Here in Bacolod City, and the rest of the Philippines for that matter, traffic laws are non-existent. There seem to be no rules governing how you act behind the wheel – only that the horn is your friend, and is especially useful for letting the other guy know that you don’t intend to stop. Last night, I went swimming with one of my coworkers and her mother at a resort in town (with an Olympic size pool, complete with a water slide, 30-foot statue of a giraffe and an elephant, and a zoo with an old crocodile that, according to my host, may or may not be dead). On the way to the pool, we narrowly escaped a few accidents. When Beth, the mother of my coworker, Liz, unsuccessfully tried to pass a jeepney with a bus barreling down the other lane, she shrugged it off. “Whoops – almost didn’t make it,” she laughed. When I relayed the fitting description the owner of a bike shop in town used to describe the traffic patterns here – “organized chaos” – she and Liz laughed again (Filipinos like to laugh, particularly here in the city of smiles). “That may be, but everyone knows the rules here.” And, as far as I can tell, it seems to be true. When you drive here in Bacolod, honk your horn when you come to an intersection. If you get there first, or see even a slight opening, go for it. Drivers here are masters of the quick brake, mostly out of necessity.
Later that night, we missed hitting a family (husband, wife, and kid) by a few feet. Who is at fault is inconsequential. It is OTSS at work, favoring several obvious traits – quick reflexes, heavy foot on the brake, heavy hand on the horn, and, what one conspiracy-theorist expat I met at a casino in Argentina called, some huevos. Pedestrians are equally vigilant, and just as intrepid. When you see your opening, go for it, but remember that the drivers will never, ever stop for you. Frankly, I don’t understand how the bodies aren’t piling up, but maybe my new friends have a point. If the individual understands the system (or lack thereof), then everyone benefits. For example, people here don’t really text while they drive, because it’s a death sentence. The system works, as long as everyone understands and plays by these anti-rules.
Satisfied with this explanation, I am happy riding in a car here (preferably a bigger one). Even if I didn’t buy the Zen harmony of the organized chaos, I wouldn’t have much of a choice, since I don’t have much leverage and I need to get to where I need to go. Coming back from the mall today, I rode in a taxi with a cabbie that spoke the bare minimum of English – enough to come to an agreement on my destination, but not much more. We came to an intersection, where a cab had rear-ended a jeepney. The front of the cab was totaled, while the jeepney was largely unscathed. As we passed, my cabbie shook his head disapprovingly and commented in broken English: “reckless driver.”