Towing The Line

- BACKSEAT DRIVER By James Deakin -
To Whom It May Concern
Dear sir,
Last week, along LP Leviste St, Salcedo Village, I was lining my car up into a vacant parking space outside my brother’s apartment building, when I became the victim of one of Makati’s most shameful scams.

As I hopped out of the car I noticed that I hadn’t parked entirely within the "box" — the front end was hanging over the painted white line. No big deal, right? I just jumped back in to move it. Wrong. Just as I was hopping back in the car to adjust my position, along came one of the city’s decrepit (another word for accredited) tow trucks, who were still circling the block looking for their next victim, despite it being over an hour and a half after the clearly signposted towing window, which is supposed to end at 7pm.

As I was inching forward, the tow truck cut my path and blocked me from moving any further. Just then a very badly dressed man jumps out and starts chaining my car. I got out and asked him what the hell he thought he was doing when another grubby man forced his way in between us and told me to get back; he said they were towing my car and I could talk to them down at the impounding lot. I said I was in the process of moving the car myself so there was no need for towing. My engine was still running for crying out loud! He got physical and pushed me. I pushed him back and grabbed the towing chain when a MAPSA enforcer stepped in and told me to cool down. Imagine.

We argued on the side of the road for a good ten minutes. My only hope was to attract enough attention from residents and passers-by so that they could see how ridiculous the scam was. The MAPSA officer started yelling, "You are drunk! You have been drinking," all in a last ditch attempt to get the heat off himself and his team’s shameful tactics. After a short while I managed to muster up quite a crowd of irate residents and security guards who began heckling the tow truck operators and vocalizing their disgust, many of them recounting their own horrific experiences with these parasites on the same street.

Eventually, probably realizing just how imbecilic his little plan had unfolded, the MAPSA officer and his badly dressed leeches wisely jumped in their little scam-mobile and left.

I may have gotten off this time, but what about the next time, or the next person? And believe me, they have a nose for easy prey. I work in this area and I notice that certain vehicles are either invisible or untouchable by the MAPSA. It would seem this way because the tow vehicle (which in itself should not be allowed on public roads because it is not roadworthy — no seatbelts, bald tires and smoke belching) will circle the area like vultures — they will ignore the high profile, habitual illegal parkers, preferring instead to focus on those that appear more vulnerable.

Now, considering that the flashy vehicles parked in the strictly implemented towing zone with self proclaimed immunity are as big as some Makati studio apartments, and are about as subtle as an F18 hornet fighter jet in an SM car park, it would be fair to draw either one of two conclusions — either that the towing team have financially gained from the owners of these vehicles or that there has been fear struck into their hearts if they so dare remove them. Either way, it is appalling. Especially since it is so blatant.

Another concern I feel that needs to be addressed is the validity of these laws. Street Parking laws are implemented to reduce congestion, improve traffic flow and to provide visitors with the added convenience of easy access to establishments within Makati when conducting short business. Hence the three-hour limit. The mere fact that there are permanent structures selling food in these parking spaces defeats the entire purpose. These "Jolly Jeeps", as they’re called, do not just violate the traffic laws by obstructing the flow and occupying prime space, they also pose a sanitation problem and rob the pedestrians of their dedicated thoroughfare. Above all, it serves as a permanent stainless steel double standard — which, in principle, explains the lack of respect that motorists pay to the law enforcers that patronize these establishments.

I was towed once from the same street for supposedly leaving my vehicle longer than three hours. I was parked in between the two Jolly jeeps! Upon retrieving my vehicle, the officer in charge, Mr. Ramil Peralta, advised me to just pay the P1, 000 penalty and go away. When I contested the violation, he simply snapped back in Tagalog, "We never make mistakes here." This was said just minutes after we had spent the first part of our conversation talking about the wrong car because he had mistakenly picked up the wrong docket.

It is a well-known fact among motorists that MAPSA officers, tow truck operators and those that work in the impounding area will sooner take a life than let you obstruct them from towing your car or let you retrieve your vehicle without paying. A media colleague, Ronald Regis, was almost run down by a tow truck when he tried to negotiate for the release of his vehicle. He, too, had not committed any infringement — and had provided eyewitnesses, photographs and testimonies to attest to this. He was parked in his own driveway on Jupiter St. at the time. Even the power-tripping MAPSA officer admitted that he towed him not for any legal reason, but because he did not like Mr. Regis’ tone of voice. His case has been well documented by the media and formal complaints have been filed to the relevant offices. Still, it has fallen on deaf ears.

Then there was even the policeman who pressed charges when his clutch bag containing P32,000 worth of jewellery was reported missing from his owner type jeep after being towed to Yakal Street a couple of years back. My question is: If even Manila’s finest can fall victim to this grave abuse of authority, harassment and intimidation — what more our citizens? Even after I had identified myself as a member of the press and had informed the towing crew that I was going to record our conversation for the purpose of this story, he still adopted this abrasive and stubborn approach. Care factor, sir, was zero.

It has reached the stage where these officers are blurring the lines between enforcing the law and taking it into their own hands by interpreting it in a manner that satisfies their own personal motivations. All without the benefit of recourse. I believe it was in November of 2002 when Mayor Binay himself had personally ordered the removal of 33 MAPSA officers for various offenses including extortion, misconduct, drug dependence and excessive and unofficial absences. Yet still, the OIC of the Yakal impound, Mr. Ramil Peralta’s entire defense rested on the fact that "we never make mistakes here".

They may argue that they are just doing their job. Well, I, sir, am now just doing mine.

James Deakin

Honestly, we love it when the Backseat Driver reaction column is filled with reactions to our comments — good or bad. Here are some of the comments you made about Manny’s article, Lester’s comments and then some…

One streamer in Caloocan says "Salamat, mapayapa na ang Caloocan ngayon". Hopefully, next time, kalsada naman ang gawin niyong mapayapa, especially Biglang Awa Street. — 09178547246

Lester Dizon recommends regular gas for two-stroke motorcycles, implying that regular gas has lead in the process. Was lead not phased out a long time ago? — 09179171070 (Yes it was. Regular gasoline has higher lead replacement content than premium gasoline. That is what Lester was trying to impart, really.)

All vehicle manuals require owners to use at least 95 octane fuel. Petron Xtra unleaded only has a 93 octane rating. Why do you use it? — 09179171070 (Just like the two stroke motorcycle argument, there are some older vehicles that were made to run on 93 octane rated fuel. All NEW vehicle manuals may require new vehicle owners to use fuel with no less than a 95 octane rating, but some older vehicles may run better on lower rated fuel.)

Please feature the Ford Ranger pick up vs. the Nissan Frontier vs. the Toyota Hilux. It would help me choose the better deal. Thanks. — 09277902540 (Look no further than our motoring special Wheels Monthly to get the low down on that. It’ll be in our Friday, February 24 issue.)

To Manny de los Reyes, Read your article today. Thanks for mentioning your stint with Nissan. We were there too going up against Toyotas and Lancers. It was really Goliath vs. David. — 09282471235

I like your story, Manny. I somehow see myself exactly in you. I too have a strong passion far all things automotive. I wish I could be one of you guys. God bless! — 09189005665

How come the MMDA allows buses on EDSA/Ayala to load while occupying more than half of the street, leaving only one lane for private vehicles? — 09178150655 (We’ve answered that one before — because they can.)

Is there a law that prohibits the use of white headlights on vehicles? If not, there should be one. It can cause road accidents because of the bright glare. It causes temporary blindness, greatly distracting the road view of oncoming traffic from the other side. People who use these lights are so inconsiderate and selfish. If they can’t see clearly with the standard yellow headlights, they shoudn’t be driving in the first place because they have eye defects which can cause accidents, right? Who is responsible for apprehending and banning the use of white headlights? The LTO? Can anyone please do something about this? — 09224425077 (There is no such law. And even if there were, good luck with the apprehensions. The traffic authorities would have to work night shifts. Like that’s going to come easy.)

Speak out, be heard and keep those text messages coming in. To say your piece and become a "Backseat Driver", text PHILSTAR<space>FB<space>MOTORING<space> YOUR MESSAGE and send to 2840 if you’re a Globe or Touch Mobile subscriber or 334 if you’re a Smart or Talk ’n Text subscriber or 2840 if you’re a Sun Cellular subscriber. Please keep your messages down to a manageable 160 characters. You may send a series of comments using the same parameters.
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