Driving Manila: A Survivor's Guide

Thu, 07/31/2003 - 00:00

Welcome to Manila. If you intend to live here, it's important you quickly adapt yourself to our local practices. You'll probably find some of them quaint -- in particular the driving. The following anonymously written guide, which has been floating around the Internet for years, is by no means complete. There's nothing about jeeps, taxis, tricycles and buses. Nor about floods funeral corteges, quadruple parking, sideswiping and automatic gunfire. But, suitably edited, it can serve as an introduction to the delights of motoring in Manila.

How to address Filipino drivers

When greeting a Filipino driver, slowly lower your window and be prepared to greet the driver with: "Tang namo, bobo". However, if you have been already addressed by a fellow driver, reply with a joyful "Tang namo rin, gago".

Turn signals

If a driver in another lane turns on the turn signal, do not let him go into your lane. In fact, press the accelerator and start driving right next to him/her. The fellow driver will probably greet you and you already know the correct response.

Traffic lights

These amusing artifacts hang from intersections for no apparent reason. Sometimes you will see drivers stop to see the colors change on these lights (a fascinating experience). Government officials (specifically police) believe that each color stands for an instruction for drivers to follow.

  • Yellow light: accelerate
  • Red light: only five to six cars are allowed to go through.
  • Green: reduce speed, wait for the five to six cars passing through their respective red lights.Tip: the time to start honking your horn, from the moment the light turns green is 1.5 seconds.

Changing lanes

Changing lanes has been elevated to an art form in the Philippines. First of all, no matter what you do, never turn on your turn signal or otherwise you'll stimulate the reaction described above. Second, swerve your car uncontrollably to the lane you want to change to, preferably so that you end up within inches of a car in that lane. At this point a greeting from the other driver may be in order. To perfect your change of lanes, reduce the speed of your car dramatically in a matter of seconds and you will see an action packed reaction from the car behind you.

Traffic jams

Traffic jams teem with fun filled activities such as:

  1. Honking your horn rhythmically.
  2. Putting on make-up (usually female drivers only)
  3. Reducing speed to watch whatever is causing the traffic jam. Add excitement by trying to see if you know the parties involved. (note: every Filipino driver is obliged to do this)
  4. Greeting other drivers.
  5. Practicing lane changing.
  6. Playing the game: Let's see how close I can get to you before rear-ending you.


These individuals are an annoyance to the Filipino driver. If you see them in your way, accelerate your car to let them know who's the boss. If you are at an intersection, let the pedestrians know you want to proceed by accelerating your car and honking at the last possible moment.

The three-lane change

This movement requires a lot of precision and creativity. It should be done around the highest number of cars possible and in a matter of seconds to create what others may refer to as widespread panic.

Smart driving tip

When the lanes going in your direction are jammed with cars, try using the lanes from the oncoming traffic. They are probably not occupied anyway because the oncoming cars are stuck as well.

How many of the other direction's lanes should you occupy? As long as there are lanes from the other direction to occupy, go ahead and take more lanes. This move is sure to elicit previously mentioned greetings from drivers of the oncoming cars (and some have been known to get down from their cars to personally deliver the greeting to the out of lane driver). Nine times out of 10 times it's sure to make the traffic worse but then, hey, that means you have a 1 in 10 chance that you might actually get through sooner than all those law-abiding losers. Filipino drivers think that that 1 in 10 chance is reason enough to risk their life and limb and being profusely greeted (besides, you can always turn up the windows and pretend that you don't hear the greeting from the other drivers).


Submitted by good driver (not verified) on
while reading your post, i felt every emotion you put in each of your statements. some amused me, some made me think, most of them i agree with, because all of your statements gives a perfect picture of how IRRESPONSIBLE most if not all Filipino drivers. i hope, those kind of drivers can read this and realize how STUPID they are that their license should be revoked at once! <br />On the other hand, i reached your post, hoping to learn some tips on how to manage driving in MANILA, thus, this article is not the exact tip i am looking for, but making reverse psychology work, it helped me in a way. hopefully other readers can learn from this, and be a real GOOD DRIVER. thanks!

Submitted by Astig (not verified) on
I was looking for proper ways and tips on driving in Manila I ended up reading this post, made me lol.

Submitted by Jman (not verified) on
Anyone who is looking for driving tips in the Philippines, which was not mentioned, is to stay the hell out of the way of the buses and all public transportation. Your site is awesome, I have been in the Philippines driving for about 5 months and driving in the US since 1979. These are the worst drivers I have ever seen in my life. I would also caution if you have road rage, don't come here and drive you will be in trouble within 2 minutes of your experience. If you see a stripe on the road indicating a lane, it means absolutely nothing, most Fils drive in two lanes and if there are only 2 lanes they will attempt to make 3 or more lanes. You cannot give an inch to them or you will be sitting at an intersection all day. Another foreigner described it perfectly to me, simply cover your eyes with one hand and drive, if you open your eyes you will leave a mess in your pants.<br />And, one last comment, I spoke to my Philippine wife and told her this; I need to contact a game software designer and create a game based on Philippine driving and to have the drivers avoid the bombing buses coming at you and honking their damn air horns. Last word of caution, watch out for the buses...The bigger the vehicle the hire in the pecking order you are.... Safe driving...... Jman

Submitted by Ian C (not verified) on
OMG you guys have got it right , I am from Australia and this is beyond madness . I have gone through all of this and more , it is just crazy . I am starting to rethink about driving on the road here anymore as from today 10/16/2010 . My wife and I where going down to the local supermarket , taking it nice and slowly , I got stuck behind three Jeeps and when it cleared from no wear a Bike just sideswipped us , as we where moving slowly forward and they tried the three lane turn . They hit the front passenger side panel , then did the death wobble and dropped there bike right in front of us. I hit the brakes and just touched them . I got out and said WTF are you doing then the argument started , they said we hit them up the backside . I called them a lyer of cause so we didnt move the car and bike unitl the Traffic Enforncer can , as soon as they was it was a foreinger behiind the wheel they would not beleave me at all even thou you could see the paint scratch on the side of my car . The traffic Enforncer took my licence and then the aurgument started between me and them bike rider . They wanted money , what a surpise more like a bribe . My wife explained that the Traffic Department is very corrupt ( what another surpise ) . My Wife said they would not give back my licence to me unless I agreed to pay them !!!!! for something they did wrong !!!!!! . I was over it and they got paid off . Then when I asked for my licence back he refused until I gave him 100 peso . A WARNING TO ALL FOREIGNERS , THE PHILIPPINES IS VERY CORRUPT AND TO STAY AWAY . THIS IS WHY THIS COUNTRY IS IN THE STATE THAT IT IS IN

Submitted by Tim (not verified) on
LOL, good article! I'm from the US living in Manila for 4 months now. Your points are absolutely correct as are the comments from readers. Hoping the bad drivers will read this is probably wishful thinking. Most of them grew up believing this is the correct way to drive and are not looking to change. Do not expect them to be rational as a rational person would realize this method of driving makes things worse, not better. They believe driving this way will get them to their destination faster which is delusional. However, keep up the good work!

Submitted by Joe Blow (not verified) on
Been driving here for 8 months no problems if you close your eyes !!!!<br />Howevere in tghe past week I have been required to pay the fine on the &quot;spot&quot; (wink wink know what I mean !!!) mind you there are so many so called traffic enforcers I can think of a more appropriate term It is so blatant here it is so obvious they are definately out to make their daily salary in one demand, yet I drove in Australia fo 40 years and not a single ticket. <br />Word of advice for any foreigner watch out for those delapidated jeepneys no bloody insurance and they do not have a concern in the world for damage to your vehicle...you have been warned????<br />Good luck Oh what a FEELING and I don't mean a Toyota.

Submitted by Steve davis (not verified) on
I can only describe the drivers here as brain dead, lacking any ounce of common sense, respect for other road users etc. MMDA !!! what a joke they are, I get stopped for swerving....yes I swerved to avoid a Jeepney who just pulled out in front of me without using his flasher...oh sorry they dont work...I told the brain dead MMDA, instead of giving me a penalty, why not go after these Jeepney drivers, more than 70% have bald tyres, lights that dont work, they drive at night with no lights.....he did not answer me...I just drove off and left this idiopt standing there

Submitted by Steve davis (not verified) on
The traffic would move easily if :::: Drivers were more disciplined and got into the correct lane. Jeepneys did not stop anywhere to load and off load, buses the same.....Jeepneys and bus drivers...the passenengers are supposed to look for you...not you looking for them, if there is nobody there, move on. Yellow intersection boxes...use common sense. dont block them. People should not be walking in the road, street vendors should not be walking in the middle of Edsa. If the MMDA implemented the law properly, more than 50% of Jeepneys would be banned from the road, WHY ?? because 50% of them have bald tyres with no tread, some tyres are even down to the wire, jeeps driving at night with no lights etc etc....with 50% less jeeps on the road, traffic would move more freely. Buses with bald tyres and poor lights or non at all...same again, get these unsafe heaps of shit off the road....then traffic will move more freely.

Submitted by dave long (not verified) on
A local Filipino told me that its POVERTY OF THE MIND which makes them drive like they do....meaning, they come from a third world country so drive as if they are third world people.....all they need is common sense which they completely lack on the roads.<br />I would scrap all Toll gates so traffic can move freely, instead..all vehicles should pay a yearly road tax based on emmisions and size of engine..the bigger the engine the more tax they pay, a small tax disc to display in the car window...failure to display, the vehicle is impounded...secondly, all vehicles 3 years old or more should go through a major test, brakes, suspension, sterring, tyres and lights etc, any defects and the vehicle is impounded until the owner has new parts fitted. this would reduce the amount of unroadworthy vehicles on the roads and reduce accidents as well. Its not implemented because nobody has the political will to do it even though they know its a good idea.

Submitted by Bong sanchez (not verified) on
I can not understand why MMDA will issue me a ticket for having one rear light (red) not working, but will turn a blind eye to the hundreds, if not, thousands of jeepneys driving around at night with no lights, flashers that dont work, break lights that don''t work, and tire's with no tread. Is it one rule for one and another for jeeps ?

Submitted by alan on
Here's the thing -- when they live abroad in places with strict driving laws that are enforced, Filipinos become model drivers. There are two problems here in the Philippines: erratic -- not to say demented -- implementation (hand in hand with corruption) of regulations, plus impunity for those who can pay, or have clout and influence. These are the same two problems we have for many other issues.

Submitted by Bong sanchez (not verified) on
Alan, of course I see that also, my point is, how can they allow Jeepneys to use the roads when brake lights, flasher units dont work, they have bald tires, and just drive like idiots, I see hardly any jeeps stopped by MMDA, yet plenty of car drivers who just make a simple mistake.

Submitted by alan on
Bong, I'm with you on this: MMDA is capricious, often irrational and needs to be professionalized and cleaned up. Also, their enforcers probably know they can't graft any money from errant jeepney drivers whereas motorists are easy pickings. It needs political will to change this

Submitted by Jess (not verified) on
That's what we're suppose to do in Wisconsin. If it is two lanes + going in the same dicetrion we should take the one closest then after a few yards or feet turn into the right lane plus it helps avoid accidents if some idiot is turning right while you are turning. Refer to your driving manual, but I think you shouldn't of failed because of that. And why didn't you ask the instructor why and prove your point to be true? You have that right.

Submitted by Newbie (not verified) on
Hope those stupid, irresponsible and insensitive drivers will read this.

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