Life on these Philippine islands. Most of us who are honest enough will admit that there is a lot with which we “put up”. Far too much, actually.
Insane traffic. Even more insane (insaner???) greed and corruption. Dirty, stinky streets. Dirtier, stinkier politicians. Inefficient systems. Absolute lack of system. Inflation that is way higher than income, and income that is way lower than our dreams. Unattainable housing (a 12-foot square meter shoebox of a condo is considered a dream. Sigh.) Noise. Pollution. “Bahala na”, “Puede na”, “Bukas na”, “Ha-YA-hay.” You get the picture. The very surreal underdeveloped picture.
And don’t even get me started on the chaotic commute. We put up with crappy buses, rude conductors, reckless drivers who fancy themselves Andretti wanna-bes. Ever since the recent bus accident on (OFF, more accurately. The bus flew off the Skyway, killing 18 people.) the Skyway, I find myself standing at the bus stop, checking bus tires as I let bus after bus after bus to my destination go by; each one failing the “do-your-tires-still-look-more-like actual-treaded-tires-and-less-like-glazed-sugary-doughnuts ” test.
I stand there like a crazy person, looking down, inspecting; but I don’t care. Buses can’t fly, and neither can I.
But there are times, when in a rush, I have to jump on the second or third bus I see. Last Sunday was one of those days and luckily (or so I thought), the third bus happened to be a nice yellow Sunlong Bus. I used to like those Sunlong buses. Used to being the operative phrase.
I got on board, happy to find a seat right behind the driver, and settled in for my usual noontime southbound trek; glad to be out of the noxious carcinogenic exhaust, sweat-inducing humidity, and overwhelming smell of barbeque cooking at the corner stall. “Eau de commutere Pinoy ” is what I call the mix.
A few minutes from the stop, the bus stalled. That should have been my first red flag, but I hoped it was a fluke or something insignificant. Or kuya’s over-excitement at seeing a comely girl crossing the road.
En route, I noticed that kuya Andretti (of course he was speeding) had to keep pumping the brakes to get the bus to come to a full stop. The brakes made a screeching noise akin to a dying animal. Not good.
A few meters after we entered the Skyway, the bus stalled again. The driver started it back up, mumbling something under his breath to the conductor. Conductor (who could have auditioned for a role in Dumb and Dumber and landed a lead) looks out the door and mumbles something back. Bus picks up speed (Duh. Slow down ‘coz the bus is broken? Pffffft. Not in these parts, we don’t!), starts to swerve a bit, and then stalls again; lurching forward and throwing us just about off our seats.
Passengers were gasping, muttering invectives (or was that just me???), and asking to be let off to wait for another bus in the middle of the stretch of Skyway. A pregnant lady two seats from me starts to hyperventilate and says she is getting “very stressed.”
Kuya says it’s ok, another one of their buses was right behind them and should be on the road very soon. Dumb or Dumber (not sure which role he landed) conductor has a cellphone that he cannot use to call the other bus ‘coz he is out of load. Kuya starts up the engine again, forcibly and to the protestations of the passengers, as Dumb or Dumber looks out the door again and shrugs.
At that point, I asked the driver why on earth they didn’t just take the bus to the garage already, given the condition. His answer floored me. “PAPUNTA NA TALAGA KAMI SA GARAGE. (We are, in fact, on our way to the garage.)”
So my next question was, If you knew it was broken, why did you still pick up passengers??? His answer drove me through the roof. “YUNG GARAGE NAMIN NASA ALABANG, EH, PA-ALABANG DIN NAMAN KAYO, DIBA? (Our garage is in Alabang, and you are all going to Alabang anyway, right?)”
After being floored and shot through the roof, I attempted to regain my composure. I replied: “Eh, alam mo pala na sira! Kuya, tama ba na nilalagay ninyo sa peligro ang buhay ng mga pasahero? Tama ba yon? Kung kailangan ninyo pumunta sa Alabang para i-garahe ito, trabaho mo yun. Bakit mo dinadamay ang mga pasahero mo? (Why, you knew it was broken, after all! Is it right that you jeopardize the lives of your passengers? If you need to bring the bus to Alabang, that’s your job! Why jeopardize the lives of your passengers?)”
He chuckled and said “hindi naman kayo mamatay ah! (You won’t die anyway!),” as the bus came to yet another screeching stall, swerving near the Skyway railing.
Dumb or Dumber yells out that the other bus was behind them; we all hurriedly made our way to the exit, and waited alongside the Skyway railing. But not before I snapped a photo, hand shaking from fear and and fury, of the bus details, with the firm promise of reporting the bus.
We got to the South Station terminal, shaken and definitely stirred. Pregnant lady was still breathing funny, and I was still fuming. I sat at the terminal, waiting for my transit bus. Who should pull up about 20 minutes into the wait? The driver from hell and the village idiot in their rickety yellow busmarine.
I asked the dispatcher at the terminal if he knew the name of the driver. No ma’am, he’s new, came the reply. I decided to take more snaps of the bus, eager to file my report.
As I snapped some more shots, the driver opened the door and yelled in broken English, while striking an idiotic smug peace-sign pose, “CAMAAAAN! You gannna take my feechture too?!? Take my feechture! Go report me, kasi chismosa ka!!! (‘coz you’re a gossip!!!)”
I got on the bus. Took his picture, flashed my press ID, demanded his name.
“Eduardo dela Cruz eees my name! Chismosa ka!!!”
I got off the bus.
The terminal guard gave me a thumbs up, as he told the driver to pipe down and get the bus out of the way.
There’s a lot that we put up with in this country. Too much, in fact. And we do so because we love this place, and because there is still so much that is good.
But BECAUSE we love this place, and BECAUSE there is still so much that IS good, we shouldn’t “put up” anymore. Lest even that which is still good turn bad, as well.
Stop “putting up”, start “speaking up” – it’s time.
Chismosa na kung chismosa.