I have to go back a little ways in order for this to make sense.
I was a snot nosed punk. No idea what was what in this world. But I knew one thing. I could drive just about anything with wheels and motor. My dad taught me. I started with lawn mowers and moved up to tractors and finally trucks and dirt bikes when I was about twelve or so.
Forward a few more years. I am now sixteen. I have had my learner’s permit for the requisite one month. Dad drives me over to the local DMV for my written test and if I passed that I could take the practical test. Well I studied real hard and passed the written exam. As soon as I got my score I was told to go outside and pull the car that I brought to the testing center up to the yellow line. I hopped into the 1982 4-speed Datsun pick-up that dad brought me in and pulled up to the yellow line and faced my future like a man. This huge Pennsylvanian State trooper comes out and gets into the truck with me. First words out of his mouth were this, “ I see on your application you wrote that you live at RD#1 “BX” 59”. “What does “BX” stand for”? I said, “It stands for box, sir.” He looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “You really could not be bothered to write out the word box? You actually had to abbreviate a three letter word?”
This was not going as well as I had imagined it. I was about to shit in my pants. He started scribbling on his clip board and we have not even moved. Finally he tells me to pull forward and follow the yellow lines. The trooper put me through the paces. Three point turns, parallel parking, the works. At the end he turned to me and said, “You may not be able to spell, but son, you can drive. Go park this piece of shit and I will see you back inside”.
I go back inside and the trooper is waiting for me with my freshly laminated PA state driver’s license. He hands it to me and says, “Son, just remember this is not the end it’s only the beginning. Please be careful out there”. I really thought I would burst with pride. I walked outside to where dad was waiting. He said, “Well, how did you do?” I whipped out my license. I saw the pride in his eyes as he tossed me the keys and told me to drive home. He knew that he had done his job as a father well.
Now we are in the Philippines, one month ago. My wife had been telling me for years how bad she wants a driver’s license. I take her down to get her student license. They give her one almost instantly. We head back home. First thing I do is make her take an online practice test of signs and traffic laws until she can pass them without even thinking about it. Then I take her out to a deserted stretch of road and hand her the keys to my motor scooter. I make her do figure eights, slaloms, uphill and downhill starts until she is ready to divorce me.
After a month we head back to the LTO. We are met outside by an LTO “official”. He asks what we are doing here. We tell him we are here so my wife can change her license from student to non-professional drivers license. He pulls out a piece of paper and starts scribbling a bunch of numbers. He finally says it will cost 2500 pesos. I pull the cash from my wallet and hand it to him. He tells my wife to go to room number sixteen and wait. I go across the street to a small eatery and wait for her to finish.
At the cafeteria I meet an older Filipina lady that is waiting for her husband to come back from the LTO for his license. He’s never had one before either. You see his parents being typical Pinoy could not pay for his education beyond the sixth grade. He had never really learned to read or write. His wife helped him as best she could. He had an opportunity to be a driver for company that would lift his salary to 500 pesos per day if he could get a license. They took out loans to get the 3500 pesos required by their LTO “fixer” to get his license. (We somehow got a thousand pesos discount) That is when it hit me that I had just paid a bribe to get my wife’s license. And it made me angry. I could not believe that these people with good government salaries were stealing money from their own countrymen. Countrymen that could little afford to pay the exorbitant fees these vultures were charging. As the older lady explained to me, you either dance to the music they are playing, or you go back home with “lost or missing” paperwork, and try again another day. You can come back ten times until you either pay their “fees” or you pay in lost wages. Wow.
An hour later my wife came back and flashed her freshly laminated driver’s license. There was no pride in her eyes. No sense of accomplishment. She was not excited or happy. She paid the price and got her license that was it. That is when it really hit me. After almost 40 years I still remember so many vivid details about the day that I got my license. My wife will remember nothing. That is the real theft that goes on in this country. These people have no idea what it means to truly accomplish something on their own merit and worth. They are robbed of the self satisfaction that one gets from submitting oneself to peer review and being told that you are worthy. No wonder so much hollow Pinoy pride exists.