AT SIX o’clock on a Thursday evening the most important road in Manila, known as EDSA, has become a car park. Five lanes heading north and five heading south are clogged with cars and buses, many of them pointlessly honking their horns. “Traffic in Manila is not ordinary”, says a taxi driver, wearily. He means that it is extreme, not that it is rare.
When people meet in Manila, they talk about traffic. “It rules everything”, says Julia Nebrija, a cycling advocate. Some stories are funny, like the one about the transport official, Francis Tolentino, who missed a live TV interview because he was stuck on EDSA, or the one about the archbishop who was so fed up with one jam that he got out of his car and started directing traffic. Business people tell more worrying tales. As commutes grow longer, productivity is suffering, says Jaime Ysmael of the Ayala Corporation, a conglomerate.
Filipinos will vote for a new president in May, and the candidates are trying to blame each other for the parlous state of Manila’s roads and public transport. The very fact that one of them, Manuel Roxas, used to be transport secretary was held against him in a televised debate on February 21st. The candidates tout diverse plans, from building more roads to increasing taxes on second cars to moving government offices out of the metropolis. Such is the level of angst that anybody who cracks Manila traffic would have a good shot at the top job.
Even with a perfect transport plan, Manila would probably have a problem. The population of the entire capital area rose from 18m to 23m between 2000 and 2010. It is dense: Shlomo Angel of New York University, who measures cities, estimates that it crammed 274 people into each hectare a decade ago, compared with 64 per hectare in Paris—and Manila will have got only more squashed since. What is more, the capital has an unfortunate hourglass shape. The middle, which contains the main business districts, is pinched by Manila bay to the west and Laguna lake to the east. Suburbs sprawl to the north and south. So traffic is funnelled, and the funnel often blocks up.
On top of that, Manila’s transport plans have been terrible—among the most foolish adopted by any great city. The Philippines has a complex history: it was a Spanish colony for four centuries, then an American one. It is as though Manila has taken the worst aspects of American urban planning and applied them to a dense, Spanish-style metropolis before adding not a few mistakes of its own. It has the jams it deserves.
The city’s first fault is its failure to build an extensive, high-volume public transport system. Seven metropolitan railway lines have been planned but only three have been built since work began in the early 1980s, and the connections between them are poor. At rush hour, the queues just to get into the stations are long.
If Manila has too few trains, it probably has too many buses. Hundreds of small operators ply the roads—the fruits of a radical liberalisation in the 1990s. EDSA alone is served by 266 bus companies, while 1,122 operate somewhere in Manila. Competition and plentiful supply should be good for passengers, except that drivers are paid partly based on the number of fares they collect. So they race each other to busy stops and then loiter for as long as they can, blocking other drivers.
Yet the biggest reason Manila’s roads move so slowly is that so many people now drive. The economy of the Philippines grew by 5.8% last year, and a swelling middle class is buying lots more cars (see chart). Driving, nicer and often quicker than public transport, is encouraged by minimum-parking rules, imported from America, which oblige developers to provide lots of parking spaces. Cars are thought to carry about 30% of people in the metropolis but account for 72% of traffic.
Road transport in Manila is commendably diverse. As well as cars and buses it has motorbikes with sidecars and perhaps 50,000 Jeepneys—stretched Jeeps that can hold more than a dozen passengers each. Yet many roads are tightly restricted. Buses are often kept out of the smarter business districts, and some are barred from EDSA at rush hour. Gated housing developments ban all vehicles without residents’ stickers, forcing drivers around the edges. That seems increasingly bizarre, since some of those leafy suburban developments now lie next to booming business districts. Yet the armed guards will probably stay. China’s government announced this week that gated communities should stop blocking traffic, only to retreat following an outcry. And China is not a democracy, unlike the Philippines.
Belatedly, Manila is trying something sensible. In December the Philippines approved a “rapid bus” route in north-east Manila, with buses travelling along dedicated lanes. Similar systems have worked well in Brazil and China. Karl Fjellstrom of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a New York outfit, says he looks for three things when assessing whether a city is suited for a rapid bus system: traffic congestion, demand and physical infrastructure (that is, wide roads). Manila scores highly on all three.
So perhaps the city will unblock. But Manila will need to be both clever and quick if it is to start moving again. A combination of fast growth and dismal planning got it into a jam. If the second cannot be changed, the first comes into question.
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[The annulment business] Fake annulments are easy to detect. Beware of fakes from Recto.
(READ: Part 1: The annulment business)
(READ: Part 2: Cotabato court issues spurious annulment documents)
(READ: Part 3: Cavite: Haven for paid-for annulments?)
(READ: Part 4: Bribery in annulment mills)
(READ: PART 5: Annulment scam)
MANILA, Philippines – “Sa Recto po?” I asked the cab driver. (Recto?)
He nodded and I got into the cab.
“Saan sa Recto?” (Where in Recto?)
“Doon po sa bilihan ng diploma.” (Where you can buy diplomas.)
He steered the cab in the direction of the street that has become synonymous to fake documents.
Our investigation of annulment mills and scams started with a tip that some courts were releasing annulment decisions in wholesale quantities, for a price. It was widely circulated "word on the street", somewhat an open secret. But what was less known was the extent of these irregularities – as we discovered a string of court anomalies and spurious annulment decisions issued nationwide – from northern Luzon to Mindanao and how many people profit from the heartbreak of others.
Inevitably, I made my way to Recto.
I was hoping to find the "NSO Marriage Certificate" (when people actually refer to the annotated marriage certificate that is released by the Philippine Statistics Authority) that I had been hearing so much about whenever we encountered falsified documents. The recognized get-out-of-jail card of the newly annulled. The one that scammers and lawyers alike offered as part of the total annulment package.
Recto is where you can buy just about any document you need – a diploma, a transcript, a driver’s license.
But could I buy a faux marriage certificate annotated with the details of a faux annulment?
My cab driver seemed to be sure I could when he learned what I was really looking for.
He handed me a business card. It was for a print shop that listed land titles, birth certificates and any kind of I.D. as among “any kind of paper works” that it could print. A passenger who offered a fake driver’s license gave it to him.
I got off at the end of the university belt and began looking for a print shop. I found a smattering of tables spread out with documents on display.
I approached a vendor and asked her about marriage certificates. When she registered a blank stare, she turned to the man next to her, “Marriage certificate daw?”
He took me to a print shop and asked for a certain Adan. He pointed to me and told Adan, “Naghahanap sya ng pang-annul. Sabi ko ikaw.” (She’s looking for an annulment. I told her about you.)
I told Adan my older sister wanted to petition me so I can go to the United States, but can only do so if I am single. So I needed my marriage annulled fast.
It was a spin on the desperate and urgent undertones that had now become a familiar track in the different narratives of our various case studies.
Adan was all business, rattling off other requirements that I need to present to the embassy.
“Court decision, annotated marriage certificate. Samahan na natin ng CENOMAR (Certificate of No Marriage) para sure. Pati court decision puwede na rin.” (Let’s add a CENOMAR so we’re sure. We can add a court decision, too.)
And just like our interviewees had attested, someone would fast talk them and promise them to make the bad marriage, the memories of the despicable ex, all go away for a price.
Adan wanted P8,000 for this “annulment package” which included a court decision supposedly penned by a lawyer, a CENOMAR, and annotated marriage certificate on “actual” NSO paper. When I protested, he said it would still be cheaper than hiring a lawyer myself.
Adan justified his price further. “Kailangan dun yung totoong papel ng NSO. Yung mga fake, P500 lang pero sasabit ka nun. Yung bibigay ko sa 'yo, umiilaw yun, sa NSO mismo namin kinukuha 'yung papel nun. Dini-deliver yun sa amin pag gabi ng naka-motor.”
(You need the real one, the one on NSO paper. The fakes ones are just P500, that will get you into trouble. What I’m going to give you is the one that lights up, we get the paper from the NSO. That's delivered to us at night by someone on a motorcycle.)
He agreed to a discounted price of P4,000 if I did not want to include the court decision.
I asked him if he could show me this paper and he countered by asking for payment.
When I told him my wallet contained only small bills, he shrugged his shoulders and turned to answer one of 3 cellphones.
I headed for the Avenida Arcade address listed in the calling card my cab driver gave me.
Avenida Arcade is lined with document vendors squished on either side of the street. Cardboard placards brandish a list of documents that could be printed and sold. Samples of documents are posted on cardboard and covered with plastic.
It was a flea market of facsimiles. But where were the marriage certificates?
A girl in a narrow stall was talking to a couple of customers and I fell in line.
I need an annotated marriage certificate showing that my marriage was annulled, I said.
“'Yung local, 'yung NSO o 'yung totoo?” she asked briskly. (The local one, the NSO or the real one?)
She met my confused glance and explained that she needed to know so she could recommend the best fit.
I decided to change track to see if a purpose different from a visa requirement would fetch me a lower price.
“Sa bangko po. Kailangan ko po ibalik yung pangalan ko sa pagka-dalaga.” (For bank purposes. I need to change the name on my bank accounts to my maiden name.)
She recommended a real NSO marriage certificate to be sure. The fake one would only be good for pre-employment requirements but for those offices that would check like the bank or government agencies, she suggested a “real” document, one printed on NSO paper.
“Dating tiga-NSO 'yung nagbibigay sa amin nun. Umalis na siya dun kasi mas malaki ang kita dito. Pero may contact pa din siya dun sa loob.” (We get that from someone who used to be in the NSO. They left because they make better money here, but they still have a contact on the inside.)
Again, I asked for a sample of this document that until now I had only heard of but not seen. “Nasa gawaan po kasi namin yun. Bibilhin pa din po namin yun pag may order, e, may kamahalan.” (It’s in the printing place. We buy the paper when there is an order. It’s a bit expensive.)
She quoted me P2,000 for the fake marriage certificate printed on this actual NSO paper. We settled for a fake marriage certificate for a driven down price of P350 from P500. She took out a half sheet of pad paper elementary students use, divided it into two columns and asked me to fill it out.
I filled up the paper that served as my application form. I settled for a mash-up of Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. A last minute tug of nationalism prompted me to add San Andres to the last name of “my husband”.
She told me to come back after an hour, but it was after 3 hours when she finally handed me a Manila envelope with a marriage certificate stating that the marriage of Anne Cruz to Ryan Cooper San Andres was declared null and void by Judge Leticia P. Morales of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 24 on August 20, 2014.
I was married and annulled all in one day. Not even Las Vegas can beat that.
Transaction code can’t be faked
I showed the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) a copy of the annotated marriage certificate I purchased at Recto.
At first glance, it is a good fake, Aurora Reolalas, chief of the PSA vital statistics division, acquiesced. The requisites are there: the PSA seal on the upper left hand side, the bar code at the bottom, and the signature of national statistician Lisa Bersales on the lower right.
A quick check of the transaction code on top of the bar code showed no such records exist in their system.
“Sometimes, the name of the person on the document does not correspond to the transaction code,” said Reolalas.
But what about the paper that is purportedly supplied by someone on the inside?
“They can fake everything else, maybe even the paper, but not the transaction code,” said Reolalas.
Marriage certificates are printed on paper that has built-in security features. Apart from that, the PSA also institutes safeguards on the inventory and management of the paper that marriage certificates are printed on.
According to Reolalas, the color of the paper is changed regularly and actual documents are scanned in different premises to avoid possible collusion between those working on the documents and the civil registry.
Butnot too many are aware of this. Or even if they were, those truly desperate to get out of a stifling marriage sometimes don't mind the collusion. And it could come with great cost.(READ: IN NUMBERS: The state of the nation's marital woes) – Rappler.com
This story is part of the series, “The annulment business”, on annulment mills and annulment scams. Reporting for this project was supported with a grant from the Journalism for Nation Building Foundation. Part 6 concludes the series. For tips and information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published 3:00 AM, January 01, 2016
Updated 1:07 AM, January 08, 2016