On the Road to Progress

How to get to P. Guevarra St? I wondered after my friends and I had set a place where we could all meet and catch up on things. I knew it was somewhere in San Juan but didn’t know how to get myself from where I live to that place. As many other people of this day and age, the Internet was my go-to reference.

A map of Metro Manila popped up on the screen showing the path I should take to get to my destination. Accompanying the map was a written description: Take R-7, go straight to Yada-Yada Ave., turn right on Blah-Blah St., and so on and so forth. On the map, it looked fairly easy. I planned my trip: Take the MRT, get off at Santolan, and then just take a taxi to take me directly to the place. According to Google Maps, this almost 20km trip would more or less take me 45 minutes.

But Google Maps is not a Manileña. It is ignorant to the ills of the streets and public transportation system of the city. With the long queues that plague the MRT stations, and the insufferable traffic situation in every corner imaginable, the trip would take far longer than Google Maps had calculated. Taking the taxi, too, meant that I had to shell out a couple of hundred pesos even if the distance was only short considering how highly probable it was to be stuck in a gridlock.


photo: creativemanila.com

Suddenly, I terribly missed something I got to experience in my one of my travels abroad – Germany’s excellent public transportation system.

I recently had the opportunity to go to Germany a while back, and I got to visit many remarkable places during my stay there.  It has many well-preserved historical buildings, museums, restaurants, entertainment centers, shops, and tourist destinations.  It’s also clean and organized.  Despite its many attractions, the things that appealed to me the most are the simple things, the basic features that a healthy city should have – beautiful parks, sidewalks, bike lanes, (functioning!) traffic lights, pedestrian lanes, garbage bins, and the brightest star of them all, a highly efficient mass transport system.

Being used to riding only jeeps, FX, and MRT, I must admit that initially, the country’s transport system confused me.   Although commuting in other countries wasn’t new to me, it had been a long time since I did some traveling abroad.   The confusion at one point even turned into fear when I knew that I had to go places all by myself  because 1) there was no one who could accompany me tour the city and 2) I wanted to challenge myself and try something I would not typically do even if it meant getting lost and/or getting lost in translation.

Germany has various modes of public transportation: U-bahn (subway), S-bahn (railway similar to MRT), trams, buses, the ICE (regional trains), and taxis, and all are integrated (except for the taxis).   One ticket will allow you to ride any (Tickets for the ICE are a little different, though) and they can be bought from vending machines in all the U-bahn and S-bahn stations, central bus and train stations, and even inside the trams and buses themselves.  Because vending machines are widely available, there’s no more need to queue to buy tickets.


Time is also highly valued there: all modes of transportation have strict schedules to follow.   When a train is meant to arrive in 3 minutes, it really is going to arrive in three minutes.  In case it arrives earlier than the intended schedule, let’s say, a minute earlier, it won’t immediately go.  Instead, it will wait for that one minute to be up; that’s the time that it would start running.

Everything is meticulously planned, and everything is religiously carried out.  Street signs are clear, and there are maps and information services available.  Their public transport system is so convenient that even if you are not familiar with the place, you can easily find your way around.  In Berlin, where I spent majority of my stay, the company that runs the transport system BVG has a website and an app, which you can visit or download.  You can plot your journey using either of the two, so you would exactly know how to get to your destination down to the last minute.  If you’re old school or don’t have a smart phone like me, a handy map will do just fine.

Transportation in and the streets of Berlin are commuter-friendly that even persons with disabilities (PWDs) and the elderly will have no difficulty traveling at all.  Not a single overpass is in sight, but pedestrian lanes are everywhere.  Traffic lights are present in almost every corner, too.  Some buses also tilt, so that it can level with the sidewalk, allowing PWDs, the elderly, and people with huge luggage, strollers, bicycles, and dogs to enter and exit the vehicle hassle-free.

I cannot express how I loved commuting in Berlin – something I cannot say for Metro Manila, unfortunately.  Whenever I was out touring Berlin,  I kept on thinking “Hey, this can be done in QC” or “Why can’t we have this feature in Manila?” or “Why can’t the city government have the political will to clean up the sidewalks?  Why can’t the government construct sidewalks?!?”

Majority of the metro is sadly unsafe for commuters and pedestrians.  Buses and jeeps act as if they own the road, and private vehicles continue to swell in number, choking the roads (and no, making them wider is not the best solution!)

traffic_nuremberg constr

Despite an on-going road repair and having only 1 lane functioning, cars in this area never got entangled with each other.  Many roads there are narrow, and yet there was never a time when I saw any one of them congested.  

If traffic is an indication of economic progress, then Metro Manila should be extremely prosperous by now.  However, that is not the case.  The city is not abundant in wealth but in countless of people constantly late for work and appointments, harassed and tired even before getting to their destinations; tons of exhaust gases that attack the lungs, and a great deal of wastage of – ironically – money.  Every day, people have to battle with this urban monster, which seems to worsen every year.  It has gotten so bad, in fact, that two months ago, many urbanites (including I) suffered several hours of horrendous gridlock, which has come to be known as “Carmageddon.”   Although heavy rain was partly to blame, it was mostly due to poor drainage system, absence of enforcers, and moreover, lack of discipline for some motorists and pedestrians alike.

Being stuck in terrible traffic is sadly becoming the norm in Metro Manila.  Road constructions and water pipe repairs that take forever to finish, jaywalkers, no proper PUV stops and stations, and poor railway maintenance are just some of the main causes of a commuter’s hellish everyday travel experience, which should NOT be.

While it is obvious that the government has not done its part in building proper infrastructures and enforcing the law, motorists and pedestrians are also to blame.  People do not know how to discipline themselves; road courtesy and consideration are brushed aside.  Motorcycles and jeeps use the sidewalks as an escape from the traffic jam.   When a person doesn’t have any parking space, she/he uses the street as her/his garage.  Drivers overtake and create their own counter flow!  Dios mio!

I remember someone telling me before that in the Netherlands, when trams arrive late even for a minute or two, people would immediately write to the authorities to express their dissatisfaction.  But here in Metro Manila, people have endured it for so long, and even when people are already crying out, complaints land on deaf ears.  Someone who learned about the Carmageddon in Manila while I was in Berlin asked me this:  Isn’t that a cause for a revolution already?  It should be!

Having a properly working and inclusive public transportation system is the lifeline of any place.  It is the vein from which the blood flows to the heart of the city and beyond.   The metro’s traffic problem is something that both the government and the people should resolve unless we really want to see the heart stop beating soon.


A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars.  It is where the rich use public transportation.

~ para­phrased from Enrique Peñalosa, for­mer Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia


A Letter to the Mayor

No city is flawless.

No matter how simple or advanced it may be, its people will still find reasons to complain about something – horrendous traffic jams, lack of green spaces, expensive cost of living, the occasional delay of the trains even by one minute, among many others, can be a cause of dissatisfaction for the population.

Oftentimes, however, people complain about the issues of their communities to their families, friends, and colleagues; post their exasperation on social media – and that’s perfectly all right – but seldom do they discuss these issues to the agent that can (hopefully) give a resolution – the city government itself.

I reside in the one of the big cities of the country, and I have my fair share of discontent.  I’ve lived here for a long time, but it was only last year that I had the idea of contacting the city mayor.  It happened that I finally grew tired of enduring some of my city’s problems namely traffic, trash, stray animals, and illegal vendors.

And I guess that’s the problem with many of us – we endure things that shouldn’t be put up with.  We let these tiny things pass, thinking that they will eventually go away.  But they don’t; instead they pile up and become worse, and although we are faced with these unpleasant situations, we become too familiar with them until they pervade the system and become part of our daily lives.  A culture.  Eh ganun na talaga eh. 

Below is a copy of the letter I wrote to our mayor.   I intended to write him as early as May last year, but I only got to write down my observations and complaints sometime last October 2014.  I sent it via the official email address written in the city government’s website.  I wanted to send a copy of the email to the Metro Manila Development Authority, too but the only contact details it had on the website were telephone numbers (as if the Chairman would really talk to me on the phone to discuss my concerns).  I sent a copy of the letter to the vice mayor, just for good measure.

It is quite long, but I had the slightest hope that despite its length, the authorities will take time to read it, and hopefully, act upon the issues contained therein.  Unfortunately, five months have passed and I have yet to hear a word from them.  Maybe the mayor and the vice mayor are swamped with work.  Maybe the official website was not updated and my email got lost in cyberspace.  Maybe they did read it but did not even have the time to acknowledge it.  Whatever the reason for their lack of response, I do not know. What I do know is that it is just frustrating and disappointing.   It makes me wonder then that if this simple act of communication is not acted upon, how much more the bigger things?

This is one major reason why people resort to mass media as a way to resolve social issues.  The authorities are not doing what they should be doing; let us report them to TV Patrol!    And most of the time, it works!  Watch the news or listen to the AM radio and you will hear all sorts of complaints about the government or an agency’s non-action and several weeks after (sometimes it doesn’t even take days), a bridge is fixed, a manhole is covered up, a road is repaired.

Does the local government really need to be poked by the media before they take action?  Should the authorities be shamed first before they can fulfill their responsibilities?  Can’t they have more initiative?  Be more proactive?  Be more sensitive?

I am posting my letter not because I have hopes that it would finally get to its destination and get noticed.  No, I’m merely venting out, but if it does land on the proper desk, then that’s good.  If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t.  I do hope though that people who may read this post may also be encouraged to let their voices out.  Speak up against things that they think are wrong.  Speak up to praise things that have been done right.   Writing a simple letter is merely one small way of showing that you care.  Because if the authorities don’t, and we don’t too, who else will?

(Note: In the interest of fairness, months after I had sent my email, I noticed some changes in some areas: a spot near the Sandiganbayan Footbridge got cleaned up (there used to be just piles of trash and soil there!), exit and entry signs have been put up at the Commonwealth service road, and no more illegal vendors on a certain footbridge on the same road.  However, lots of vendors mushroomed on a sidewalk near that footbridge, which makes me think that the old footbridge vendors only transferred there.  Also, there still much to be done about the proper and stricter implementation of loading and unloading practices.

Has my letter been read after all?  I don’t know.  There’s no way of telling, but at least, I’ve seen some slight changes!  Nevertheless, much work still needs to be done.)

ps. Some details have been removed for privacy reasons.

Dear Mayor Herbert Bautista:

Good day!

My name is […] every day, when I go to work, I am assaulted by some of the different challenges that our city needs to address.

Cleanliness, traffic jams, illegal vendors, and stray animals –  these are a few things that I would like to bring to your attention, sir.  And I hope that you would take the time to read the concerns of a constituent whose primary intention is the same as yours: to make QC better.


Many places in QC are littered with garbage whether they may be a main thoroughfare, a tiny street corner, waterways, and even footbridges.  One of the biggest questions I have in mind when it comes to cleanliness is this: why can’t there be any trash bins scattered around the city instead?  I’ve seen big cigarette bins (courtesy of MMDA) in some parts of Commonwealth – which is rather ironic because we have anti-smoking campaigns – but not trash bins.  

Why can’t we do the same thing for our litter problem?  I think having trash cans can help solve it a bit.  Apart from the apathy that some people have about the environment, I think one simple reason that people litter, too, is the absence of a place where they can dump their trash!  Not everyone can simply keep their trash inside their bags, and definitely not all trash can be kept inside a bag, so having properly segregated trash bins can help in lessening trash in the streets.  Huge “’Wag magtapon ng basura dito” signs are utterly useless if we cannot point the proper place where people can actually throw their garbage.  By placing trash bins, you will be able to train the people to be more responsible, make the street sweepers’ job relatively easier, and make the surroundings cleaner.

On another note, may I also know what’s being done with the money being collected when we purchase plastic bags from some stores?  Also, QC has recycling programs too, am I right?  Has it been effective in reducing the waste of the city?


I use public transportation and every time I go to work, I encounter dreadful traffic jams along Commonwealth Ave.  Despite its vastness, it still gets heavily congested especially the lanes dedicated to PUVs.  From Litex until Sandiganbayan, for instance, the service lanes are cramped with buses and jeepneys that carelessly pick up and drop off passengers anywhere they please.  The traffic enforcers who are supposed to manage traffic simply look on and wave their hands to the drivers gesturing them to move, which PUV drivers do not heed, anyway.  Also, since the service road is often blocked, some drivers then pick up and drop off passengers outside of the service road, blocking traffic there as well!

There are also numerous loading stations along that stretch of road but only very few of them are used.  The lack of discipline by the drivers is further amplified by the lack of discipline by some commuters who hail their ride under footbridges or on the street itself instead.  People then occupy a significant portion of the road, run after buses and jeeps, and jostle their way just to be able to hitch a ride!  It’s impossible!

And that’s just a small portion of the southbound lane of Commonwealth Ave.    On the other side of the street, in front of Ever Commonwealth for example, the same thing happens:  there’s no fixed area where the commuters can wait for a ride forcing them to wait on the road instead.  Many jeepneys, on the other hand, use the loading/unloading zone as their terminals and parking space.  Both commuters and jeepneys then have to play patintero with each other.  And the buses?  As always, they drop off / pick up their passengers in the middle of the road, blocking numerous vehicles behind them.  While all this chaos is happening, the traffic enforcers are either just standing there or reminding the drivers and commuters with the use of a megaphone to move forward or walk further!

Illegal vendors:

There are traffic jams on the streets and they’re also present on footbridges!  Illegal vendors occupy the space that is supposed to be for pedestrians.  People cannot walk properly because they have to avoid products that are either sprawled on mats or placed on stands attached to the fence of the footbridge.  So, on the footbridge, you have to avoid two things: piles of garbage and an assortment of merchandise!

Stray animals:

Everywhere you look, there are dogs and cats that roam our streets.  Many of them are neglected by their irresponsible owners and are left to suffer and/or fend for themselves.  They live in danger all the time, and some unfortunate ones end up as road kills.   Do we have a decent animal shelter that can take care of these helpless animals?  Is it possible to have an affordable neutering / spaying program for dogs and cats in QC, so that the population of these animals can also be controlled?

The issues I have raised are not new problems.  They have been here for a long time.  What I don’t understand is why until now, despite the numerous change in leadership, these problems persist.

I can see some improvements here and there (Manggahan and Litex have become a little bit cleaner since summer of this year) but overall, it seems like things have pretty much remained the same at least in the areas I have mentioned.

As I have said, I have lived in QC all my life.  I know I should have gotten used to this mess somehow, but I haven’t, and I refuse to get used to it because this is not how a decent city is supposed to be!

Quezon City has recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary.  I hope it doesn’t take another 75 years to see some real changes around here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  God Bless.

In Times of War, In Times of Need

Numerous photographs, maps, videos, and documents depicting the horrors of the Battle of Manila 70 long years ago appear on a government website commemorating this grim part of Philippine history.  The battle, whose objective was to liberate the capital from Japanese forces during World War II, was a month-long conflict, which reduced buildings to piles of rubble and lives to mere memories for both civilians and soldiers alike.  Manila, the second most devastated Allied country during WW II, would never regain the beauty it once possessed.

Quiapo, 1945. "Seen from afar is the Main Building of the University of Santo Tomas and the art-deco designed Far Eastern University." - Philippine Presidential Museum and Library

Quiapo, 1945. “Seen from afar is the Main Building of the University of Santo Tomas and the art-deco designed Far Eastern University.” – Philippine Presidential Museum and Library

The Battle of Manila was only a part in a bigger bleak picture WW II had painted.  The atrocities of the war extended beyond the borders of the capital and left a trail of dead bodies and fractured lives in the process.  Scenes of destruction, guerilla warfare, systematic rape, the Death March, and even babies killed by the Japanese’s bayonets dominate the idea of how WW II was like in the Philippines.  But buried in all this tragedy is a touching tale of kindness of compassion not known to many people, not even to Filipinos themselves.

Jews in Manila

Jews in Manila

No one would probably connect the events of the Holocaust to the Philippines but there is, in fact, a deep link between the two.  During the early stages of the War, in 1939, the Philippines became a refuge for some 1,300 European Jews who were trying to escape the Holocaust.  Colonel Dwight Eisenhower; Paul McNutt, US High Commissioner; five business owners, the Frieder brothers; and Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon, had devised a plan to provide these Jews safety and protection from the persecution that they were experiencing back in Europe.

A film called Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust documents this piece of hidden history.  A preview of which can be viewed below:

Why this part of Philippine history not mentioned in school textbooks is baffling.  It deserves recognition and appreciation.  Many people are familiar with Germany’s Oskar Schindler and Japan’s Chiune Siguhara and their efforts of helping thousands of Jews escape the Holocaust.  It’s only proper, too, that the world know about this particular magnificent gesture of moral courage.  But more importantly,  the Filipinos themselves should be acquainted with the events of this special mission, so that when they look back in the past, they may appreciate the fact that the country might had been plunged in a time of darkness, but it was still also strong enough to be a source of light and hope even for others.

At a time when many countries closed their doors on the Jews, the Philippines’ doors were wide open.  In photo, the Open Doors Monument in Rishon Leizon, Israel erected in 2009.

At a time when many countries closed their doors on the Jews, the Philippines’ doors were wide open. In photo, the Open Doors Monument in Rishon Leizon, Israel erected in 2009.



View more photos of the Battle of Manila on this Flickr page.  To learn more about the Battle of Manila and World War II in the Philippines in general, visit this link.

Special exhibits, film showings, and mini-conferences about the Battle of Manila titled “Manila, My City at War!” are held at the Ayala Museum from February 3 – March 3, 2015.  The documentary Rescue in the Philippines will also be screened here.  For details, visit the Filipinas Library page.

Learn more about the documentary Rescue in the Philippines.

Watch a preview of another film documenting the Philippines’ Open Door Policy.

Rescue in the Philippines’ premiered last August at the Malacañang Palace.  Watch its special coverage.

Get Ready for Ruby

Typhoon Ruby (international name: Hagupit) is the 18th typhoon to enter the Philippines this 2014, and it will, unfortunately, bear down on many of the areas that Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) destroyed just one year ago. Most of which still have not even recovered fully yet.

source: PAGASA

source: PAGASA

Although Typhoon Ruby is not as strong as Yolanda, it still packs some mighty winds and it is powerful enough to create storm surge that can reach up to 4 meters.  Weather experts say it will make at least six landfalls starting over Dolores, Eastern Samar on Saturday.  Hopefully, the local and national government, as well as the people are more prepared this time around. Stay strong, Visayas!

source: National Geographic Channel

Below is a list of important contact numbers in case of an emergency. Please pass.

emergency numbers

Metro Manila, get ready too!

P.S.  Thank you, PAGASA for tirelessly doing your job.

After Yolanda [part 2]: “Small” Acts of Kindness

[Read Part 1]  

I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay
– small acts of kindness and love.
~Gandalf, “The Hobbit”

It’s been a year since super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the central part of the Philippines, and once again, the news is filled with stories of those who suffered from this exceptional natural disaster.

Indeed, this event produced some of the saddest tales, but amidst this seeming interminable misery, it also showed that compassion still existed.  And it was not only evident in the relief extended by international governments to the Philippines, but also in the everyday people and certain individuals who performed “small” acts of kindness and love.  Their donations and mere show of solidarity might not have been able to feed thousands of people or put a roof over a family’s head, but their humble support somehow restored people’s faith in humanity.

Here are a few of them:


kids from Sendai, Japan send messages of hope.


photo: PH Red Cross

3  Shoichi Kondoh was a six-year old Japanese boy, who, upon learning about the situation in the Philippines, donated his piggy bank savings of ¥5,000 (roughly P2, 200). As a sign of gratitude, an anonymous group of Filipinos sent Shoichi a gift – 4 jeepney toys and a t-shirt that said “I Love PH”.

Shoichi accompanied by his mother at the PH embassy in Tokyo

Shoichi accompanied by his mother, Miho, at the PH embassy in Tokyo

Shoichi being given his "thank you" gift

Shoichi, being given his “thank you” gift

4  The Empire State in New York lit up using the colors of the Philippine flag as a sign of support


5  Various European football clubs displayed messages of hope during their UEFA Champions League matches.  This was during a match between FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Spanish club Real Sociedad in Ukraine.

“You are not alone, Philippines”

6  Seahawk’s Doug Baldwin before the beginning of a football match

Seattle Seahawks Doug Baldwin


photo:  deleonphoto instagram

8  Some families in the poverty-stricken area of Tondo, Manila rummaged through their closets and kitchen cupboards and looked for things that they could donate.  They themselves actually had nothing yet were still able to give out something.


photo: when in manila facebook page

10  The countless volunteers who spent their time packing goods, doing admin work, and even driving victims to help them find their relatives in Manila displayed great benevolence. So many volunteers got involved that one charity organization near my place had to refuse my registration to help twice because all the time slots had been fully booked until the next few weeks.  The same organization also had to stop accepting donations several times because they didn’t have any room to keep them anymore – and to think that it was already their second warehouse!

There were thousands more around the world whose modest donations, prayers, and efforts never got on the evening news.  These people remained anonymous, but their “small” act of kindness would always be treasured by those who have received it, for as Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”


The Emperor’s New Blog Post

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see,” French artist Edgar Degas said.  If this were the case, then 27-year-old artist, Lana Newstrom, who recently created quite a stir because of her “invisible art,” would be one of the greatest artists of all time.

photo released with the supposed art exhibit of newstrom's invisible art.  in reality, this is an altered photo of a bert stern show in italy.

photo released with the supposed exhibit of newstrom’s invisible art. in reality, this is an altered photo of a bert stern show in italy.

Her exhibit at the Schulberg Gallery in New York  some couple of weeks back which featured invisible paintings and sculptures was attended by art enthusiasts and by people who were simply intrigued by this whole event.  Some didn’t appreciate Newstrom’s art works, but others – especially those who have pockets to burn – happily bought some of the pieces that even commanded millions of dollars.

Does this sound insane?  Well, it is.  And satirical, too.  Apparently, this news was merely a fabrication of CBC Radio’s Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring for their show, This is That.   Many fell for it, though, and as much as I would hate to admit it, including me.

“Is this really the future of art? Nothingness?”  I asked myself after reading the article.  Although I love going to museums, the art world is still distant to me – its history and evolution, the different movements, the styles, the criticisms, the who’s who, etc.   My knowledge and experience of it is scanty, so certain concept art or any avant-garde style can sometimes make me scratch my head in confusion.   That is why I thought it was real – not the art works themselves, but the idea that some people would actually “create” something that is unseen and have the public agree with them.  Art can be weird at times, and the same can be said for those who worship it, purchase it, or pretend to appreciate it.

Reading about Newstrom’s invisible art news reminded me of another (almost) “invisible art” straightaway.  It was a poem that was included in my Philippine Literature class back in college – The Emperor’s New Sonnet .  It was created by poet, writer, literary critic, and painter Jose Villa Garcia (1908 – 1997).

Compared to Newstrom’s invisible art, Garcia’s work is more understandable because the title is a dead giveaway.  It is a clever poem, not in the way the words had been used – because obviously there isn’t one – but on the manner that his message and his art are conveyed through a blank sheet of paper.

the emperor's new sonnet

Maybe you’d think that I am “hopelessly stupid” for thinking that it actually conveys a message.  But whether you think of this as art or simple nonsense, there is no way denying that once you look at it, you get it, despite of the fact that nothing is written there.

Or is there?

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
― Pablo Picasso