I was having a chat with my Uber driver on the way to Kingsford Smith International Airport. “Are you going on a holiday?”, he asked me after loading our five pieces luggage into the car trunk. “Yeah kinda, I’m going back to the Philippines for 4 months.”, I quickly replied. We started to make our way to the airport and I glanced out the car window having my last look of Sydney’s summer weather for this year (it’s gonna be winter by the time I get back). “Oh going back? It’s hot there, isn’t it? Where in the Philippines are you from?” He asked me again. My mind went drifting away to the picturesque views of the beaches back home, and then I smiled. “Manila. Hmm… Hot? Well, not really. Not as hot as what we have here in Sydney. We just reached 42 few weeks ago, but the Philippines is more humid throughout the year. Sydney summer is usually dry.” I like it when I say I’m from the Philippines and they actually know where the Philippines is. Believe me, I have encountered answers like, “Where is that?”, “Is that in Thailand?” Hahahaha. Anyway, my Uber driver and I went on with our conversation. “Ahhhh Manila. I heard the traffic is terrible. I have friends who just came back from South East Asia for the Christmas Holidays. “, that was his initial reaction when I told him I am from Manila. Clearly, the guy is well-updated. I didn’t know what to answer because Manila traffic is not a new story to me. “Yeah. Let’s just put it this way. If you can survive Manila driving, then you can literally drive anywhere around the world.”, I said. He laughed. OK. He found it humorous, I was serious though. LOL.

I figured, every time I talk about Manila, all they ever know is how terrible the traffic is. Even my Italian head chef would tell me how he hates Manila every time he and his wife would fly from Sydney to his wife’s hometown in the South. I have been a Manila dweller for 27 years. I was raised in Manila, and I am still proud that I still call it home. However, as time passed by…  Manila made me realize things and it hurts that even though it’s the place where I first started to build my goals, it is also the reason why I am continuously searching for better opportunities away from it.

Madalas ang oras tila lumilipas lang. Bawat minuto ay dumadaan at nagiging araw. Bawat araw ay tumatagal at nagiging buwan. Bawat pagkakataon ay mistulang pangkaraniwan lamang. – sabi ng writer ng Red Alert

Dear Manila,

We meet again after a year of residing in a country where everyone is a stranger to me. The sunset backdrop over the skylines of Makati City is just the mere sight of home and it excites me. I missed you. I may be in denial, and I didn’t want to come home just as soon, but now I have finally embraced the fact that I am back. I have come to accept the traffic scenarios as I have been driving on the roads for about 10 years now. I have experienced being stuck for more than three hours in the middle of EDSA. I have been stopped by traffic enforcers for “violations” which I never knew existed. What I just don’t understand Manila, are the following:

Bakit kailangan pa ng traffic enforcers? What is the use of stoplights kung may enforcer rin naman? Magulo lang eh. It just puzzles me when I think about it. I just think there are too many people on the road already. Why put someone in the middle of the intersection? I observed bit by bit, then you gave me my answer. Traffic enforcers are there because most drivers tend to block the intersection when the lights are red which locks up the entire road. As the usual Manila driving goes, “Go fast when it’s orange.” Di ko maintindihan, bakit pag nasa Subic Bay Area or SBMA naman, nakakasunod sa traffic rules? Dahil ba strict ang implementation? Takot sa ticket? Pero bakit sa Manila, hindi magawa? We lack discipline.

Bakit hindi natin kaya lagyan ng timetable yung mga bus? Tapos, lagyan na lang ng tamang bus stops? I just noticed, we have bus stops, but most buses still stop in the middle of the road, even when the lights are green. Why? Again, we lack discipline.

Why do pedestrians cross the roads even if there are foot bridges for them to cross? There are pedestrian lanes painted across the streets, yet people still choose to take the path where it is most dangerous. There are signages that says, “Dito po ang tamang tawiran.” or NO CROSSING, but they still choose to cross on vehicle lanes. I do not want to believe that we are down right stupid. Why do we always choose convenience over following simple traffic rules? Is it because we are lazy? Or is it because of our lack of will to make Manila a better place to live in? It has been the cancer of our society. I am sorry this happened, Manila.

As I rode another Uber on my way home from the airport, I just noticed a long queue at the sidewalk of Magallanes going to Pasong Tamo Extension. I asked the driver, “Kuya, ano yung pila?” He answered me, “MRT po Ma’am.” WHAATTTT? It wasn’t that bad when I left, and that was just a year ago. My heart broke. I felt the turmoil of the commuters. Stressed ka na sa byahe mo sa umaga, stressed ka na sa trabaho, stressed ka pa pauwi. Ano na tayo? 

The traffic from the airport to my place was bad as usual, it’s nothing new and I braced myself for it. The supposed to be 35 minute drive took almost 3 hours. I arrived at my home. The comforts of our house seemed like an invisible red carpet. Welcoming. The smell of Filipino food cooking in the kitchen was way more than enough to make me feel relaxed. I turned the television on. Evening Filipino drama played and though I have no idea what the story is about, I tried my best to watch and absorb. I have no TFC (The Filipino Channel) back in Sydney, so hearing my mother tongue on TV thrills me. Then this breaking news went on. Another killing, robbery here and there, tax reforms… Nothing seems to be resolved.

And then I glanced at my phone. It says “Roaming” on the screen as I was still using my Australian network. Welcome to Manila, it says. It automatically flashed two time zones on the screen. Home (AEST) 11:30 PM and Roaming (Manila Time) 8:30 PM. I smiled, but it gave me an awkward feeling. I felt like a stranger in my homeland. I continued browsing. My news feed was flooded with political concerns and rants. Promises from politicians, cries of my fellow Filipinos trying to seek for better governance, and of course keyboard warriors who spend most of their day online brutally attacking whoever it is in power.

The thing is… In a year, I did see changes, both positive and negative. However, the changes I’ve noticed were far from progress. In my perspective, whoever we put in the position, it will still be the same. Why? Because all we do is belittle the government, eye at every flaw, believe that the power to change the country is within the current administration’s hands. We’ve all heard this. CHANGE STARTS WITHIN OURSELVES. Here’s a question I would like to ask to my fellow Manileños. In your entire years of existence, what have you done for Manila to contribute to its progress? Let me rephrase that… What have you done for the country in general to contribute to its progress?

I don’t want to be a hypocrite writer trying to point the negatives of our society. That is the same question I have for myself. I love you Manila. You are still my home. Even if I spent an entire year in a foreign country where you would rather choose the public transportation over a private vehicle, where you would be able to claim your taxes and your health benefits in a snap of a finger, where you would sit on a bench in the city and breathe fresh air without a single dose of pollution… I still love you Manila. Why? Because no matter what I do, anywhere I go, you are still my home.

But then, I still have to leave… Not because I don’t like to live in this place anymore, not because I would rather enjoy the benefits of a first-world country over what the Philippines can offer me. I still choose to leave, because each time I fly to a foreign land, I am able to see what we still need to develop. I can compare what needs to be improved. I can see, with eyes wide open, the difference of how people from other nations tend to react when certain predicaments impact their country. I choose to leave, because I am still hopeful that someday, when I come back for good, I would be able to contribute to our own development. Manila, this is just another journey for me and you. I might be dwelling in some other place, but I will always come back. I just want to improve myself and enrich my knowledge for a better you. I hope in due time, we both become stronger, better, and bolder. We just both need a time to heal. I still believe that we will still be together again, Manila, but now is not the time. I have to go back and let go. I am still hopeful that someday, I would be able to convince my countrymen that you are worth fighting for.

With love always,