“KAPAG MAIKLI ANG KUMOT, MATUTONG MAMALUKTOT,”
goes a Filipino proverb. “Sir, nagakikid met ti ulesen, kasla labacara pay ketdin
,” (Sir, the mattress is now as short as a face towel) quipped Christian Aguinaldo, one of my students in Sociology. I was about to dismiss the remark as a joke but there was seriousness in the young man’s voice, so I decided to give it a serious thought. Before I could respond, however, another student commented, “Kapag namamaluktot na at maikli pa rin ang kumot, putulin na ang paa!”.
Soaring prices of oil and other basic commodities, unbearable costs of basic services, and people who blurt out #%^&!$* when they read screaming headlines of more doom for this already battered nation. All these point to one thing: we live in very difficult times, and, no matter how the president paints a rosy picture of the economy in her SONA, the crisis seems posed to stay for the long run.
Turbulence notwithstanding, my faith in the resilience of the Filipino remains unshaken. His indomitable spirit allowed him to endure (and thwart) the rule of colonial masters, the regimes of abusive presidents, and the most destructive of natural and man-made calamities. Matiisin at maparaan ang Pinoy. Today, in an attempt to cope with the crisis, substitutes for rice are being proposed, energy-efficient measures are being promoted, and the everyman is compelled to resort to means, big and small, to cope. Going back to the basics is no longer just an option, but a matter of survival.
On this note, allow me to give my own piece on belt-tightening, something very close to my heart: Bicycling.
It is true that bicycling events are held occasionally to heighten awareness on the environment, on peace, and other areas of concern. Leisurely bicycle tours and competitive races are also organized from time to time. So little has been done, however, to make bicycling an integral part of our everyday lives.
In MMSU Batac where I teach, I know less than five students who ride a bicycle to school. (I am a brother to every cyclist, and so I know them by name. Among them are future civil engineer Richard Jay Cac and the Garcia brothers Ace and Mark.) In contrast, hundreds of motor vehicles crowd the parking spaces at any given school day. Majority are resigned to riding tricycles to, fro, and around the campus, even as another twenty-five percent increase in trike fare awaits. In Laoag, the number of folks who use the bicycle in going to work or in accomplishing their day-to-day errands is insignificant as well. In the case of most towns, one would pay as much as P100.00 on special tricycle trips to reach their remote sitios.
This is sad because by bicycling, we can shoot a platoon of devils with one stone (I would have said shoot many birds with one stone, but I’m a bird lover). Aside from affordable mobility, bicycling also offers benefits to health—ours and the environment’s. The fun and excitement it gives are a bonus. Yes, we should try bicycling as a major means of transportation, not just for leisure, here in Ilocos.
It is happy to note that both the governor and the Catholic bishop are sports lovers. Bishop Sergio Utleg is known to ride his mountain bike whenever he has time, even taking long routes like Ilocos to Isabela. His Excellency looks as good with a helmet as with a miter, the bishop’s cap. It is safe to assume that Governor Michael Keon, a patron of many sports, is supportive of cycling as well. Can you imagine what vibrant a bicycling culture we can nurture if both the church and the provincial government proclaim the good news of pedaling?
Around the world, many proactive cities have advanced the cause of bicycling. Leading the way in this initiative are Amsterdam and Groningen in the Netherlands, where an extensive network of safe, fast and comfortable bicycle routes has been developed. In these cities, where over 50% of inhabitants travel on two wheels, the road safety of cyclists has been intensified, a theft-prevention program was set up, and the number of bicycle sheds was increased.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, 32% of workers bicycle to work. In Berlin, Germany, where less than half of residents own a car, it has become downright common to ride a bike every day. Berlin officials pledged to work toward bikes comprising 15% of the city’s traffic by the year 2010.
Here in the Philippines, the City of Marikina has taken the lead. In a novel approach to solving the transportation challenges posed by rising gas prices, Marikina initiated several infrastructural changes to encourage 20% of the city’s residents to ride bicycles to work every day. Marikina has a program against bicycle theft, with 150 bicycle-riding patrollers roaming around the city. To promote safety, its City Bikeways Office (Yes, a government office dedicated solely for bicycling!) initiated a Safe Cycling Education program. In line with this, around 100,000 guidebooks for bicycle upkeep and usage were distributed to households.
Marikina, which has a cycling track in its sports complex, purchased 500 training bikes for those wishing to learn to ride. The city government conducts Saturday Bicycle Clinics to promote a “Bike-to-School” program. A Bicycle Loan Project is also in place for residents who want to purchase a bicycle. The loan, payable in twelve months, is without interest. Recognized by many organizations as an outstanding local government program, Marikina’s Bicycle-Friendly City Project is not only funded by the city coffers, but also by a million-dollar grant from the World Bank Global Environment Facility. Inspired by Marikina, other LGUs, including the Province of Albay, are following the lead.
They have done it elsewhere, we can do it here. The first order of the day is to encourage people to push the pedal, and urge motorists to respect bicyclers’ rights. Infrastructure can come later.
I concede though that bicycling is not for everyone. The caveat: you should AVOID bicycling if…
1. You suffer from inferiority complex.
In downtown Paris, London, and Seoul, men and women in business suits have no qualms about riding a bicycle to their offices. In the Philippines, however, it is potentially intimidating to park a lowly bicycle side-by-side flashy motorcycles and cars. When you drive a bicycle to work, some people make you feel that you are in the lowest rung of the system of social stratification in the streets. A few remarks are encouraging: Wow, healthy lifestyle, kakainggit!. But many throw the hello-ok-ka-lang look. To many, bicycling to work seems acceptable if you are a carpenter or a farmer, but not if you are doing a white-collar job.
Last semester, however, going around the MMSU campus and occasionally traveling from Laoag to Batac (and vice versa) on bicycle gave me savings of P5, 000.00. My pride costs much less than that, and so I bike.
2. You are the glutha-type-of-person
If you are the typical xenocentric Filipino who thinks that beauty is directly proportional to skin lightness, please don’t bike. This sport is not for the insecure. Of course, you already know that our skin’s melanin content (the substance responsible for skin pigmentation) protects us against the damaging rays of the sun, perfectly fit for those who live along the equator.
3. You do not want to get tired.
Never mind that bicycling heightens your endurance and builds your muscles.
4. You abhor getting sweaty.
Never mind that sweating is a major player when it comes to removing excess heat, waste materials, and accumulated toxins out of our system.
5. You do NOT love life.
How many motorcycle accidents have we heard of lately? One motorcycle brand has gained the reputation as “Killer Wave” because of the numerous mishaps its riders have suffered. In contrast, bicycle accidents are very rare and are generally not fatal. This is because with a bisikleta, you feel more in control. You tend to be more disciplined.
More than just a physical exercise, bicycling is something very spiritual for me. The slow, steady cadence of a bike is like a two-wheeled, human-powered sojourn to utopia. When I am on my bike, I feel so at peace with myself and with the world. I also feel most free when I am pushing the pedal, in stark contrast to my enslavement in front of a computer when I am writing for hours.
True, the bicycle does have some limitations. For instance, when the rains fall, you get soaked. But even biking on a rainy (even stormy) day could be a fun experience. I have tried it several times, and with great pleasure. But, if you are not as adventurous, a raincoat would always do the trick. For every excuse you can think of why you should not bike, I can give you two reasons why you should. But, if you remain unconvinced about cycling, try something even better: walking.
Children and grandparents, students and workers, paupers and businessmen, nuns and politicians—all of them bicycling day after day… that is my dream.
Ariel Ureta, a comic, was penalized in the 70’s for his parody of a Martial Law slogan: Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan. Today, we look at Ureta as a prophet ahead of his milieu. Given the current crisis, it is time we take his joke seriously or the joke is on us. ###
Kablaaw: To the fifth year Mechanical Engineering students of MMSU: thank you for making the classroom experience a joy. Wishing you well on your continued search for meaning. // Happy birthday to my nephew Lord Jay and niece Sara Diane. May all of your dreams come true.