(Column in Times Focus published 19 November 2015.)
Before imaginations go wandering off, I am not writing about procreation or contraceptives. This is about the value of that essential component of a relationship: trust. But let me narrow it down to the context of taxis.
Whenever we ride a taxi, the ideal is we comfortably take the back seat and entrust our fate en route our destination to the taxi driver. We do not worry about which route we are taking, for the ideal is: the taxi driver takes you there via the shortest route possible (and in whole piece, of course). But that is the ideal — and that ideal does not necessarily exist in the jungle of Manila.
The birth of GrabTaxi and Uber in Manila is a tremendous blessing to many who have been victimized by taxi drivers. Their system allows for you to track the actual movement of the vehicle. It also keeps a record of your transaction — from when you inputted your destination, to who your driver is, to when you have arrived. Add to that, it computes automatically your taxi fare, which is usually lower than the estimated fare that pops up that moment you make a booking. At least that is how GrabTaxi works.
Unless you’re traveling in Cebu or Davao, you cannot assume the ideal when riding a taxi in Manila. It is almost always that you assume that the driver will highly likely fool you. That he will circle around certain areas, taking the longer way, so you end up paying more. And when they ask you where you are going, you go on the defensive, cautious that the driver might find a way to confuse you, in case he spots you to be unfamiliar with your destination. And just when you thought they would be more hospitable as they come from the same province as you or is a fellow Bisaya, they’d turn out to be the complete opposite.
But while this is more the case than an exemption in Manila, there are a few who remain a source of hope for the human race. There are taxi drivers who are honest — and we see them often being regaled on national TV and given rewards. These are also taxi drivers who would share in your sense of urgency, finding a shorter route than speeding at turtle pace on the infamous Edsa.
In my experience with taxi drivers in Manila, I’d like to cast away the generalization that they are out to dupe or shortchange you. Like the old adage goes: “It’s easier said than done.” True. But I have encountered several taxi drivers who can find that conscience within them to be trustworthy. After all, not all taxi drivers are in the business just because they have run out of options for work. A good number are professionals who have retired already, like some past bankers, OFWs and policemen that I have encountered. Some are parents whose children now work abroad, and because they have put them through school, they were gifted a car that they are now doubling as a source of income.
Back to the taxi drivers being worthy of one’s trust: I took a cab from Ortigas to NAIA 1. At first he appeared so quiet and serious that I wasn’t my ordinary self with him (I would usually ask questions about their lives, knowing them more deeply than seeing them on face value). But it was also one of those days when I just wanted to be quiet in my seat, earphones on. When we were past Makati, he asked which route we were taking. He was probably afraid that if he didn’t give me options, I’d blame him for missing my flight. That, especially that it took us almost an hour from Ortigas to Makati. So he asked, and I replied that I prefer he decides as he knows better. Besides, he is more familiar with the traffic in crazy Manila. Perhaps sensing that I was building some trust in him, he started to talk, shuttling from general topics (Philippine government’s failure to get rid of poverty) to specific topics (his life as a seminarian in Cotabato).
June, the taxi driver, said he was a seminarian in Cotabato. He pulled out of it when he saw how his father was riddled with bullets by the rebels in his hometown. He thought he needed to avenge his father’s death, so he started to take up arms and fought against the group that was behind his father’s death. June realized later in his life though that he needed to straighten up. It was too late for him to go back to the seminary. He wasn’t also that young anymore to enter college. He decided to escape from the temptations in his hometown and sailed to Manila where he married and now has three children.
When we were near the terminal, June said that even given his experience, and the history of his family (his grandfather being a hitman during the Marcos regime), he carries within him that goodness that the seminary had developed in him as a child. Although I was struggling to take that in, I felt his sincerity when, when before I got out of the cab, he wished me well on my trip abroad. He said that if I were to fall victim to the “laglag bala” scam, he would be there to defend me, to testify that it is not mine.
I realized when I settled in the pre-departure area that the extent to which taxi drivers engage you and reflect that innate goodness in them can be contingent on how you are able to afford them the benefit of the doubt. It can be hinged on how they see you as someone who negates what to them is also the generalization of passengers being so distrusting of taxi drivers. But then again, not all taxi drivers may be like June. Not all taxi drivers might turn out to be who they ought to be by perception or fact. Best still to be cautious in taking a taxi, ever mindful of the question: to trust or not to trust?