How I survive commuting in Metro Manila

Are you one of the unfortunate people who commutes around Metro Manila every day? If yes, you also stay in the road for more than 2 hours every day, right? Every day is a battle against pollution, traffic, struggles in getting a ride, and even a surprise flash flood sometimes. With this, I always wonder—how do we even survive this daily dilemma?

My Metro Manila commute experiences and how they affect me every day

I’ve been commuting around Metro Manila for more than 6 years now. That would be since I started Senior High School, up to now that I’m in College and working. I know that it is not yet that long, but to be honest, it is not easy. It is not easy having to leave home at least 2 hours early just so I won’t be late. But I am one of those, as they call, ‘nasanay na lang’. Yes, I haven’t experienced a smooth, painless ride in Metro Manila yet. But do I have a choice? Of course, I don’t. For the ordinary citizens, like myself, commuting every day is the only choice available—even if it means sacrificing a complete rest or your sanity.

The dangers in commuting

And when I say danger, I literally mean danger. I’ve experienced having my phone snatched, almost being ‘holdap’ed, and more. It is not just difficult, but also scary. Imagine having to commute every day while carrying that fear.

I was in Senior High School when I had my phone snatched by a snatcher. It was in Divisoria, and I was on my way to school. Just when I was about to message my classmates if our professor is already there, an unfamiliar hand held my phone. I was seated beside the driver and there’s no one yet beside me. At first, I thought it was my classmate who also rides along Divisoria to school. Imagine how shocked I was when that person suddenly snatched my phone away! Thankfully, I was able run after him until he was tired of running and just gave up. He threw my phone on the ground, which I picked up, then went back to ride a jeepney like nothing happened.

And if you think that’s scary, there’s more…

Worse, I saw a holdup scene right in front of my eyes, in the same jeepney that we were in. This was in Guadalupe, just May this year. Luckily enough, we were not one of the victims who lost their phones that night. Still, it is very frightening to see it happening right in front of me. To be honest, this is a lot more scary than when my phone was snatched. I felt so weak. Ever since that incident happen, I’ve never stopped panicking whenever I’m commuting.

Aside from these major events, I have encountered a lot of other dangerous things while commuting. From fights to traffic congestions, road accidents and unpeaceful rallies, I’ve experienced them all. Sure, I’m lucky enough that I’m safe and always reaches my destination in one piece, but the world does not revolve around me. How about those who were victimized by these dangers on the streets? Think about them.

The hassle? Can’t even describe!

If you need to be somewhere by 8:00 PM, you have to leave home by 5:00 or 6:00 PM. Yes, that’s not an exaggeration. All the heavy traffic that you have to endure while you’re on your way is not a joke, especially when you’re traveling North to South like I do. Not just that, there’s also scarcity in public vehicles. Due to the rising fuel prices, more and more jeepneys and buses stop going on the road. Even if the minimum fare went higher, it still won’t suffice their daily expenses.

On top of that, once it rains, the cars on the road magically stop. This is the time when you have to pray to all saints you know. The traffic is already heavy and it will be even worse when it rains, especially when there’s flood. Don’t even get me started on how hard it is to commute when there’s a typhoon—you would really just wish to be a mermaid.

Lastly, the number of private vehicles on the road makes it even more suffocating. Of course I don’t blame them for having their own cars, but the effect of it in commuting is tragic. Imagine how many people you bring around Metro Manila in one public vehicle versus how many a private car can. They add to the number of vehicles on the road plus the pollution. Although I can’t blame them because it’s indeed easier to drive than to commute and suffer with the scarcity of vehicles. Still, it is one of the reasons why the heavy traffic in Metro Manila does not get solved.

So how do I survive?

Commuting almost every day makes me invincible to its effects already. It feels like I have already seen everything that there is to see.

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However, one thing that I always say to people who ask this question is to always look tough. It helps, even though it sounds like a joke. I’ve walked the most dangerous roads in Metro Manila and I’ve walked out alive. Even in the darkest of nights, I’m able to walk in the narrowest streets alone. Of course I do not recommend walking alone at night, but if you really have to, you should not look vulnerable. Yes, it is funny that we have to adjust so we won’t be in danger, but we must do what we can. Looking stern and strong have helped me in more times than I can recall. It also helps to bring protective items such as pepper spray, whistles, and more.

There’s nothing we can do about the heavy traffic, but we can wake up and leave early. It is also best to know the easiest route to and from your destination so you won’t need to troubleshoot in the road. It is important that you know where you are going and how you will commute to that place. Aside from the fact that it will save you time, it will also maintain your safety as you won’t need to ask directions from strangers. These people will only see you as their vulnerable prey once you start asking for directions. Better to use Google Maps or Waze when traveling alone and unsure of your route.

When will this ever end?

Commuting in the Philippines is indeed tiring, and I’m afraid it will stay like that for a long period of time. Fuel prices continue to rise, public vehicles are always scarce, more and more people needs to work outside, traffic is getting heavier. Add the fear of being in danger on top of all that. These make the usual 8:00 to 5:00 of Filipinos even more tiring than it should. Commuting steals the time that we should’ve been spending at home to rest or to bond with our family.

And do we deserve this? Of course not. However, most of us don’t have a choice. We cannot afford our own cars or motorcycles. We need to travel far and wide for work. It is necessary for us to go through this dilemma every day in order to work and survive. But the question is—do we ever really survive?

Commuting is not something you’ll survive from, it’s something you’ll just get used to.

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