They have a coding system in Manila to limit the number of cars on the road. There is one day a week when you cannot drive your car, and that day is determined by the last digit of your license plate. This much I knew, as even people who don’t drive know that much about the system. But it’s proven very difficult to find out the details.
When I bought my car, on December 30, 2010, I didn’t initially have license plates. I had to wait until they arrived at the dealer from the Land Transportation Office (LTO). During the five and a half months (yes,we have bureaucracy!) that I was waiting for my license plates I was not subject to coding. According to some people I was also not supposed to be driving in Manila, because I had no plates. I rejected that notion. After paying tens of thousands of dollars for a vehicle I’m supposed to wait 5 months before I drive it? That cannot be correct. In any case, I didn’t have any problems.
In late May I went to the Toyota dealer in Batangas, because my plates had finally arrived. I asked them about the coding. The saleswoman told me that because my plate ends in a 2, I cannot drive on Tuesdays. I asked if there was a sheet or a booklet that explained the rules. No, nothing like that. I asked the customer service people, they had never heard of such a thing. I asked where I could not drive on Tuesdays, the saleswoman said it was a rule for the whole country.
Further investigation showed that to be untrue. I asked a policeman in Tagaytay and he said, no, they do not enforce coding in Tagaytay. Nor in Batangas. Only, apparently, in Manila. Fine, so I won’t drive to Manila on a Tuesday. I went to the LTO Web site, trying to find out more details, but none were available.
This all worked fine until last Monday, when I needed to go to Manila. At 3:20 pm I was stopped along a major highway in Manila, EDSA, by the police for a coding violation. It turns out the information the saleswoman gave me was completely wrong. License plates ending in 1 and 2 are prohibited from driving in Manila on Mondays between the hours of 7 to 10 am and 3 to 7 pm. 3 and 4 cannot drive Tuesday in Manila, during the same hours. 5 and 6 Wednesday, 7 and 8 Thursday, 9 and 0 Friday. According to one of the 3 cops who stopped me, the system has not changed in 10 years.
The experience of being stopped changed my attitude toward corruption in the Philippines, basically from hopefulness to despair. In the moment of course I was a bit stressed and was just trying to comply with what the police wanted. I explained what I was told by the saleswoman to the cop. He asked me, as if it was a question, I’ll write you a ticket, OK? He must have asked that five times. I asked him how much the ticket was for, he said 500 pesos (about $11). I asked him if I can pay it by mail, he said yes but kept asking me the same question. Finally I said, you want me to pay the 500 now? He said yes. I looked, and told him I don’t have 500, I have 1000. I didn’t have a 500 peso bill or enough smaller bills. He said That’s OK. He asked where I was going, I told him I am going to the Mall of Asia and then back home to Tagaytay. He had one of his colleagues escort me on a motorcycle so I wouldn’t be stopped again, but explained that I would have to stay at the Mall of Asia until 7 pm, about 2 hours later than I had planned. Of course I got no change from my 1000 peso bill.
Only when I got home and talked about it with Dindin did I realize I had paid a bribe. Apparently what you’re supposed to do, instead of giving the police money, is to get a ticket, and the cop will confiscate your license. (I was given no ticket, and was given my license back.) You then have to go to the LTO office, wait in one or more lines, pay your fine, and get your license back. And if you get stopped again before retrieving your license, you show the cop your ticket.
This is tremendously inconvenient. Why should I waste half a day going to LTO because some saleswoman gave me the wrong info? I’m glad I paid the bribe. But what’s depressing is that the whole system is designed to make corruption your only reasonable choice.
In the US a cop will almost never confiscate your license. However, in the US the cop will go back to his car before writing your ticket, where he is able to find out if you have any prior tickets, if you are wanted for a crime, if your car was stolen, etc. And then if he does write you a ticket, he usually tells you to wait until you get something in the mail before paying it, because, lo and behold, he uses a system that knows where you live!
In the Philippines the cops have no such systems. They confiscate your license because otherwise they expect you’ll just throw the ticket away, and no one will ever know you didn’t pay it.
Needless to say, I was quite angry with that saleswoman. I had been breaking the law for months without even knowing it! I decided that the next time I go back to Batangas I’m going to go to that Toyota dealership and demand that they reimburse my 1000 pesos, and train their staff better.
Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. The next time I was in Batangas was yesterday, Friday. And it was raining. And on the way to Batangas we went through another town, Lemery, where the road was flooded. This was the deepest water I’ve ever driven in. The flooded area was about 1/10 of a mile long. Soon after I entered it I had a thought. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that? Maybe I should turn around?
The water was at times up to the top of the tires. We passed a couple of trucks, and the wakes they made in the water probably made the level as high as the engine (which is a bit higher on my minivan than on a regular car). And the water was full of broken coconuts, which I was afraid might get stuck in the wheels.
Well, we made it through fine. Apparently no damage to the car, it runs fine since. Of course, this delayed us a bit. I gave up my plans to go to Toyota that day, because a) I didn’t want to take the time, and b) it was hard to be mad at Toyota now, I was at that point very happy with the car.
I guess the good part of this is that I now understand the situation better. I had naively thought that it would be easy to not participate in corruption. Silly me.