Run for your life

A 10-year study showed that more than 57,000 pedestrians were hit by vehicles in MetroManila, including those who lost their lives simply crossing the streets. Notwithstanding the designated crossing “zebra” lanes (large bold white lines on black asphalt) which are supposed to be the safe haven for crossing pedestrians, drivers and car owners do not seem to care to slow down and stop properly. They all break the traffic laws with impunity, putting the lives of people in jeopardy. Reason: Our lack of discipline as a people, which is also why our laws are not enforced. Discipline must start from the top executive of the city.

I put the blame squarely on the city Mayors for defaulting on their sworn obligation as heads of their respective cities to uphold and enforce all laws to protect the public. Their negligence has led to the current rampant life-threatening behavior of drivers in our cities.  While the drivers may be the actual law-breakers, who should be penalized, their employers, who should know better, are unapologetic consenting co-conspirators, who ought to be penalized several times more. If there is no existing “command responsibility law” applicable to this particular situation, its about time our legislators enacted one to prevent more deaths and injuries.

Why should crossing the street on the designated lanes be risky at all? Weren’t they so designed to protect the pedestrians? Why should the citizens be in constant fear and have to run for their life every time they cross the streets?

In more disciplined countries, where laws are strictly enforced and respected, like Singapore, Japan, the United States, here in Dubai, and others, vehicles start to slow down (with no Police Officer around) when they are about 50 feet from the crossing lane and then fully stop about 10 feet from the lane when drivers see a person wanting (not even starting yet) to cross, and do not try to outrun the pedestrians as they do in MetroManila. As long as there is even a single pedestrian on that safety lane, no car would be passing in front or at the back of that person. The pedestrian has the right to change his/her mind and suddenly turn around and go back without being hit by a car behind her. Only when the entire crossing lane was totally empty would any car move. Pedestrians in those countries are respected and protected and not terrorized like pedestrians here.

As late as last week, near Greenhills Shopping Center, an elderly couple, the wife walking with a cane, was in the middle (yes, halfway) of the crossing lane on Annapolis Street, when a van zoomed through in front of them, barely missing them, and another behind them. And this is not an isolated case.

On some occasions, I have seen Police Officers modulating the traffic to allow pedestrians to cross on the designated lanes. That is good public service. But why do we even need an officer (or the mother of the driver) to stand by the corners to exact discipline? It is the car-owner/employer’s responsibility to discipline his/her driver to protect the public and allow the officer to do his more needed job of arresting criminals instead. This would save the city some money. Assigning an officer at each of the thousands of crossing lanes in the entire MetroManila would be cost prohibitive, besides making policing even less efficient and the city less safe.

These same drivers, who blatantly violated the laws in the city with brazen decorum, somehow became transformed into model law-abiding drivers when they entered the formerly American-owned Clark Field Subic Airbase. Why? Because they knew that traffic rules there were strictly enforced and violators severely penalized. But the moment they got out of the compound, they resumed their usual recklessness with impunity…because they knew they would get away with it.

It is therefore clear that the behavior of drivers in MetroManila could be modified, IF (and only IF) our City Mayors, Chiefs of Police, MMDA, and other related agencies are themselves disciplined and patriotic enough to enforce the laws.

Just one well-publicized story (highlighted in all news and social media around the country) about a drastic penalty levied against a violator driver and heavier yet against the employee/owner of the car (under a new law) for not stopping properly at crossing lanes would surely be noticed nationwide and serve as a good warning and deterrent to future violators. Behavioral modification through legal enforcement and application of heavy penalties on the offenders have been proven to be effective. Obviously, the initiative must start from the top, with the Mayor, where the bucks stop!

Part of Article 3 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the right to personal security. The Presidential decree of 1959 (1984), an amendment of the Land Transportation Traffic Code of 1964, obliges motorists to give way to pedestrians in pedestrians lanes or “Zebra Lanes.”

Why the Mayors of MetroManila do not ensure the city laws and ordinances are enforced is beyond me. They cannot claim ignorance because ignorance of the law excuses no one. They are the head of the city and must know all ongoing problems of the city, including law infringement that could hurt, maim or kill their constituents. If the Mayor says he has already ordered the enforcement of all laws and ordinances from day one, then he is an impotent, ineffective, and useless Mayor, whose subordinates who do not respect, follow, or fear him.

If law enforcement is not executed properly, it is the Mayor’s fault (doctrine of command responsibility). He swore before God to make sure the laws and ordinances of the city are strictly enforced and law breakers (like offender drivers together with their employers) are punished accordingly. Anything less on the Mayor’s part is a dereliction of a sworn duty and the Mayor is legally liable under the laws of the Philippines. And the culpability is self-evident. The thousands of dangerous ongoing breaches of the laws and ordinances are evidences in themselves which the Mayors cannot refute.

I challenge the people of MetroManila to be proactive and preemptive and not wait for another 57,000 individuals to be killed by reckless drivers (and their more guilty employers) before confronting our city Mayors and demanding that the laws (traffic and otherwise) of MetroManila and the country are strictly enforced, putting the onus not only on the driver but the employer-owner of the car, who, as earlier suggested, deserves a harsher punishment.

Every citizen, especially the youth, should organize themselves as a vigilant netcitizen electronic socio-civic watchdog, e-Guardian Angels, and take videos on their cellphones as proofs of this dangerous governmental neglect, any uncorrected infra-structure hazards, and other misdeeds or abuses by government officials. If needed, rally a protest demonstration to garner people power. Use the social media, including television, to call attention to these and to all ineptitudes, graft, and corruption perpetrated by these civil servants, from the Mayors down. And this netizen watchdog movement could be duplicated in all cities in the country to serve and protect our national dignity and our people’s rights..

It is our obligation to ourselves, to our family, and fellow citizens to help protect and look out for each other. The politicians won’t.

Unless, We, The People, fight for our rights, we deserve every rotten situation we get, and we can blame no one else but ourselves.

Now, shall we still wait for a member of our own family to be killed first before we act in solidarity?


Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian and anti-graft foundation in the United States. Websites: FUN8888.com, philipSchua.com   Email: [email protected]