During any family gathering when I was a kid, my uncles would always get together at the garden outside. They were people I looked up to, and I always stayed close during those parties, observing what they did and talked about.
Mostly, they told me to avoid vices. Don't drink. Don't smoke. Don't gamble. “They're bad for you, hijo” they always told me.
The problem, however, lay in the fact that it was said with a double shot of Johnnie Walker on the rocks in one hand, a lit Philip resting on the ashtray, and organizing a hand of cards as they went about their game of pusoy.
As the saying goes: Do as I say, not as I do. But to all of us, our elders -parents, uncles, aunts, older brothers and sisters- were the original influencers. I thought they were cool and I thought the things they did were the things you do as an adult. And it comes as no surprise that I'm three for three for the things they did at the patio set during every family gathering at home.
I don't blame them. We all make our choices in life. But perhaps this reality -of us being shaped by our environment- is why driving in the Philippines is almost a hopeless mess. In a country where I can safely presume that a majority of the drivers are taught by their folks but honed by the environment they see around them, the bad habits are easy to get sucked into. Disrespecting pedestrian lanes, blatantly blocking intersection boxes, or counterflowing without a care in the world are just some of the things we as drivers are notorious for.
I have to admit, it's very tempting to join the illegal counterflow to get ahead if so many are doing it, and then extremely frustrating when the traffic officers -the men tasked with keeping traffic orderly through discipline- couldn't even care less to apprehend them. Too much paperwork, and potentially a hassle, some of them say.
Some even encounter the don't-you-know-who-I-am kind of driver. One tollway enforcer I spoke to years ago mentioned he had to take an an unpaid day off to personally return the license of a speeding driver at his residence. This was all because the driver's relative held an office of power somewhere and commanded the enforcer's superior to not only return the license, but apologize for apprehending him. Perhaps that's why they opt for violations like coding instead and not the truly dangerous ones like running red lights or counterflowing. Well, unless you're in Subic or Clark.
Perhaps that's why it comes absolutely unsurprising that a lawmaker -someone tasked with producing legislation to make a better country- publicly asked to be exempted from traffic rules if the legislative body is in session. As if the '8 plates' weren't enough.
If lawmakers are above reproach on even the simplest of traffic rules, why will the ordinary citizen follow the same? What kind of example does that set for today's drivers (more importantly, tomorrow's) if the people elected to office want to flout the very rules that could help a country move forward?
We as a society on wheels have a lot of bad habits ingrained in us over the years and decades. They're hard to break, and they take a very conscious effort and commitment to do so. Disregarding traffic rules, discourtesy on the road, rage behind the wheel, the sense of entitlement, enforcing the convenient, corruption on the streets, just to name a few. There are too many to mention, but each of us can start with one of them at a time.
Personally, I quit gambling. Working on the other two, however, is proving to be much harder.