IN my most recent visit with former classmates from St. John’s seminary in Camarillo, Calif., a close friend shared with me a fairly common observation I have heard before from others. He said he noticed that Filipinos in his parish in Orange do not drive ordinary cars but expensive import types like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, etc.
My long-considered take on this social phenomenon is that Filipinos are status conscious and go for symbols that proclaim they have arrived socially. Thus, while the average American, European and Japanese buy a car almost entirely for its utilitarian value as a means of transport, the average Filipino aspires for a car and buys the brand that has the most snob value or best proclaims his social status.
This is part of a psyche-embedded colonial mentality that dreams of acquiring the status symbols that the colonial masters and their local successors used to exclusively possess. Thus, to Filipinos with this mindset, a car is not only for going places but also for signifying that the owner has arrived...socially that is.
I was reminded of this cultural trait when somebody posed to me this very relevant question about the BRT, LRT and MRT controversy. Will any or all three mass transport systems slow down the increase in the number of vehicles and reduce traffic snarls in our city streets? Will Cebuanos forego the dream of owning a car and be content with taking the BRT, LRT or MRT to and from work, church or play?
My answer was, is, a resounding NO. Unless the purchase of cars is curtailed by law or ordinance with restrictive conditions (like owning a parking space) and unless downtown areas traversed by mass transports are closed off to private traffic, neither one nor all three mass transport systems will solve traffic gridlock.
Cars are a badge of success and every Filipino dreams of owning a car someday to signify that he has arrived financially and socially. Now that the average Filipino is able to buy a car, above-average Filipinos, rich businessmen, landlords and politicians, simply buy more cars (of the more expensive new models of name-brands) to maintain the symbols of their higher social status. Hence, with or without mass transport, more cars will worsen the clogging of our narrow streets.
But worse than numbers what messes up traffic is the lack of discipline among drivers that is abetted by loose and spotty enforcement of traffic rules. The BRT, MRT or LRT project has, of course, zero provision for driver discipline and strict enforcement of traffic rules.
Thus, with people buying more cars but no discipline or enforcement, gridlock will rule the day even with a BRT, MRT or LRT... and yes, even with more flyovers and underpasses.