Do not feed the animals!

April 23, 2014

As I was flicking through channels the other night, I stumbled across an Australian ranger in an animal show telling a story about how his children kept a secret pet kangaroo.

He explained how his two boys, five and eight years old, would sneak food into their bedroom to encourage little skippy to return, which of course he did. Religiously. Until one day, after arriving late from a weekend away, they forgot to bring a treat in from the kitchen. This time, as they lay sleeping, Skippy hopped up to their bedroom window on cue, poked it’s hungry nose in, and when it didn’t get any food, jumped through the window and trashed the room like a rock star.

I’m not sure how it all ended (actually, I do, but I don’t want to share my trauma with our younger or more sensitive readers) but this is basically why zoos never allow you to feed the animals. Bear with me, I have a point buried in here somewhere.

Just as a lie told often enough is said to become the truth, a broken law that goes unpunished long enough, eventually becomes legal—and boy have we managed to rack up enough of those to make even the most competent judges second guess themselves if they were put on the spot. Sure some of it may start off harmlessly enough, but then again, so do most forms of anarchy. And in the end, before you know it, you find yourself wondering how a normally sober and responsible person like yourself ended up with a tire wrench in your hand pounding away at the driver’s side of a bus.

That may sound a little extreme, but trust me, it happens. Regularly. Because as random as it may appear, a meltdown doesn’t actually happen spontaneously. It is fed and then suppressed. Fed and suppressed. Until one day...

Take the story of a lady from Merville subdivision in Paranaque, who for obvious reasons shall not be named.  But suffice to say that this mother of four is the last person you would expect to go all Charlie Sheen or Adrian Sutil on your ass.

While doing her daily commute down the service road heading to the Nichols interchange, she came head on with a vehicle that was driving against the flow of traffic. Annoyed, she stopped her car and waited for the offending car to back up. Instead of cowering in shame, the retarded neanderthal behind the wheel flashed his lights expecting her to get out of the way. Sounding familiar yet?

This went on for a minute or two. Infuriated, and with a pile of cars stacking up behind her, she shoved her car into gear and just rammed the car of this idiot until it was finally out of the way.

Now, as satisfying and justified as it may be, I’m not endorsing this kind of vigilantism. This lady was beyond lucky to have escaped unharmed, and I cannot imagine her (or anyone else) pulling it off again without serious repercussions; the real problem here is that it should have never been allowed to get to this stage to begin with, which leads me back to my point.

This was not a one-off traffic altercation from someone who made a mistake; this was years and years of both abuse and neglect by selfish, ignorant motorists and the pathetic traffic enforcers who wrote the script for this disaster. And the most frustrating part is you don’t know who to be more angry with. Because it’s one thing to turn a blind eye, but do it enough times, then the act automatically graduates from being tolerated to rewarded.

It’s the same with most street parking situations. In just about any place except for (certain parts) of Makati, the Fort, Filinvest, Eastwood City or anywhere that doesn’t impose and enforce strict rules, you will find a watch-your-car boy lurking by your door as soon as you alight. Now, I don’t mind sparing a bit of change for a kid to “watch my car,” but what bothers me is that because this illegal practice has been tolerated for so long, ‘the tip’ is no longer considered a gratuity, but obligatory.

In fact, I would go as far as saying that what may have started out as charity has turned into racketeering. Because let’s face it, some of these ‘kids’ are really charging you protection money. From them.

A few weeks ago, I took my son to an Azkals game in Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. Despite the amount of malls surrounding it, as soon as you get anywhere near the entrance, you can’t drive two feet without a swarm of boys standing in front of your car and ushering you into a parking space in the center island of the road. They do it with such aggression that it makes the island vendors of Boracay seem passive. If there was ever a tiangge for parking spaces, this was it.

Not being too comfortable with the area, I took the bait and was led into a spot beside a food cart and a tree. We hopped out and started walking across to the gates when the ‘attendant’ asks for his tip up front. I told him I’d tip him when I got back, much in the same way that I have this rather obscure habit of tipping a waiter after I finish my meal. Yet he still demanded money up front.

Reluctantly, I pull out a fifty and handed it over, hoping for change but not expecting any. He looked at it completely disappointed and tells me the minimum tip is a hundred, which for the benefit of our foreign readers is almost double the rate of any 5-star hotel, for a place that they don’t own, lease or secure.

Now 100 pesos may seem reasonable to park your car to watch a game. But it’s not about the money. It’s about what is right and wrong. Or legal, for that matter. We start it off like this, and before you know it, the opportunists get so brazen that they scratch your car when you don’t give them enough, put obstacles in street parking spots to claim as theirs, drive recklessly down the wrong side of the road, run red lights... I could keep going.

You see it every day—buses terrorizing motorists as they jockey for position and stop in the middle of the road, motorcycles riding on the sidewalks, armored cars driving under self-proclaimed immunity, barangay captains closing down a street for a basketball game, security guards that block traffic so that their bosses or customers can pull out of their driveways unimpeded, or places that allow only nice cars to park in strict no-parking zones, and a personal favorite: owners of various roadside stalls blocking off the street parking in front of their establishments for the “exclusive use of their customers or managers” even if no private company or individual can lease or own a public road.

Once again, it sounds harmless enough until the lines become so blurred that they forget that we’re actually doing them a favor by tipping them, giving way or giving in until eventually someone loses the plot and the whole scene ends up on YouTube.

Driving is one of the few things that is not more fun in the Philippines not necessarily because of the sheer volume of vehicles, but because of the sore lack of enforcement that has allowed all those undisciplined motorists to literally squat on the law—a phenomenon that is created when rules are not enforced immediately and consistently.

Because as pathetic as those drivers are, every time our authorities turn their back, or our fellow motorists shrug it off as “well, that’s life here” we become an equal part of the problem by ignoring the first rule of the jungle: Do not feed the animals.

About the Author

James Deakin
James Deakin is a multi-awarded automotive journalist located in Manila, Philippines. He has a weekly column in the Philippine STAR's motoring section, is a motoring corespondent for CNN Philippines and is the host of the Philippine motoring television show Drive, which airs every Sunday night at 10pm on CNN Philippines.