This is a very bad idea, and I would not encourage it. My own exposure to driving in Metro Manila was spurred by two things: getting pulled over by an overzealous local traffic enforcer one day who eyed my Arizona license suspiciously and wouldn’t let me go without first paying a “donation,” and the fact that I had no one to drive me in and around Manila while I was there.
So: Off to LTO (Land Transportation Office)
If you still choose this route, you may find yourself in a similar situation. And if you have no choice but to visit an LTO and submit yourself to a lengthy bout with fixers, repeat visits, and drug testing of your bodily fluids, then you, too, may one day possess a Philippines driver’s license.
Now comes the real fun!
First, throw away and/or forget whatever you may have learned prior to joining the Manila Circus.
• “You drive like a Filipino already!” may not necessarily be considered a compliment.
• Don’t be put off by billboards that are as bright as the surface of the Sun. You may find that such ocular excesses can keep you awake on late nights driving home.
• Don’t be surprised if you happen to notice the driver next to you watching a DVD on TV screens mounted to their dashboard. If you spent as much time as the locals do stuck in traffic, you’ll eventually seek a similar form of entertainment to distract you as well.
• Don’t be put off by the state of roads in and around Manila, where repair projects are ongoing 365 days a year. Learn to interpret the word “road” very loosely, as it may or may not always exist in front of you at any given instant.
• Don’t feel compelled to read paragraph-long traffic updates mounted on electronic signs while driving along EDSA. It will not change, alter or improve your situation in any way what-so-ever.
• Don’t worry about speed limits. There are none. The speed limit is whatever the market will bear. If there’s no traffic in front of you, then speed up.
• Don’t be surprised when people simply opt to speed right through red lights rather than wait. Depending on the situation, red lights are either a suggestion or distraction to many Metro Manila drivers.
• Don’t be baffled by the sight of pedestrians walking blithely in front of your vehicle at intersections, often reading text messages, with or without a “Walk” sign. They have a mistaken belief that they are immune to death by motor vehicle. Remember the Golden Rule: “God protects drunks and stupid pedestrians.”
• When driving through small barangays (neighborhoods), Don’t be surprised at the sight of some idiots sitting on curb-sides, chatting with friends with their backs facing the street, vulnerable to oncoming traffic. They, too, have some mistaken belief that their spine and central nervous system are being protected by some overworked protective saint.
• Don’t be shocked when cab drivers do funny things like opening their doors to spit on the street, or pulling over anywhere to urinate against any available vertical surface. Consider the alternative if they chose to carry out those functions inside the cab you were riding in.
• Don’t be freaked out by motorists changing tires in the middle of busy fairways. These drivers believe it’s better to stop where the flat occurred — and risk getting whacked by the next bus that comes along — rather than damage the wheel axle by driving to the side of the road and putting on their hazard lights. It’s a simple matter of false economics.
• Don’t be puzzled when traffic comes to a halt near a road accident. This is the customary “stop & stare” period for passing motorists: they have to eyeball the scene, see if there are any gory bits, judge exactly how the accident occurred and who exactly was at fault. All this may take about 45 seconds per car. Bonus tip: Try not to hit anybody else while rubbernecking.
• Don’t blink. Things can change on Manila streets in a microsecond. There could very well be a naked hotty bolting in front of you. Or a waiter casually crossing the street holding a hot cup of coffee on a saucer at any given moment.
• Do be aware that Manila drivers have a whole bunch of traffic signals unfamiliar to foreigners: they will use their hazard lights when it’s raining (which only serves to disorient other drivers); if they’re big shots driving SUVs, they will employ a blinding array of “weng-weng”devices to intimidate and overtake you; and they will generally employ middle fingers when signaling a left turn.
• Do keep your eyes open for hidden or confusing road signs. Sometimes, useful information such as “No Left Turn” or “No Right On Red” will be hidden beneath leafy “road beautification” projects, preventing you from actually reading such signs. Also hidden nearby will be traffic enforcers poised to pick your pocket.
• Do commit to your road choices. If you’re going to cut off that cab, or go up that one-way street, don’t even hesitate. Just follow your bliss. Total belief in your actions will get you far. No half measures.
• Don’t buy into the “If you can drive in Manila, you can drive anywhere” bullshit. That’s just Pinoy pride and machismo talking. If you tried using your Manila “driving skills” anywhere else in the world, you’d be thrown in jail in a hot minute.
• Do obey traffic rules. The Jedi Mind Trick only works a few times for foreigners; after that, you’re on your own.