Our van service driver, Roger Jr., as we call him, picked me up this morning at 6 a.m. for a trip to the Manila VA Regional Office. We got onto the North Luzon Expressway at the Angeles City – Magalang entrance and headed south toward Manila. I stared sleepily out the passenger side window watching as farmers winnowed their rice crop or burned the resultant waste straw. Why they burn it, I have no idea. They burn everything here; I hate that. I shrugged off that vexing question and settled in for the hour and a half ride to the U.S. Embassy.
Suddenly I was snapped out of my reverie, “Oh my God! Look SIR!”
I turned toward Roger and saw him pointing at the oncoming traffic on the other side of the median. A jeepney was careening crazily from side-to-side 100 meters or so ahead of us. Roger was already slowing down as the ancient, out-of-control vehicle took one last wild swerve into the center median, caught its right front wheel in the soft ground and flopped over on its right side.
We gasped as a dust cloud enveloped the crashed jeep, and then we were past it. “I hope that thing isn’t full of people,” I prayed aloud looking back. I knew my hopes were in vain, because people tend to pack themselves by the bunch into cars and vans over here. It’s amazing how many they can fit in. Sometimes its like watching the little clown cars where one person after another climbs out, and 10 minutes later, they are still debarking. Folks around here are a lot smaller than Americans, so they can really pack ‘em in too!
By the time we could get stopped, we were 50 feet past the wreck site. Three "good samaritan" cars were already parked behind us, and more continued to pull over. Even more cars had stopped on the other side of the highway. I was relieved that people were stopping to help.
Before the dust had settled, the driver appeared from the other side of his turned over vehicle. He frantically scrambled to the rear entrance of his flipped jeepney and crawled half in. He began pulling out items, and then a woman in jeans crawled out, followed by a young man. Passersby were now assisting, and one reached in and pulled out a small boy, who looked to be 5 or 6 years old. People of various ages and gender were starting to stagger out or were pulled out by others. I’d seen enough.
“Come on Roger. Let’s get to a call box and call for an ambulance.”
There’s no 911 here, so the call box was the best option to get help fast. We piled back into our van and sped off. In less than a mile we found an emergency phone, but before we could get out, I saw a caravan of four ambulances speed past us toward the toppled jeepney. I was amazed and thankful to see help was on the way, and so quickly.
“Rog, that is even a faster response than you can get in the States. Wow!”
For the next 20 or so miles, we talked of watching the jeepney flip over, and the amazing aftermath. Roger was overcome with emotion at first, after seeing that children were involved, so I did all the talking for awhile.
Here are my conclusions after what I saw today:
1) My faith in the goodness of Filipinos has been buttressed and increased. People were falling over themselves to stop and help.
2) If you’re going to have a car accident in the Philippines, have it on the North Luzon Expressway.
3) The emergency response system on that expressway is very very good.
4) Jeepneys are inherently unsafe at high speeds, and shouldn’t be allowed on superhighways.
As I’ve remarked before, I’m much more impressed with the way people in this country react to accidents and mishaps than, for instance, the way folks react to similar instances in the supposedly more advanced country of Japan. I don’t like to say negative things about any group of people, but the Japanese could really stand a dose of human kindness, Filipino style. Read this earlier post that explains exactly what I mean, based on my own anecdotal experiences in Japan.
We could only speculate what caused that jeep to go so violently out of control. It appeared to be overloaded, so maybe the suspension failed; or it could have blown a tire, or perhaps ALL of the above. On the way back, we inspected the road surface and could find no skid marks at all, so it seems the driver never even tried to apply the brakes, if he had any at all. Then again, I don't see how he could -- the way that jeeney was fishtailing; he probably couldn't even FIND the brake pedal. If there are any mechanics or crash experts out there, feel free to interject with your insights.
Anyway .... Another day, another adventure.