Obeying the law

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

THE apartment where we are staying is at the street intersection and facing the balcony is a traffic signal light. Last week I stood at the balcony of the second floor and watched the traffic movement, how the signal lights directed their flow and the compliance by pedestrians and vehicles.

We arrived at the apartment about two in the morning from JFK International Airport. Traffic was very light of course. Since the apartment is right at the intersection, parking was not allowed there but about 15 meters away. At that hour of the day there was not a vehicle passing by but the traffic lights were functioning. The Uber driver let us down but did not park. He moved to the area where parking was allowed, brought our baggage down and lugged them to the apartment entrance.

Understandably there was no law enforcer at that wee hours of the morning but this driver conscientiously followed the law. He could have parked and brought our luggage right in front of the entrance to save him effort and time. He had to drive back home for another 50 minutes but he did not “cheat” on the law. He was more than generous because his mother is from Bacolod and known to us.

The street where our apartment faced is a very long one and traverses several commercial and business centers. It is like our Lacson and Araneta streets but narrower by two lanes in Lacson and one in Araneta. But despite the width and volume of traffic and pedestrians, vehicles and people move smoothly and with ease. Vehicles parked on both sides of the road but they were parked well, like soldiers in troop formation in a parade ground.

There is no secret in this orderliness. There is not a single chair or table or kiosk on the sidewalks whether in front of a building or open space to impede people or vehicle. We did not see a single officer enforcing traffic law or standing and idling at the sides. The traffic lights directed what is to be done by vehicles and pedestrians.

All followed the simple laws about traffic and free movement because there were no illegal structures impeding that movement. Pedestrians crossed the streets using the lane for them and the sidewalks allotted to them by law. They walked on the sidewalk rather than on the curb thus preventing traffic slowdown and risks to their lives and limbs.

I am certain fear of the enforcers implementing the law has something to do with this orderliness. Their behavior show that city officials and law enforcers did their job – enforcing the law without thinking about keeping a blind eye in exchange for their votes or worse, paying the enforcers to circumvent implementing the law.

Citizens obey the law if their officials complied first. It is a symbiotic relationship upon which societal order is founded. We have laws precisely to guide both government and citizens on how to behave.

These compliant users of communal passage are not in this city alone. I recall the first time I was in Amsterdam I crossed the street at the intersection. Since in 1980 Bacolod had only one traffic light most of the street crossings are taught in school – look right and left before crossing. This taught us that the vehicle has the first right to the street and we waited for it to pass before crossing. That mindset remains true today.

There was the red light and I crossed but just after I had one foot on the curb the lights turned green. The vehicles stopped and the driver closes to me waved for me to go on; traffic moved on after I reached the other side.

I was also once in New York where the late Alex Mirasol invited me to visit Spike Sobrepeña and go to the West Point Academy where Spike’s daughter was a senior cadet. Alex and I watched in Central Park an extraordinarily fat woman who walked so slow the turtle would have a rival. Although the lights were green for vehicles, she crossed nevertheless and traffic screeched to a halt. They waited until she reached the other side; meantime traffic snarled.

That is how drivers treated the pedestrians – they have the first right to the road even on green lights for vehicles.

Let’s resume tomorrow.