Inanities on our roads

(The following is my column today at the op-ed pages of the Manila Standard Today)

I KNOW. Those billboards that litter the skyline along Edsa, the South Luzon Expressway, North Luzon Expressway and other major thoroughfares of this country do more harm than good. Having them on our streets is like having tabloids as wallpaper in your living room. Only, the latter presents more interesting possibilities—one can actually read them at leisure, claw at them when one is bored, and draw horns and vampire teeth on the faces of those annoying people in the news. On the other hand, those billboards conceal whatever little remains of our natural landscape.

Billboards distract drivers and take focus away from the more important reasons why they are on the road, among them: to practice how to switch lanes in a split second, learn how to break traffic rules without being caught, and how to overtake that darn ambulant vendor pushing a cart of peanuts. Drivers are on the road to learn more important things and not to read up on yet another reason why they should buy a fourth cellphone or leer at some people in their underwear.

Having said that, let me also weigh in with another observation. Those billboards do serve one good purpose when Edsa stops being a highway and is transformed into a giant parking lot, which is always (except on Good Fridays, of course). When one is stuck in the middle of the road and there’s nothing left to do after one has run out of expletives directed at this country’s inept traffic managers, one can only… look up.

At another time, the exhortation “look up” took on a different, more earnest meaning, as in “invoke divine intervention.” Today, it means to take note of those giant billboards and subject them to closer or more analytical scrutiny. I did just that last week when I found myself stuck in Edsa for three agonizing hours. I now realize how therapeutic billboards are. They present extremely perplexing questions that can tie you up until, well, the next traffic jam.

Piolo Pascual comes across as this nice person one can empathize with, and on Edsa, he flashes his pearly whites and his dimples to convince you that yes, the coffee he drinks is fat free. That answers the first question. But why is he half-naked and displaying those killer abs? The correlation between those killer abs and his looks and drinking that brand of coffee is inchoate. I know some who subsist on coffee, but they do not need diet coffee; they need antacids.

Perhaps someone actually does an inventory of the billboards (“Hmm… we have 486 billboards on underwear, 30,281 on cellphones, only one on diarrhea, put up that one on indigestion!”) because further down the road, there is a billboard of an antacid, except that this one only features the drug’s name and a picture of the tablet. Why don’t they get Piolo or Cindy Kurleto to do a billboard on tablets for hyperacidity, LBM, athlete’s foot, or dandruff? Are good-looking people exempt from these common, more embarrassing ailments?

But yes, there is the divine diva, Zsa Zsa Padilla herself, displaying a lithe body. She makes a big deal out of the fact that she can look that great at that age, which raises some important questions. When you reach that age and the main source of validation of your worth as a person is still the shape of your body, boy oh boy, you do not need Vicky Belo. You need a psychiatrist. And that tagline (Body by Vicky Belo) is blasphemous. It elevates cosmetic surgeons to the stature of God. But then again, not all of us share the same God, so keep that billboard.

Keeping the divine diva company in the area are back-to-back neighbors Claudine Barreto and Polo Ravales, both for this line of clothing whose brand name should have already earned the ire of the censors and the moralists, except that they probably do not understand the joke, which is a good thing actually (I mean the fact that they do not understand). I don’t remember where I first heard it, but here’s the joke. Two collegialas (I won’t mention the supposed names of the convents) were on the road and got stuck in front of this billboard. The first one complains that the name of the brand is obscene because it describes that part of the male anatomy. The other one thinks about it, and finally asks, “folded?”

But easily, the scene-stealer in the area is the billboard for this brand of jeans designed for women of a certain weight category. “Finally, jeans that fit,” the billboard gleefully announces. I suppose that bit of news is comforting to certain people, but the billboard begs an important question. Why is she naked from the waist up? She found jeans that fit; too bad she can’t find brassieres or blouses that do. Oh well, one can’t have it all.

Aga Muhlach stands next to a gorilla and asks the stupid question: which do you prefer, a gorilla patting your back or me spoon-feeding you cough syrup? Tempting, but is there really a choice there? And just in case someone actually picks the gorilla to spite Aga, where in the Philippines can you actually find one?

The banks of the Pasig River are abloom with billboards all screaming for attention. Perhaps the billboards are meant to take attention away from the river; and they do a good job of concealing the river’s filth and the stench. If only those billboards do not represent a different kind of garbage in themselves!

And by the way, in case you haven’t noticed, they have also put up giant television monitors in some parts of Edsa. What a very thoughtful gesture, indeed. But just in case Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando expects letters of appreciation from commuters, perhaps he should be reminded that we would prefer that he fix the traffic problem instead of put up diversionary tactics.

But to go back to those appalling billboards. I can go and on about how ludicrous the situation has become (yes, those born without a funny bone who can’t recognize sarcasm need not send me e-mails accusing me of being too literal). About half of the billboards hawk underwear. What is with this predilection for pushing underwear on people? Don’t enough people buy them?

In some areas, the billboards are literally on top of each other and seem to be jostling each other out. Ordinarily, media should have weighed in on the issue a long time ago. But unfortunately, they are part of the complicity to get Metro Manila proclaimed as (tadaaa!) the Billboard Capital of the World. ABS-CBN, GMA and ABC-5, along with some newspapers, have also contributed to the profusion of inanity on the road. It is a good thing we are a truly happy people (ranked 17th in the world according to the Happy Planet Index) and can still find humor in anything.

As for me, I demand the return of that Champola billboard on Edsa in front of Megamall! I miss that little girl.


Ymir said…
i wish they fill the metro with more trees. a fusion of nature and progress.
Anonymous said…
Hey Bong, those billboards do serve a purpose too! They give explanation to the most difficult questions we have to tackle in life. For example, years back there's this huge billboard just after the toll in SLEX going to Laguna which features the upper body (clothed naman) of a very famous "huge" star (married to a not-so-famous senator) holding a yummy looking fried chicken leg, Then a few kms further is a billboard with her again (!) holding that milk can to pour to a yummy looking dessert. Eureka! So that's why she's, well, huge! My difficult question was answered, finally.
I love laughing! Hugely! Especially during dull driving moments.-- MommyJo
alden said…
Bong, this article is really hilarious!!!!!!!!
Sayote Queen said…
Hello.. Just wanna say I enjoyed reading this entry :)
almabien said…
I find it strange that billboards featuring Kris Aquino are not even mentioned here at all considering that they proliferate all over Metro Manila and nearby environs. Talk about over exposure and visual overload.

My stomach acids churn up a bit more upon seeing her billboards even from the farthest corner of my peripheral vision. :p
stormraider84 said…
Hmm.. billboards can surely be entertaining.. haha~ nice post!
BongA said…

i share your wish. too bad, MMDA chair bayani fernando thinks trees have no place in the metro.

BongA said…
Mommy Jo,

naman eh, wag na awayin si ate shawie. hahaha. pero tama ka, kaya sha nahihirapan mag lose ng weight sa dami ng endorsement nya.

bong a
BongA said…
alden, sayote queen, thanks a lot! glad you enjoyed it.

BongA said…

i know, but i deliberately took a break from raining on ms aquino's parade since I did one piece exclusively about her a few months back.

BongA said…
thanks stormaraider84
Anonymous said…
Hahaha.. :-) true! true! One time, I was driving by Edsa and this new ad (with a guy wearing only tidy- whities) got my full attention and didn’t notice that the car in front of me came to a full stop! I didn’t hit the car. I just got a bump on my head cuz I’m not wearing seatbelt —okay, partly my fault. --GG

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