If you've been reading this column the past few weeks, you know I recently got issued a traffic violation receipt by a Pasig City officer for crossing an intersection under a red light. You also know that I fought the urge to bribe the officer and decided to do what was right--which was to let the traffic officer confiscate my license and write me a ticket.
Well, I finally found the time to redeem my license the other day. Because I wasn't familiar with Pasig--let alone its city hall--I asked Top Gear's features editor, Dinzo Tabamo, to drive me. He was kind enough to oblige. The traffic officer wasn't kidding: I would have had a tough time locating his city hall on my own. Good thing Dinzo had been to the place once before and was able to find it this time without a sweat. Save for the usual traffic congestion around the area, our trip was generally hassle-free.
Dinzo dropped me off at the main entrance of the city hall, and then sped off to find himself a suitable waiting place nearby until I was done with my business. When I asked around where the license redemption office was, I was told it was actually located at the city's fire station a few blocks away. And so I walked under the drizzling skies, and then informed Dinzo he would later have to fetch me at a different location.
It was a rather long walk, so you can imagine my cheerfulness was slowly dissipating. When I saw the premises where the fire station was situated, I was glad I didn't bring a car and go there by myself. There was no provision for parking. Fire trucks crowded the grounds and whatever empty spaces were left were only big enough for people and tricycles to pass through.
On my way in, I made the mistake of asking a female traffic officer for directions. She was wearing the same blue uniform as her colleague who had issued me my violation receipt. She offered to assist me in such an obsequious manner that I was pretty sure the courtesy wasn't due to inherently good manners but to an expectation of a generous tip (believe me, I know the difference).
I went with the flow and handed her my citation ticket when she asked for it and offered to facilitate its processing. I'm still two minds about whether this was morally wrong. On the one hand, here was a uniformed officer extending assistance within the premises of her office--which, by the way, was formally called Traffic and Parking Management Office of the Pasig City Hall. On the other hand, I had a gut feeling that what she was suggesting to do was somewhat illegal--that she would help me jump the long line in exchange for a tip.
I passively played along because--truth be told--I was overwhelmed by the circus that greeted me when I got there. There was literally a mob in front of the processing windows. Some were neatly in line (a really long line, if I may add); others were rowdily dispersed. There seemed to be no system in the license-redemption process, and the prospect of going through it all appalled me. Add to this the fact that I had an important meeting in less than an hour, and all I really wanted was to get out of that riotous place.
And so I just waited for the female officer who had offered to assist me. As I stood there watching the bedlam, it increasingly began to dawn on me that what I had agreed to do was illegal and that it was no different from bribing a traffic officer on the spot. So my thoughts were like this: "I'd end up paying a fixer din naman pala; I should have just greased the palm of the traffic officer who had caught me." This is how I realized that the web of corruption in this country is so finely and intricately woven that if you manage to untangle yourself from it the first time, it will find another way to ensnare you another time.
I'm ashamed to report that I was actually willing to let the female officer "assist" me, all in the name of convenience. Thankfully, after a few minutes, she came back to me and handed me back my receipt, saying I had to do things myself because she feared she'd be caught. Probably still a rookie, I thought, lacking the necessary connections inside. So I got my receipt back and went to the end of the line, which had grown significantly longer since my arrival. I would have been in a much better position had I just fallen in line like everyone else when I first got there.
The line was rather slow so I asked the supervising officer if it was always like this. She said no and that it was only because it was a Monday--those who had been given a ticket the previous weekend naturally came in droves on the first day of the week. The day's extreme humidity made the experience all the more excruciating. With all the traffic fines being collected, I thought that the least they could do was to air-condition the place.
After debating in my head whether it made sense at all to be upright at all times and with even the most seemingly harmless things, I reached the payment window. I got fined P500 for my red-light violation. I was given a receipt that also served as the claim stub to be submitted to the next window.
This window for claiming the license is a virtual test of patience and endurance. You'd give your claim receipt and wait for your name to be called--which took ages. At a time when one could already send documents wirelessly, I wondered why our local-government agencies still employed manual procedures. Worse, there was no orderly line, only the picture of pure chaos. I stood there shoulder-to-shoulder with men who clearly had spent the earlier part of the day directly under the sun. I remember sending Dinzo a text message: "This is my effing definition of hell." That I was bothered by the stench of fetid human sweat actually disappointed me. I asked myself: "So you're so big-time now you can't stand the natural scent of perspiration?" The thought embarrassed me.
So I resolved not to be cranky anymore and to just wait patiently like everyone else. And then somebody farted. I kid you not--in that sweltering cauldron of mortal flesh, someone had the ingenuity to release his intestinal gas. I'm at a loss for words trying to describe the experience to you, but I guess you wouldn't want to know.
I finally got my driver's license back after an hour of rubbing skin with equally sweaty individuals. As I walked out of the place, I couldn't help but begin to understand those who'd rather bribe a traffic officer than subject themselves to pointless red tape. You know why it's so easy to be corrupt in this country? It's because the alternative--the reward of being righteous--is horrendous.