Exposing hulidap operations
Anyone out there looking for a case study on one of the most blatant forms of corruption happening in our country is invited to visit, during peak hours, the intersection of Senator Gil Puyat and Macapagal Avenue in Pasay City, just a few meters from the august halls of the Senate of the Republic of the Philippines.
It is where the classic case of hulidap happens practically every few minutes during rush hours.
The area is not particularly prone to heavy traffic. It usually gets bumper-to-bumper only when nearby Mall of Asia sponsors a giant event such as the recent fireworks competition or that public kissing festival. So what accounts for the fact that on any given day, one would find at least five or six traffic cops lurking in the area?
Having the Senate nearby cannot be a justification. Our senators travel with security escorts who drive like the roads of Metro Manila are their private racetracks, anyway. And, as I said, there is hardly any traffic in the area that can possibly cause inconvenience to our very hardworking legislators (they produced more than 10 bills this time, hurray!). Macapagal Avenue, after all, is almost as wide as Edsa and can accommodate a sizable number of vehicles. It is not the most expensive strip of road in the Philippines for nothing.
So what are these cops doing on that intersection? The answer is simple. It offers a perfect trap for unsuspecting motorists travelling towards Makati.
I mentioned earlier that these traffic cops “lurk” in the area—that is the correct word. If you are a motorist coming from the south and intending to turn right towards Makati on Gil Puyat Avenue, you will not be able to see these cops while approaching the intersection. But once you make a right turn towards Sen. Gil Puyat and you happen to make the mistake of turning right from an inner lane, that’s when these cops suddenly appear out of the blue and descend on you like hungry vultures.
Because I work around the area, I am witness to the number of motorists who have been victimized by the setup. There has never been a time, not even once, during all the times that I passed through the area when traffic cops did not “apprehend” someone. By observing their body language, one can surmise that a negotiation process is always happening. Certainly, the discussion is not about which senatorial candidates deserve to win.
The offense they slap motorists with is “swerving.” It’s one of those traffic regulations that say if you are turning right, you must stay on the right lane. This regulation actually makes perfect sense if you are travelling on a two-lane road where you are bound to block traffic if you swerve from the inner lane. But on an eight-lane highway that hardly has any traffic? Come on.
But then again, traffic laws must be followed. So it really does not matter whether the road is narrow or wide, or whether you are the only motorist or the road or not. It’s in the attitude. I think it is still a sign of basic courtesy that drivers who are turning right of left, must prepare for the turn way ahead so that they do not block other vehicles when they actually make the turn.
This happens a lot along Taft Avenue. On the corner of Vito Cruz, for example, vehicles turning left towards Vito Cruz Extension usually block all three lanes of Taft Avenue going south. This means that motorists traversing Taft Avenue towards Gil Puyat have to wait until the green light for turning left is likewise on before they can cross Vito Cruz.
But are there traffic cops on Taft Avenue to apprehend the violators? Of course there are none. Even at the intersection of Kalaw and Taft, cops turn a blind eye on motorists turning left on a no-left-turn sign. The answer is painfully obvious: there is just too much traffic and too many people on Taft Avenue—it would be difficult to collect bribes from motorists in full view of thousands of people.
So the extortion scam works in areas where strictly imposing the regulation is not critical, after all. They used to do this in Edsa, right before the approach to Shaw Boulevard. It’s the same modus operandi—the traffic cops hide behind those giant pillars of the MRT and then make that surprise appearance when someone makes the mistake of swerving right towards Crossing. They do this when Edsa is free flowing. But when traffic in Edsa is gridlocked, those traffic cops don’t care if motorists crisscross and play soccer with their vehicles on the road.
And this is exactly what gets my goat. Traffic cops in Metro Manila seem to have only one mandate: To apprehend violators. One would think that apprehending violators is only one of the ways to address the traffic problem, but no, it seems that as far as these traffic cops are concerned, apprehending violators is their only job description.
Instead of lurking in the shadows and hiding behind bushes and posts, traffic cops could actually become more helpful and be able to do their jobs more effectively if they actually direct traffic and signal to motorists what they can and cannot do while on the road.
But then again, that’s real hard work and there’s not much money to be had in doing that kind of public service. So I guess mulcting motorists and taking bribes is much more desirable.
When we count pesos and centavos, the corruption that is committed by kotong cops is negligible compared to, say, the kind of corruption attached to the distribution of the pork barrel funds or the ones happening at the Bureau of Customs. But mulcting motorists on the road is just as insidious because it victimizes everybody and it happens in full view of everyone else. It feeds the cycle of corruption in our country.
So how do we address this problem? Obviously, the solution has to be comprehensive and requires more than just one column. But I have one quick suggestion that apply in this particular context.
The government agencies responsible for traffic management must publish the schedule of penalties associated with the most common traffic violations. They can also post the schedule of penalties on critical intersections for people to read. One would be surprised to note that certain violations actually do not merit heavy fines contrary to what kotong cops would like us to believe.
For example, the fines for the following traffic violations are pegged at P150 “only”: making an illegal turn, failure to yield to the right of way, overtaking in an intersection, obstruction to traffic, disregarding traffic signs, etc. Even the dreaded offense of parking in a place not designated for parking actually carries a penalty of P150 only—a paltry amount compared to what one has to pay for the services of those darned tow trucks. But if one does not know the schedule of penalties, then he is subject to the bullying acts of kotong cops.
A friend of mine paid the kotong cops P300 for an offense that was punishable by a fine of P150 because the cops said that’s what he was going to fork out if he gets a violation ticket anyway. Of course, a number of people will still prefer to pay off the kotong cops, but the more conscientious ones will think twice.
Besides, some of the offenses do carry heavy fines (e.g., driving under the influence of liquor or drugs carry a steep penalty of P2,000) and being aware of the penalties involved might just get people to obey traffic rules.