Illustration by JP Cuison


Can we really design discipline into our “nakamamatay” streets?

All the signs point to the glaring truth—nobody reads the signs.

  • June 21, 2018

  • Written by Juan Alcazaren

The rehabilitation of EDSA and its tributaries offers a rare opportunity for a lot of people. Elected public servants, with their engineers and law enforcers, will have the opportunity to work closely with experts from all design disciplines to design discipline: urban planners, architects, landscape architects, industrial designers, graphic designers and other creative fields like advertising and contemporary art.

The right visionaries could drastically change the way we use the city’s main arteries. They could literally turn a daily distressful ordeal into a joyful experience. Well, “joyful” would be pushing it. Even though some nanoseconds of calm are offered by vertical gardens or some random art on walls these days, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NOT to be coldly reminded by deadly concrete barriers, wobbly welded wire cages and grisly warning signs saying our lives are in the balance once we get on the road.

Bawal Tumawid Dito, Nakamamatay. We’ve all seen this sign at one time or another at some random spot along a busy road in Metro Manila. And at one time or another, we’ve seen people who choose to completely ignore it, trying to cheat death to avoid using the elevated footbridge. Are these people really so averse to climbing stairs? Or maybe, they are more averse to getting mugged and fatally stabbed while on the footbridge at night.

Some of these footbridges have stairs that are ill-proportioned, with steps that can hardly accommodate an adult-sized shoe and burn your quadriceps more than doing three sets of ten lunges while holding 20-pound dumbbells on each hand. Perhaps they do not like the font type used on the sign, or it is obscured by the steady stampede of rampaging buses and the deadly fumes they belch. Is “nakamamatay” even a correct word in the Filipino language?

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The other permutation of this sign is Bawal Tumawid, May Namatay na Dito. Whoever thought this up might as well have completed his disrespect for the unfortunate victim by setting up an altar complete with candles and flowers on the road, showing photos of the victim and the incident. Or he could have paid tribute by tracing a permanent chalk outline of the body on the road.

No Loading and Unloading. Closed Door Policy. To be fair to jeepney drivers, bus drivers and commuters, these signs are vague. No loading and unloading of what? Fruits and vegetables? Gravel and sand? Personal issues? Where? Right here? Over yonder? When? Right now or when someone is watching? Whom? Maybe citizens of Northern Cyprus because we have limited diplomatic ties with them, thus the closed door policy.

Seriously though, it is almost impossible for anyone who can read to NOT comprehend these particular signs, yet these are the ones that are most ignored. I regularly witness pedestrians clambering over concrete barriers, squeezing through gaps in welded wire fences or steel railings with missing parts.

There are construction workers, employees in office attire, government workers in uniform, students, executives in linen barongs and mothers with children all eschewing proper precaution, risking life, limb, dignity and self-respect to get that last seat on that illegally loading, dual heater sardine can FX or the immortal jeepney.

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The really sad part is, the blatant defiance to pedestrian regulations is largely the norm. The general public accepts that this is the way things work around here. Sure, it still is a source of road annoyance but the chaos has ceased to look strange. Expecting the unexpected has become part of the daily road routine.

I think the last few times I was ever really shocked by something other than a major accident or street crime was back in the 80s, when I saw a man literally do cartwheels across Santolan Road. I just had to stop…and clap.

Another time, I had to do a double take and rub my eyes when I saw a full-grown man cross Quezon Avenue riding a child’s three-wheeled bike. In the early 90s, I helped some artist friends of mine with a performance piece they did where they transported a mural painting of the Virgin Mary from White Plains in Quezon City to Glorietta in Makati—on foot. They stopped for a drink of water near Guadalupe and even attempted to order food at a drive-thru (they were denied service). The whole stunt caused nary a stir, hardly a wayward glance or snicker.

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A few years back, then rising Formula 1 superstar Jensen Button came to Manila for a promotional event and was shocked as his pre-“Walang wang-wang” convoy charged oncoming traffic head-on and went the wrong way down a one way street. He was shocked at all the commuters stranded on the roads and wondered what a man was doing hanging off the back of a vehicle. It was a jeepney “sabit.” At the end of the 30-minute trip, the British racing champion who has raced on the toughest tracks of the world exclaimed, “I wouldn’t #$@*&# dare drive here…I would surely be scared.”

We live in strange times. We live in a strange place. We are a strange people. Perhaps we need strange design standards.

We need our own standards that will probably not work anywhere else. We need to embrace our strangeness. We need to revel in our craziness. If we were rats in a maze, we would climb over or eat through the maze walls to get to the cheese faster. Paved park paths are hardly used. Footpaths are beaten out over the grass and cut through the hedges for a more direct approach. We are free-flowing like water, forming our own channels, finding paths of least resistance or crashing over obstacles. We spit, pee and eat on the streets. We are incorrigible. We are unruly. We are spoiled brats but we enjoy a good spanking. We are unique. We are happy. We are truly messed up. We need messed up design for a messed up population.

That’s the design brief right there. 

This article first appeared in BluPrint Vol 3 2013. Edits were made for Bluprint online.