
The trains prove a better choice. On it my travel time from Cubao to Mandaluyong took 12 minutes, of course with some stalling, some aggressive competition for space, some groping. Unless the young and ambitious middles class take to the trains and demand for a better service, these cars, for most the conspicuous symbols of success, will completely transform this city into hell. We’ll all burn here.
These cars are a manifestation of faulty meaning-making and of skewed semiotics.