Sunday, December 9, 2007

Palay On The Road

A common sight for travelers and motorists passing by through Lianga is palay or newly harvested, unpolished rice spread out to dry in the sun like yellow-green carpets covering up to one lane of the concreted portions of the national highway. It is something the locals take for granted but visitors, especially those from the city, always end up up shaking their heads and clucking their tongues in disbelief at the audacity of it.

Imagine yourself finally on the concrete highway and itching to step on the accelerator after dawdling for what felt like eternity on rough, bumpy roads. Then you come upon your side of the highway blocked by carpets of palay while traffic is zipping by on the other lane. What do you do? Do you, like the rest of us considerate mortals, wait for the traffic to clear the other lane and leave the palay alone? Or do you just curse the heavens and drive roughshod over the whole thing. It's the highway after all, isn't it?

That may be but if you do run over the palay then be sure you drive very fast so that you'll not be seen and caught by its owner. Otherwise you might end up being chased by him with a long and sharpened bolo knife in one hand and a homemade shotgun in the other.

Rice, in Filipino culture, is a valuable commodity with almost sacred and mystical properties. Running over it on the highway, even in its raw, unpolished state and despite its being improperly spread out and dried on surfaces intended solely for vehicles and pedestrian traffic, is an act with almost sacrilegious connotations. Better leave the palay alone. Who knows what bad karma or bad luck brought by the wrath of the rice gods may befall those who dare defile it.

It is a frustrating, if not infuriating and exasperating, exercise in futility to try to explain to the local rice farmers and some rice traders here why they should not be drying their palay on the road surfaces of the national highway. After all, they reason out that the highways and the roads are public property and for public use. Therefore, their use of these public infrastructures for albeit a rather unusual purpose, is not improper but merely an extension of their rights as citizens to freely use or, in this case, misuse it.

Any attempt to argue about reciprocal rights and civic responsibility with them becomes ultimately mired in non sequiturs and irrelevancy. To stubbornly persist arguing against such rock hard obstinacy is to invite irritation if not exasperation then anger. Then it's back to speedily driving away or running very fast from either the bolo knife or the homemade shotgun. In the end, it is a better and wiser choice to just give up and leave with your dignity and body parts intact and whole.

Discretion, they say, is the better part of valor. I could not agree more.


  1. Benjie,
    Agreed, however, at some point in time there will be someone that points out the necessity for public safety regarding the many obstructions on the roadways. Rice is not the only obstacle to a driver. The many road blocks, that I’ve learned are sometimes not put there by the road department, are the sites of much confusion. I guess the most worrisome obstacle to me, is the school children that insist on walking 6 to 8 abreast down the middle of the road, which is especially concerning when coming around a curve or over a small rise in the roadway.
    As an American, I was completely bemused by the many different highway obstructions here in the Philippines. None of these obstacles would occur in America, and for several reasons. The roadways in America do not belong to the public; they are public access areas, meant for one use only; “to drive an automobile on”. And even then, there are many rules in doing that. Some roadways cannot be used for farm equipment; some have certain lanes where large trucks can drive; in some areas it is illegal to stop even if you have an emergency, engine trouble, or a flat tire. Disregard any of these rules and you get to pay a steep fine, and could have your vehicle impounded.
    The United States prides itself on its’ system of highways, and much is done to improve them each year. I know you have mentioned the road conditions here in our area a lot in your blog, and I completely agree with everything you’ve said. But can we expect to have improved roads when the government knows that half of the expense of building that road will be put to improper use? What about the rice farmers that don’t have a convenient stretch of paved roadway, where do they dry their rice? In Manila, this year, they banned Christmas Caroling, because they were concerned about public safety. In San Francisco, the DPWH cut trees because of public safety on the highway. Many people have complained about both of these, but the ones making the decisions have right on their side. They claimed public safety, and the arguments ended.
    As I point out to my family many times, the highways, and emergency lanes (that portion of the road on the shoulder, not normally intended for traffic) are meant to give automobiles that little extra cushion of safety to avoid an accident. The shoulders of the road are a last resort for a motorist to avoid an accident. In the case of the rice, there not only is no shoulder, but even half of the road many times is not an option for avoiding an accident. I’ve taken note of the driving habits of many in our community, and I believe from past experience that some need that extra cushion and about 200 percent more. I’m very lucky, for during my life I’ve had some defensive driving classes, and I’ve well used those lessons here in the Philippines. I have had lots of close calls from motorcyclist pulling out in front of me without looking for oncoming traffic, and so far I’ve had an escape route open to avoid an accident.
    In the end, you of course are correct about discretion, however, there will come a time when the palay will need to go the way of the dinosaur. The owners of the rice will run up against an absolute truth in this world, “You can’t fight city hall”.

  2. I read from Dr. Flavier's book Back from the Barrios that farmers intended to place palay on the road so that the husks can be separated from the grains, and by avoiding it you're actually shortchanging the farmer. Is it really true that the farmer will chase you with a bolo if you ran over the palay?