Top Gear Philippines

I think the biggest mark that Ondoy left behind is found not in the actual flood-damaged cars but in the psyche of car owners in Metro Manila. No thanks to the September 26 deluge that engulfed hundreds--thousands even--of vehicles around the metropolis, motorists living in the National Capital Region get unnecessarily anxious these days every time the rain starts falling. With images of helplessly submerged cars still fresh on our minds, we can't help but fret about the safety of our rides once dark clouds appear.

Case in point: a Marikina-based friend of mine who lost her Toyota Vios to Ondoy. About two weeks ago, she took delivery of her new car and was just happy to move on. But then last week, when the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration announced that typhoon Santi was fast approaching Metro Manila, my friend had the mind to leave her car on the fourth level of her office's parking building. Meanwhile, she spent the night in the house of an officemate.

I myself was unusually jumpy on the night Santi was scheduled to arrive. When I parked at Greenbelt 5 in Makati for a dinner appointment, I had to ask a security guard if the basement parking was prone to flooding. Actually, on that night of October 30, the southbound lane of EDSA (from my office in Mandaluyong to Ayala Avenue) was oddly free-flowing. To think that, first, it was a Friday; second, it was payday; and third, it was raining. In the past--as in pre-Ondoy past--all three conditions would have guaranteed one hell of a gridlock everywhere you went.

But not on Friday last week. I reached Makati in no time at all. My theory: After receiving PAGASA's warning about another potentially devastating typhoon, many Metro Manila motorists decided to either go home early or stay put wherever they were for fear of getting stranded on the road in the middle of an imminent torrent--exactly what had happened at the height of Ondoy's fury.

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As I lay in bed later that night, the rain became stronger and the wind literally howled. Previously, I would have paid no mind to it and would have peacefully dozed off. Last week? I couldn't get to sleep because I was debating in my head whether to bring my car to a safer refuge or leave it parked in my garage. Our neighborhood, by the way, had been spared from floodwater during Ondoy's visit, so my worrying was somewhat unwarranted.

But who can blame me, or my friend, or the countless others who now can't relax every time it rains hard? If there's one thing we learned from Ondoy, it's that no place is completely safe from flash floods and that no car is impervious to floodwater. If there's one thing we know now with absolute certainty, it's that our expensive investments--many of which we haven't even fully paid for yet--can go down the drain just like that.

A car-company executive tells me that they have customers who purchased cars from them just before Ondoy and received the units the day before the typhoon's arrival. Several of these customers lost their new vehicles to the flood. Imagine that: They hadn't even enjoyed their new cars for a full 24 hours when calamity struck. And most of them didn't have the so-called "Acts of God" clause in their car insurance policy. Talk about bad timing.

Here's the difficult part: There are environmentalists who insist that typhoons just like Ondoy will now be regular occurrences--that things will only get worse from here on out. If that is the case, then our cars are no longer truly safe even inside the secure confines of our garages. Now, if this is something we all have to inevitably live with from this day forward, I think we can now stop worrying. There's really nothing we can do. We'll only lose sleep and we'll only die of stress if we don't stop fidgeting.

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Yes, a car is a most prized possession. But at the end of the day, a car is just a car. It can't possibly be more valuable than our own sanity.

Vernon B. Sarne
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