Where were you when these happened?
Almost four decades has passed us since we began to rebuild our motoring existence from the tumultuous times of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Since 1985, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer first began covering important events in the nation’s history, we have witnessed the evolution of motoring in the country.
From one traffic solution after another, to the introduction of laws and regulations that were either enforced or have just remained at the wayside to be resuscitated at an opportune time. We have even experienced innovation and technology take over our lives and transform our driving and commuting experience for the good. And sometimes, for the worse.
Thirty-five years of motoring can be an eternity for some. And yet for many, it is hard to recognize what it was like during simpler times. Let us go back in time to reminisce some of the most notable moments in our renewed motoring history.
Return of Toyota
The political and socio-economic upheaval of the early 1980s saw the closure of many companies and businesses. This included Toyota which stopped local production and left the country in 1984. After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, Toyota came back in 1988 this time with new partners and established Toyota Motor Philippines. Manufacturing at its Sta. Rosa plant began in 1993 offering jobs to hundreds of Filipinos. Toyota’s grand return, along with then new manufacturers such as Honda, and established players like Mitsubishi, is significant as it helped revitalize the automotive manufacturing industry in the country.
People’s Car Program
The implementation of the People’s Car Program in 1990 meant to revitalize the local automotive manufacturing sector by enticing multinational car brands to invest in the country. The plan included the assembly of smaller passenger cars with gasoline engine displacement of not more than 1200 cc while satisfying minimum local content usage from 35% in 1991 to 51% in 1993. Honda Cars Philippines, Inc. was one of the brands that took advantage of the program, along with Kia, Fiat and Norkis, giving Filipinos more car options to choose from and jumpstarting the automotive manufacturing sector.
The everlasting FX
If there’s one vehicle that began a revolution in personalized mass transport in the early-’90s, it was the Toyota Tamaraw FX. Originally designed and built in Indonesia, the FX offered family-centric Filipinos a comfortable vehicle that can bring along kids, cousins, grandparents and even the household help to places together. The air conditioned FX also became the staple for point-to-point transit as its 10-person capacity became an instant hit among commuters who did not want to ride overcrowded buses and off-route jeepneys. This convenient mode of transportation was eventually taken over by higher capacity vans which now make up the UV Express service.
The 7-seater is King
Perennial flooding and rutted roads have left Filipinos wanting a tall vehicle that can rough it while still having the family on-board. While a pick-up would have sufficed, a new class of SUV-based people movers eventually became a big hit because of their versatility, creature comforts and passenger carrying capacity. TheToyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Montero, and Isuzu MUX slugged it out for market supremacy as other manufacturers followed suit to emulate the success of this Southeast Asian mobility solution.
Hard to believe it now, but there was a time when South Korean car brands were of shoddy quality and still trying to prove their worth to the global scene. It took a while before Hyundai and Kia found suitable distributors in the country but by the early 2000s, but motivated with continuously improving car designs and build quality, both have now become mainstream global brands that command a price.
China-made cars and brands got off to a bad start. Back in 2007, the Chery QQ became the unflattering symbol of China automotive build and quality. Since then, the stigma that Chinese-made cars are of inferior quality continue to permeate the consciousness of Filipino car buyers. That is until the major players actually began sourcing their cars from China. Volkswagen, Kia, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Ford, are just some of the brands sourcing select namepleates from factories in China. Meanwhile 13 more Chinese car brands have also made landfall in the country. With many manufacturers taking advantage of the tariff cuts with China, It is only a matter of when, and not if, Chinese brands become the main volume drivers of the industry.
Record-breaking car sales
From 2011 to 2017, the Philippines has been enjoying double-digit growth rates in new car sales. Reaching as high as 457,639 units sold in 2017, the automotive industry has taken off leaps and bounds from the 6,000 units or so sold in 1985. It was a long and steady growth since then culminating in a solid 12-year run of sales record after sales record from 2005 to 2017 as the demand for mobility increased with growing purchasing power. While the overall volume was not as high as some of our ASEAN neighbors’, the steady increase in growth rate showed the country was ready to become Asia’s next tiger economy.
Mother Nature speaks: Ondoy
More than 14,000 cars suffered flood damage in one of the most memorable and traumatic inundations to be experienced in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. 20-foot floods caused by continuous rainfall from Typhoon Storm Ondoy and the opening of dams which were supposed to hold back water from flowing down into the metropolis, submerged and washed away cars in water and mud. The catastrophic event saw a rise in the purchase of comprehensive insurance policies with Acts of God clauses as people learned to rely on the insurance industry to safeguard their investments.
The return of motorsports
After the fuel crisis of 1979 halted all motorsports activities, circuit racing made a comeback with the opening of the Subic International Raceway in 1994. Envisioned by the late racing great Pocholo Ramirez as a venue to hone future racing talents, SIR also proved to be a catalyst for new car race tracks such as Batangas Racing Circuit and the Clark International Speedway. With the help of Subic’s port facilities, SIR hosted international formula and touring car events in the late ‘90s until its closure in 2010.
With smartphone technology, paper maps and the innocent practice of asking for road directions has become a thing of the past. With its community-based, interactive turn-by-turn navigation service, Waze has become almost a default tool for drivers and commuters alike. Navigating the tight and often changing roads requires live updates to the service.
With its growing user base, people can report accidents, road repairs and update other users of traffic conditions along the route. Google’s acquisition of the Israeli company that developed the app in 2013 has integrated live traffic data into Google Maps system further improving the service of both applications. And with a survey made by Waze calling out Metro Manila for having the “worst traffic on Earth” in 2015, we think the app has credibility on its side.
The disruptors: GRAB and UBER
Because finding an empty taxi that was willing to take you to your destination without haggling for the fee became a frustrating experience in the mid 2010s, GRAB and UBER took advantage of technology to transform the taxi hailing experience forever. Transport Network Vehicle Service (TNVS) became the practical solution. Under this then-controversial scheme, both companies established a network of drivers who would accept ride requests from the public with guaranteed rates. And despite their higher charges, the public chose to pay extra for the convenience and comfort of a decently maintained private vehicle, over dilapidated taxi cabs. It also introduced the idea that you do not have to own a car to get around the metropolis.
Legalized habal-habal: Angkas
With the worsening traffic situation in the country making the commute more arduous each day, it was only a matter of time before the humble motorcycle would come to the rescue. With its narrow proportions, motorcycles are able to straddle lanes while cars are motionless. Angkas is a disruption of traditional modes of public transport as it makes use of a mobile phone app to hail riders and pick up and deliver one passenger to a specific location. While the motorcycle taxi concept defies government regulatory efforts to this day, it continues to operate under a technical study realm supervised by the Department of Transportation.
C5 as alternative to EDSA
The concept of having circumferential roads has been on the government’s table since the 1960s. However, it was only in 1986 that construction of Circumferential Road 5 was undertaken. By eventually connecting Katipunan avenue with Eulogio Rodriguez Avenue via the Katipuna flyover and the Santolan tunnel, an viable parallel to EDSA alternate route from north to south was established. Unfortunately, as more cars took this route to Makati and SLEX, congestion set in. And when the “Great Wall of Trucks” became a permanent fixture during truck ban off-hours, C5 became worse than the EDSA it was trying to complement.
The Rise of Flyovers
In 1991 to 1992, a slew of flyovers were built to bypass intersections along EDSA. Most notable among these were the EDSA-Ortigas flyover network that serviced vehicles going to both east and west Ortigas. Originally intended to ease traffic flow at intersections, these flyovers did their jobs at first. They relieved congestion along EDSA that is until the steady rise of vehicular volume over the years eventually overtook their intended capacities. Today, flyovers at Santolan, Ortigas have now become major choke points as vehicles compete for the limited lanes the flyovers offer. While many other cities like Pampanga, Baguio, Cebu and Davoao have benefitted from these bypass structures, it is obvious that they too have a limit and it will only be a matter of time that they will be the cause of the problem instead of the solution.
MRT roller coaster
The MRT Line 3 was built between 1996-2000 after a 7-year delay from the time the plan was conceived in 1989. Once it was fully operational in 2000, the novelty of the train system saw many first-time passengers try it for the sake of entertainment. As word spread about its fast and efficient service, it eventually became a major commuting medium for an average of about 500,000 passengers each day. As with many government projects, poor maintenance would be its undoing. Only now is it regaining its reputation as a reliable and convenient means of transportation after intensive maintenance work on its tracks and an upgrade of its coaches.
By the time the whole Metro Manila Skyway System is completed, it will span a total of 40.84 kilometers from Muntinlupa up to Balintawak. Construction started for Skyway Stage 1 in 1995 and until today, it is still being extended north and southwards to relieve traffic from EDSA. Like the Makati to Alabang stretch we have come accustomed to, the elevated highway will be subject to toll fees however. But if all goes to plan, by this December motorists will have a faster way of bypassing Metro Manila traffic to get to either end of the north and south expressways.
Rehabilitation of NLEX
If you were a regular traveller to the north since the early 1990s, you would have experienced an NLEX that was riddled with potholes and floods. It was almost a no-man’s land as road rules and speed limits were not enforced and everyone had to find space anywhere they could to overtake. Fortunately, the government got together with private enterprise to undertake a US$384-million project that would rehabilitate, expand, and modernize the 83.7 kilometer stretch of the NLEX. And from 2000 on, we would see and experience a gradual and transformative improvement in road quality and service at the northern highway. The highway will continue to be a privately run enterprise until 2030, when the government takes back its operation.
Not long after NLEX underwent its rehabilitation, the SLEX Upgrading and Rehabilitation Project got underway in 2006. This involved the rehabilitation and expansion of the Alabang Viaduct as well as the road from Alabang to Calamba. It eventually connected SLEX with the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) in Santo Tomas, Batangas. While it was a major retrofit, oftentimes seeing road barriers sprout out of nowhere every time you passed by it, the end result is a faster, more convenient travel to the south. With ongoing Skyway Extension construction though, heading back to Manila can still be a pain sometimes.
The long roads of SCTEX and TPLEX
With more cars, more roads should follow. This seemed to be the central theme of national development in the mid-2000s as construction of Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), the country’s longest expressway, began in 2005. Three years later it would be fully operational to connect Subic, Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac with NLEX. Surely it spawned a new generation of roadtrippers who could now reach these destinations with the congestion and slow-moving traffic of countryside roads. Construction to extend the highway further north with the Tarlac-Pampanga-La Union Expressway (TPLEX) followed in 2010 under a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) agreement with San Miguel Corporation. By 2013, the first section up to Urdaneta, Pangasinan was opened. Additional sections up to Rosario, Pangasinan have since made travel to Ilocos and Baguio faster and more convenient.
The Convenience of NAIAx
Metro Manila residents got their first taste of a modern, elevated roadway within the city when the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Expressway (NAIAx) was opened in September 2016. The NAIAx connection to the SKYWAY was already in place as early as 2009 but it took 7 more years before the whole NAIAx system from CAVITEx and Entertainment City in Pasay to all three NAIA terminals were completed. Because of NAIAx, motorists can now head to Macapagal Highway and Paranaque without passing through old and congested Taft Avenue and MIA Road.
In 1988, fresh from the EDSA Revolution that swept Corazon Aquino to power, drastic measures were needed to address the growing problem of the public’s flouting of traffic rules and regulation. With Proclamation No. 312, Pook Batayan zones were meant to combine government and private sector efforts to actively persuade citizens to obey road rules. Through the use of public address speakers in 19 key intersections in Metro Manila, people were shamed on the spot for their disregard of traffic laws. While the effort aspired to instill discipline, and it did so for a while, the program fizzled out due to lack of funding.
Deregulation of the bus industry
Before the pandemic, more than 13,000 buses were operating within Metro Manila. About 4,000 of these made use of EDSA each day. With more than 1,000 bus companies operating within Metro Manila at that time, it was almost a free for all on the road as bus drivers competed for space and passengers each day. The ballooning bus business is a result of the deregulation of the industry implemented in the 1980s and formalized in 1992 with Department of Transportation and Communications Order No. 92-587.
While it did create more public transport opportunities for commuters, and business opportunities for well-connected operators, the increasing number of buses, and the boorish attitude of many bus drivers also contributed to the traffic problems experienced along the capital region’s main thoroughfares. The fact that many buses operated without a franchise, commonly referred as colorum, also made management of this public utility transport medium difficult over the last three decades.
After the EDSA revolution, there was a time when fuel prices were Php7 and Php5 per liter for gasoline and diesel respectively. The relatively low prices were partly due to the government’s Oil Price Stabilization Fund. This was a mechanism which obligated the government to subsidize fuel petroleum companies in order to maintain adequate and continuous supply of fuel at reasonable prices. However, huge spikes in world oil prices depleted the fund and had cost the government Php 15 billion by 1996. The fund was abolished when industry deregulation went into full effect.
Deregulation of oil industry
The Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act of 1998, RA No. 8479, was the Ramos administration’s second attempt at liberalizing the oil industry after an earlier law FVR signed was found unconstitutional. Nonetheless, both laws had the objective of opening up the importation, storage, refining, distribution and retail of oil products to consumers. Because the country was, and still is an oil importer, opening the industry was key to providing ample fuel supply at reasonable prices. With competition, it was hoped that lower prices and more investments would be achieved. Let’s just say 22 years on, we are still waiting for the lower prices to return.
First implemented in 1995 in Metro Manila, “number coding” was then MMDA traffic office executive director Col. Romeo Maganto’s answer to the worsening traffic in the capital region. The original road rationing plan saw cars banned along EDSA three days a week based on the last digit of the cars’ license plate number. After much debate about its efficacy, it eventually covered other major roads. Window hours when coded vehicles could be used on their coding day, were also adopted. Makati and other cities and municipalities had their own interpretation of the coding scheme which banned cars at different times of the day sowing further confusion upon motorists.
The opening of median U-turn slots started during the term of then MMDA Bayani Fernando in 2003 as part of the agency’s measures to improve the flow of traffic along EDSA and other major avenues. And while they offered a convenient way to turn back to the other direction, they also constricted the flow of traffic in already tight roads. Today, U-turn slots are still grabbing headlines for the wrong reasons as their phaseout in favor of the EDSA Carousel busway’s unhampered operation is causing longer travel times for motorists.
Seat belt law
To prevent serious injury to car occupants, the Seat Belts Use Act of 1999 makes it mandatory for front and rear passengers of private vehicles who are 14 years old or older to wear or use seat belts when driving or operating a vehicle. Even front-seated passengers of Public Utility Vehicles are required by law to wear seatbelts. It also prohibits children 6 years and below to sit at the front seats of running motor vehicles. The law also required manufacturers to install seat belts in all the cars they sell.
The presence of Supplementary Restraint Systems, or airbags, in cars sold locally today is more of a marketing tool than an actual safety mandate by the government. Generally, the more airbags there are – front, curtain, knee – in a car, the safer the driver or his passengers will be in the event of a crash. Slowly but surely, customers have been making it clear that having airbags in a car is a necessity they are willing to pay that bit extra for.
Clean air act and emissions testing
The Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 was a groundbreaking law that recognized the need for balancing economic development with the citizens’ right to breathe clean air through environmental protection. Embedded in the intricate details of the law were emissions standards for car importation, emission test requirements for car registrations, and the ban on leaded gasoline fuel.
Ethanol in Fuel
The Biofuels Act of 2006 had lofty goals – to reduce the country’s dependence on imported fuel, the protection of public health and the environment, and increase rural employment. To do this, all fuels sold to motorists should have a 10% blend of ethanol which should be sourced locally. The removal of “leaded” fuels from the market was also part of this grand scheme. Fortunately, engines of today are built to operate with the current fuel blends as manufacturers have adapted their cars to maximize performance and guarantee reliability despite the marginal power deficit from the use of biofuels.
Shutting down Subic and Cagayan imports
When you see ‘90s-era sports cars, luxury cars, or even vans and SUVs sporting B, C or R plates, chances are these were imported through Subic Bay or Port Irene in Cagayan. The influx of imported, smuggled and converted second hand cars was in response to the financial crisis of the late 1990s. By 2004, around 125,000 imported second hand cars were sold and this figure represented 60% of the total cars sold by the industry. The local car manufacturing industry worked hard on closing these channels to protect their investments.
As with many other nations around the world, count on the government to spoil the party with the imposition of higher taxes on high performing industries. Because of, and despite, its steady strong growth, the automotive industry was one of the heaviest hit when the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law was signed in December of 2017. Higher excise taxes were levied on automobiles beginning 2018 which saw a spike in sales in 2017 to beat the price hikes. The industry is still recovering from the sales dip two years ago.
Phase-out of jeepneys
No other vehicle showcases the artistry and ingenuity of Filipinos better than the jeepney. Since after World War II, the jeepney has become a widely accepted mode of transportation for the masses. However, present-day realities have shown that jeepneys in their current state are in dire need of upgrading.
According to a study, about 15% of the particulate matter emissions in Metro Manila are caused by jeepneys’ old diesel engines. That, combined with load and unload anywhere, undisciplined driving that caused further congestion in roads where they operate, have led to a Department of Transportation program announced in 2017 that called for the phaseout of the old jeepney. It also will impose a maximum of 15-years service life for existing ones before they are removed from the road. In their place are newer, air-conditioned, WiFi, GPS and CCTV-equipped light trucks converted into buses. Automated fare collection with tap cards have also been introduced. Time will tell how long the old guard’s resistance to change will last.
Having a dedicated bus-only lane in the median of EDSA is not a new idea. It however, is groundbreaking. Not only will it cordon off buses that for the longest time have caused traffic along the capital region’s main artery with their wanton loading practices, but it will also lessen buses’ travel times with a clear lane where they do not have to compete with cars and motorcycles for space. The COVID-19 pandemic gave the Department of Transportation the perfect excuse to fast track the project. Despite the initial, and ongoing, resistance to the scheme, and the concrete barriers that come along with the plan, EDSA Carousel promises to be a practical solution to move more people in less time.
Electronic Toll Collection, or cashless payment is not new to our tollways. In fact, the first ETC system was implemented in the year 2000 with reloadable E-Pass and EC-Tag devices. RFID stickers came in first with Easydrive in CAVITEx back in 2014. Six years on and with a raging pandemic, RFID stickers have now become mandatory as a measure to lessen the spread of COVID-19. With toll transactions going 100% cashless this December, we can say goodbye to kilometer long lines that characterized cash lanes. That is, if the operators can get their systems to work seamlessly.
There are more equally notable events over the years that have shaped our perception of motoring today. Perhaps these will help us put things in a better perspective moving forward. The quest for better transportation and mobility continues.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.