Santa Claus lifts mood in horrific holiday traffic
Not even President Benigno Aquino III is spared from the horrendous pre-Christmas traffic jams. He is “just as affected” as anyone else by the snail-paced holiday traffic, Malacañang says.
Interviewed over state radio dzRB, the presidential spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, on Sunday said road traffic had indeed become horrific given the number of people doing their shopping, with the Christmas and New Year holidays a few days away.
Despite that, Mr. Aquino “observes traffic rules. (At a red light), the President’s vehicle also stops,” Lacierda said, referring to the “no wang-wang,” or no-siren policy, that Mr. Aquino launched early in his presidency.
Lacierda said the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) was “doing all it can to make sure traffic would flow as smoothly as possible.”
“I would like to ask for the patience of the public,” Lacierda said. “But having said that, it does not take away our obligation to ensure a better flow of traffic and we will ask the MMDA to make sure of that.”
Traffic enforcer Ramiro Hinojas is doing his bit in his own way—he does it with a smile and a little help from Michael Jackson.
Rain or shine, the diminutive 55-year-old stands in the middle of one of Metro Manila’s busiest intersections, and to the cacophony of roaring engines, puts on an elaborate dance show as he deftly guides traffic flow.
The struts and footwork may have been copied from the King of Pop, Hinojas’ deceased American idol, but the flare and passion by which he mixes them with hand signals to direct amused motorists are uniquely his own.
His sleek moves, which appear on YouTube, have made him a minor celebrity.
“It gives me joy to see people happy while they’re stuck in traffic, because I know how the rush hour can make anyone crazy,” Hinojas said between breaks at a main junction of Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard.
The father of three has added even more spice to his routine this month, dressing up as Santa Claus to help motorists cruise into the Christmas season.
One of 16 children from an impoverished family in the Visayas, Hinojas came to live in the chaotic slums of Manila as a boy. He found his calling as a traffic enforcer about a decade ago when he was laid off from his job as a security guard.
Hinojas said he decided to introduce the dance routines in an effort to get motorists to take notice and follow his instructions.
“So I picked up the dance moves of Michael Jackson, and adapted them for my routine,” he said.
The MMDA employs about 2,000 full-time traffic enforcers.
Hinojas is easily the most flamboyant.
With their blue, green, yellow or brown uniforms, enforcers crowd small and big intersections even when there are perfectly working traffic lights, ready to pounce on erring motorists who ignore the signals.
They are supposed to help out when traffic lights fail, or when perennial floods render areas impassable.
But because some roads are so densely packed and slow moving, vehicles often get caught by the red light in the middle of an intersection, meaning the enforcers have to take over the chaotic road management.
Hazards of the job
MMDA spokesperson Alu Dorotan said that apart from being exposed to terrible pollution, traffic enforcers sometimes fell victim to “road rage” partly because they have the power to issue motorists tickets with fines for traffic violations.
At least two traffic enforcers have been wounded in gun attacks by drivers since September.
In a country where unlicensed firearms proliferate and where rights groups complain of a culture of impunity, Dorotan said more attacks were likely.
“Other constables have been punched and verbally abused in scenarios that could have turned worse,” Dorotan said.
Hinojas said his dance routines were precisely meant to relieve such tensions.
And entertained commuters often show their appreciation by honking their horns as he wriggles his bottom and pirouettes to pull in oncoming traffic.
Others take the time to stop at a mall to buy him food and offer cash donations that augment his measly take-home pay that equates to less than P130 a day.
“He dances for us while we’re stuck in traffic,” said Reynaldo Nieto, a bus driver. “We always follow his traffic commands.”
There are some, however, who ignore the law, hurl insults and challenge his authority.
Hinojas remembers one instance when teenagers handed him a lunch pack, only to open it and find leftover chicken bones.
Despite the insults and other hardships, he genuinely appears to love his job.
“Sometimes I get sick from being under the sun too long, or if I get wet from the rain, but I always tell my family that in my own small way, I am doing my share to improve the country by putting things in order.” With a report from AFP