PiPOLL and a chat with the brilliant (I’m biased) women behind it

A few weeks ago,  I took an online test to determine whether I should support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for the Democratic party nomination. It asked a series of 10 agree/disagree questions based on what issues are important to you (example: education, health care, foreign policy, etc.). It then computes for your compatibility with either candidate, based on their own positions on those issues. It thought it would be great if someone would come up with a similar test for our upcoming presidential elections. Lord knows we need something to filter out all bullsh*t that has become an even more prominent feature of our elections. Little did I know that we already had our own version of BernievsHillary.org.

PiPOLL made the rounds on my Facebook feed, appropriately enough, on the night of the 2nd Presidential Debates. It asks you where you stand on important socio-political issues and based on your answers, matches you with the candidate you agree with the most.   It forces you to leave your biases and preconceptions about each candidate at the door, leaving you with an objective match.


Imagine my surprise and pride when I find out that former elementary school classmates were behind the site, and one of them was one of my best friends. PiPOLL is a partnership between Ethel Francisco, who handles the research for the site, and Ish Gagno, who takes care of the technical side of things. And, naturally, I used my friendship card to get them to chat with me about PiPOLL for the blog.

How did you come up with the idea for PiPOLL?

Ethel Francisco: “So I’m a nerd and the selection matrix that was used as basic framework for the app, I created that using Excel and used it back in 2010 when I voted for Gibo. In the run-up to the 2016 elections, I really don’t want the wrong person (ed’s note: wrong person’s name redacted) to get elected and I couldn’t live with myself if I wouldn’t even try to do anything to stop that. Thus, a voter education site. I bunked with Ish back in Feb when I visited Singapore and thought that hey, she can help me make this happen.”

What do you want to achieve with PiPOLL?

EF: “I want people to THINK about their choices. With social media  and all the information just popping up everyday,  it’s so easy to get swept up by the noise and the drama. So hopefully the app is able to help people sift through the whole heap, challenge people to make a stand and help them choose.”

How did you go about choosing which issues/topics to include? 

EF: “I just did a simple crowdsourcing on Facebook and social messaging to get to the 20-point list.”

Some people would prefer to have an “undecided” option, but you decided against having one, why is that? 

EF: “If there’s an undecided option, and some people end up just hitting it on all the 20 questions, then what value would that bring about? We wanted to challenge people to make a stand on the issues. If you don’t know the topic, we’ve put references you can read up on. Just make a stand. You can decide that the issue is not important for you, and that affects the weight in the final tabulation. But be informed and make your stand.”

Ish Gagno: “Keeping the answers to only ‘Agree’ and ‘Disagree’ was a conscious decision. Our goal was to help as many Filipinos scrutinize their prospective choice, to go past choosing just based on high-level likeability and onto actually digging deeper to discover what they stand for and intend to do as President. We expect our President to make hard decisions; as voters, we should expect the same of ourselves.”

What was the hardest part about the entire process, from conceptualizing to finally launching PiPOLL? 

EF: “Ish and I are actually overseas, away from the Philippines and are in two separate countries. We also have day jobs and would just be able to squeeze in the research and the coding when we get to smuggle in free time. That’s not entirely hard or difficult, just challenging. What was difficult was when we launched the app, and it seemed to go viral with more than 5,000 unique clicks in less than 48 hours after launch and we realized we didn’t exactly prepare for virality. Haha.”

Speaking of going viral, were you surprised by the reaction to the site? 

EF: “We find it a blessing that the launch coincided with the 2nd Presidential Debates. It was not planned at all. We just wanted to launch before the Holy Week break. So we cleared the features, launch at around 6PM 10 March, the debates happened on 20 March then boom. We’re really happy with the response. Very glad to see people find the value of what we’ve created. Ish thought of turning it into a Buzzfeed-like quiz and I think that allowed people to suppose this was just a fun thing online but while they’re on it, they realize that, hey, they’re being challenged to THINK.”

IG: “Ethel and I are both overwhelmed and overjoyed by all the feedback. We’re happy to have been a force that made it possible for thousands of Filipinos to be more invested in thinking critically about the coming elections. It was definitely worth all the effort.”

What else can people look forward to with the site?

EF: “Immediately after we soft-launched the app, there was a lot of clamor to come up with a Tagalog version, and it is in the works. To me, this shows how people see the app as a useful tool for education and they want a larger audience to be able to understand it. That something very encouraging for me. Pero ang bobo ko sa Tagalog, hahahaha!”

Personally, have you answered the questions? Were you surprised by the results? 

EF: “I have taken the test a couple of times. And I still do flip flop on the issues. My last try was a shocker. I haven’t taken the test since because I didn’t like the result, hahahaha!”

IG: “Yes, I’ve taken the quiz several times, and I also do flip-flop in picking answers and the degree of importance. I think the important part though is not the end compatibility result, but the actual process of going through each issue and realizing where I stand. As a wise friend of ours said, you don’t actually HAVE to vote for whom the quiz tells you you’re compatible with. At the end of the day, when you’ve gone through all the thinking, researching, and evaluating, you’d know in your gut or in your heart whom you’d want to vote.”

You can visit PiPOLL at http://pipoll-alpha.appspot.com/. You can also follow PiPOLL on Twitter at @PiPOLL2016 for updates.


I thought long and hard about writing this post. Part of me wanted to just let it go. It won’t do me any good to be so riled up by the another article on the internet. If I wrote a reaction post on everything that bothered or angered me online, I would have to quit my job to write and write and write. But as much as I tried to put the matter out of my mind, my thoughts always wandered back to it. Maybe writing about it would be cathartic for me. Maybe publishing this post will make me feel better that at least, there is something out there countering that blog post. Maybe, just maybe, one girl will read this and realize that no one should respect her less because of what she chooses to wear to the beach. Maybe.

This is a reaction to a post that popped up on my Facebook feed. The author listed “3 Main Reasons Why You Must Not Wear A Two-Piece Swimsuit.”

I would just clarify a few things before I actually get into it. I have purposefully tried to keep religion and the Bible out of the discussion because the internet is the scariest place on earth and it doesn’t get any scarier than when religion (and maybe One Direction) is discussed. Second, (because, again, the internet) I will delete any comments that are off-topic or in any way offensive. Disagree with me ALL YOU WANT, but let’s all be civil. Not that I expect a lot or any comments given my tiny readership, but it’s still better to be clear.

For clarity’s sake, I’ll be quoting from the article. And so, *deep breath* here we go.

“You’re so sexy!”, “You’re so da*n hot!”, these two are just some of the phrases, girls really love to hear.

Everyone loves summer so everyone is planning to go to the beach and to make it complete, wearing sexy swimsuits will be the top of the list. Everyone is excited to show their beautiful bodies, take some selfies and post them in (sic) facebook.

If I was complimented on my body and was called “sexy” or “da*n hot” I would, like my mother taught me, smile and say thanks. Well-meaning compliments are always nice. But to imply that compliments about their bodies are what women most want to hear is wrong. To say that to put their bodies on display in swimsuits is the primary reason women go to the beach is judgmental and backwards. And the fact that it’s a woman passing on this judgment on other women is sad and frustrating.

1. To Gain Respect. It is undeniable that when you flaunt your skin, guys can’t take off their eyes from you. Some guys may appreciate you but most guys will be provoked to have a sexual desire on you.

— banksy (@thereaIbanksy) April 8, 2015

If anyone, man or woman, chose not to respect a woman simply because she chose to wear a two-piece swimsuit on the beach, then that person does not know the real meaning of the word “respect.” Their respect is probably not worth having anyway.

2. Your Body Belongs To God. God created us according to His purpose which is to serve Him. Women are not created to be a source of lust, therefore, we must take care of our decency and dignity as a woman.

3. To Help Guys Not To Sin. It should be a win-win situation. As a woman of God, it feels good that guys will not only respect you but at the same time, you are not giving them the reason to fall into temptation or sin.

While the author listed three reasons for not wearing two-piece swimsuits, it actually all boils down to one. She argues that we shouldn’t wear our bikinis to the beach because that would make us objects of lust for men, the reason for them to sin.  I cannot even begin to describe how sad, frustrated, and infuriated this makes me feel.

Are men are so susceptible to lust that the sight of a girl in a bikini results in sexual fantasies and urges? If that were true then no man would be able to properly function on a beach. But somehow, men are walking straight, peddling ice cream/banana boat rides/henna tattoos, playing Frisbee, and having coherent conversation on the shores of Boracay even with all the dozens of ladies in bikinis around them. Maybe they deserve more credit than assuming that exposed abdomen is their undoing.

However, the most damaging implication here, the one that had me literally shaking and teary with rage and sadness, is that women are responsible for ensuring that men do not “fall into temptation or sin.” If a woman who wore a bikini (or, I assume, anything considered “sexy”) is fantasized about, or harassed, or sexually assaulted, it would be her fault as she tempted the men into sin with her exposed legs/tummy/cleavage/back. She is to blame and not the person who catcalled/groped/raped her. A woman wearing revealing clothing is just asking for it.

No wonder there’s a greater tendency to blame rape victims more than victims of robbery. It’s this culture of victim blaming that contributes to the fact that cases of sexual assault and rape go unreported, that victims don’t reach out for much-needed help. As if the turmoil inherent in sexual abuse is not enough, a victim has to live with the thought that somehow, she is to blame, not the person who violated her .

That this line of thinking is, somehow, being linked to the Bible is confusing and hurtful. That Bible verses are being quoted to support the notion that women bring sexual harassment/assault upon themselves is not true to the faith that I know, and it is very, very discouraging to read that so many people share the author’s views. There were, thankfully, a few who didn’t, but the ratios do not bode well.

Maybe the more enlightened ones were better than me at not letting such a misinformed post get to them. Maybe they knew better than to spend their time commenting or, worse, writing a (likely ill-advised) reaction blog post. Maybe they are too busy raising little girls and boys who will respect people, no matter their gender or beach outfits. Maybe they are focused on teaching a class of girls that decency and dignity, in the eyes of God, is more a matter of your actions than your outfits. Maybe they are occupied with empowering women to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse in order to heal.

Maybe there will come a day when women will no longer be blamed for the actions of others against them. Maybe.

city.ballet: Addictive for all the right reasons

When someone says that they are addicted to a reality show, there’s almost always a hint of guilt or embarrassment in the statement. Being obsessed with Keeping Up With the Karashians or Duck Dynasty is not something to be proud of. I even get laughed at for watching Say Yes to the Dress whenever I can. There’s a silliness, a triviality to these shows that make them guilty pleasures, rather than just outright pleasures to partake in.

There is no such silliness or guilt in city.ballet, the web series by AOL, produced by Sarah Jessica Parker. It gives us a behind the scenes look into the world of the New York City Ballet. Each episode, running between six to eight minutes, gives us an in-depth look into a certain aspect of the ballet company, from its hierarchy of dancers in its first episode,

to how grueling and difficult dancing Swan Lake really is (not so spoiler: it’s really, really, really, hard, you guys), to the pros and cons of having your significant other your partner in a pas de deux.

I devoured the two seasons, including the two to three minute bonuses, in a span of about three hours. In those short hours, I was in turn nervous, thrilled, fascinated, and horrified (very serious injuries are discussed). However, I was always, always amazed by the sheer talent, commitment, determination, grace, and spirit of all the dancers featured. Because while the series does touch on the dazzling costumes and the all-important shoes, it’s the dancers’ stories that make the series so compelling. Whether it be soloists wondering if they’ll ever be promoted to principals, dancers preparing for life after they hang up the point shoes, or working their way back physically and emotionally after an injury, the men and women of the NYCB will make you feel more in six minutes than the Kardashians have in seven (eight? nine?) seasons.

And of course, there’s all that amazing, wonderful, jaw-dropping dancing, too.

6 Things We Can Do To Help the Traffic Situation

I don’t really need to go into detail about how bad traffic has gotten in Manila, do I? From the state of my Twitter and Facebook feed, everyone knows how awful it is. And that’s before it even rains. With just the briefest of downpours the metropolis’ main arteries become parking lots, with five-hour journeys home becoming maddeningly commonplace. With Christmas season fast approaching, the situation is going to become even worse. Really, it’s enough to make you never ever want to leave the house.

The large-scale, long-term solution to the problem (unfortunately) lies in the hands of our inept, short-sighted government. That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t anything we can do to improve the situation. Will my suggestions below miraculously make EDSA free-flowing? Hell to the no. But maybe, if we all do our part, there could be the tiniest bit of improvement, if not in seemingly God-forsaken EDSA, then at least in the minor roads we spend so much of our time in. Because when the situation is as bad as it is, every little bit helps.

1 – Get on/off or drop off/pick up at authorized stops only
I get it. I really do. I commuted to work for five years, so I know how convenient it is to ask the bus/taxi/jeepney stop right in front of your office building, even if it means abruptly stopping traffic for dozens of cars behind you. It’s fine, it’s just one quick stop, everyone would be on the go in less then a minute, right? But multiply that stop by maybe ten thousand, and you’d get a better idea how much that stop-and-go contributes to traffic. It’s that lack of discipline and consideration from passengers that’s partly to blame for the bus segregation scheme on EDSA being ineffective. So do everyone a favor and wait for the bus at the bus stop, don’t stop the jeep in the middle of the road, and just walk the extra hundred meters. It’s good for you, it’s safer, it’s one less unauthorized stop the jeep/bus and the dozens of cars behind them have to make. If you’re the driver, say no to your passenger who is stupidly asking to be let off at the corner of a busy intersection when the light is green. They can’t get out of the car if you don’t stop.

2 – Cross the street at pedestrian lanes only
Don’t you hate it when someone presses all the buttons on the elevator on your way to the topmost floor? Having to slow down to accommodate jaywalking pedestrians is the same thing with the added risk of bodily harm/death to spice things up. Sure, it’s so much easier to not walk the extra 200 meters to the pedestrian crossing and leave it to the 1.5 tonnes of metal to avoid hitting you and your milk tea. But if a car has to slow down/swerve to avoid you, then the car behind it has to do the same, and so on and so forth. Worst case scenario is that you set off a dangerous chain reaction of abrupt deceleration with your laziness. Best case scenario is that you caused a chain of cars to unnecessarily slow down.

3 – Don’t stand park at corners and narrow and/or busy streets
You are driving down EDSA on the rightmost lane, as you’re about to take a right to Shaw/Guadix/wherever. Then the asshat in front of you suddenly flashes his hazard lights and inexplicably stops. You wait, it out for maybe 15 seconds, but said asshat has no intention to budge despite your incessant honking because the MRT passenger he’s picking up from the station hasn’t shown up yet. You have no choice but to overtake him, disrupting the flow of traffic of the next lane, causing other cars to slow down ad infinitum, while the asshat waits and waits and waits like he was waiting at the quiet street of some gated village. Don’t do this on EDSA. Don’t do this on the tiny streets of Manila, or the backstreets of Makati at rush hour. Don’t do this. Don’t be a f*cking asshat.

4 – Stay the f*ck in line
I’m not talking about simple lane switching. I’m talking about the a**holes who ignore long lanes of cars waiting to exit a highway/turn a corner/enter a gate and cut to the front by counterflowing/creating their own lane. I’m talking about the a**holes who block entire lanes to the Shaw underpass or the Fort-Buendia flyover because they somehow think they deserve to get where they want to go faster than the hundreds of other drivers and passengers on the road. If you are one of these people (and you are not driving an ambulance), please for the love of all that is good and fair, stay the f*ck in line. You are not only being a nuisance to everyone else who dutifully did not wait until the concrete barrier to switch to the outer lane, but you are also making it harder for everyone else who wants to go straight ahead. Those people have to slow down and switch lanes to avoid you and your douchey-ness, making the cars on the next lane slow down as well, and so on and so forth. You think you’re being smart, flying past the goody-two-shoes, but what you are is a f*cking a**hole causing a bottleneck that will eventually stretch kilometers behind you.

5 – As much as it pains me to say this, give way to the f*ckers who don’t stay in line
Like I said, I would love nothing more than to not let any line-cutters through. I will admit to almost hitting the car in front of me because I didn’t want to give way to the car who chose to join our lane at the point of the concrete barrier. I also admit to taking my sweet, sweet time to inch forward just so the car behind me can follow closely and not let the singit through. But the truth of the matter is, the longer the they don’t merge with your lane, the longer they are blocking traffic for people behind them. So while it will give you sweet satisfaction to not let the jerk through, think about the times you just wished the the jerk in front of you was let through so that you could go your way down the Shaw underpass. Let him pass. Sure, you can flip him the bird, honk your horn until his ears bleed out, and curse him to oblivion, but let him pass.

6 – Educate your drivers
If you are fortunate enough to have someone drive you around, great. But as the employer of Manong Boy it is your responsibility to make sure that he drives responsibly, safely, and doesn’t cause a traffic jam while waiting for you (hazards on, of course) to buy your cronuts from Wildflour. He most likely wants to do a good job of getting you and your family where you want to go as quickly and conveniently as possible, but let him know that he shouldn’t counterflow down a busy street just because your daughter is late for her yoga class, or make an illegal u-turn because your son forgot his basketball shoes at home.

Like I said, these are teeny, tiny things that will probably be a drop in the despairing ocean that is Manila traffic. But until the government comes to its senses then we need to do what we can, no matter how little, and stop being lazy, undisciplined, selfish, entitled asshats on the road.

The UNICEF Tap Project

This is genius.

You can help UNICEF provide much-needed water to children in need via the UNICEF Tap Project.

All you need to do is… nothing, really.

photo 2

You just have to lie your phone flat, and leave it. Even if you’re one of those people who has their phone practically handcuffed to them, you can still help and do this while you’re in the shower, doing chores, or even while you’re sleeping. For every ten minutes you leave your phone untouched, a day’s worth of water for one child is donated by a UNICEF sponsor.

photo 1

This is genius, not only because it couldn’t have made helping out easier, it also puts things into stark perspective. We live in a world where millions do not have regular access to clean water and, yet, somehow, going without one’s phone is considered a “sacrifice.”

The point is further driven home by the factoids and statistics that flash on your phone screen while it’s left idle. The site shares information on the impact of water access on enrollment rates, the reach of UNICEF’s programs, and other water-related facts.

photo 4

When you absolutely have to use your phone already, the timer will stop, and the site will compute for the amount of time your phone was untouched. It then converts your total time into water days:

photo 3

There really is no excuse not to do it. Head on over to UNICEF Tap Project via your mobile, and help provide vital, life-saving water to children in need. Giving back has never been so easy.

Note: If you’re going to this for an extended period of time (yay!), I recommend plugging your phone to a charger. Your screen will be active the entire time, with the timer, and the flashing of the water-related facts, so it will be quite a drain on your battery.

Eat and Shop for a Cause this #YolandaActionWeekend

Step 1: Donate. UNICEF Philippines, World Food Programme, and the Philippine Red Cross are good places to start.

Step 2: Volunteer. DSWD, PRC, ABS-CBN Foundation, and GMA Kapuso Foundation are all taking volunteers. There are also various private efforts all over Metro Manila and the rest of the country.

And you’re done, right?

Well, no. Even if you’ve wiped out your savings donating or blew out your back carrying sacks of rice while volunteering, there are other ways you can help.

Eat Out
If you are eating out this weekend, then make sure it’s in one of these establishments. All the restaurants and vendors below will be contributing some (in some cases, all) their proceeds to the Yolanda relief cause. Whether you’re jonesing for ice cream, burgers, katsu, ramen, cupcakes, or craft beer, you should be able to find a way to satisfy your craving and help out:

Photo from Pepper.ph

Aid Couture
is a Philippine Red Cross event that’s been planned way before Yolanda ravaged Central Philippines, and its success is even more critical now. The PRC will be selling pre-sorted and pre-washed clothing that were donated, but are not appropriate for practical use by the victims of calamities. Stylists Jujiin Samonte, Happy Andrada and others were involved in the styling and selection of the clothes for sale. Each item of clothing will have a price tag showing what  relief supplies the purchase price can help buy:

Image via StyleBible.ph

The event will be this weekend, November 16-17 at Alabang Town Center, starting 10AM.

Others things you can do:

  • Poledance for a cause (a sentence I never though I would type, by the way) with Polecats Manila
  • Workout with CrossFit MNL and pay with donations.
  • Shop Renegade Folk’s Holiday collection and get a free manicure. 100% of the proceeds goes to Yolanda relief.
  • For a list of other activities benefiting relief, click here.

Let’s all do what we can to help our countrymen through this disaster. This cannot be stressed enough: they need all the help we can give and more.


I wrote to the LTFRB

How many taxi crime stories have I read or heard about this month? Five? Six? Whatever the real number is, it’s too many. And with holiday season upon us, it’s just bound to get worse. I’ve wrote about tips for keeping safe when taking a taxi, but to me, that wasn’t enough. That puts the onus on the passengers to be careful, which is fine. But the responsibility to keep public transportation safe to begin with should be with the LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board) to begin with. So I wrote a letter to them. And you should, too.

If you take cabs, or just have a sister/mother/daughter/cousin/colleague who takes cabs in this city, then you should write one, too. We need to let the LTFRB know that they need to take action to make taxis safer, particularly for women. I’ve written the below letter and sent it via the complaint form on the LTFRB site (the email address in the Contact Us page does not work). Feel free to use my own letter as your guide, but do replace my personal experience (my sister’s to be more exact) with yours. Maybe if enough people write in, they’ll do something about it.

Atty. Winston M. Ginez
Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board
East Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City

Dear Sir,

I am writing as a young woman concerned about the welfare and safety of thousands of others like me, who take local taxis to get in and around Metro Manila. I would like your office to require all, not just taxi, public utility vehicle drivers to display a standard, certified and registered identification (with photo) issued by your good office in their vehicles. This practice is currently in place in major cities such as Singapore and New York, and will hopefully deter taxi drivers from victimizing their passengers. At the very least it should help in identifying and catching them if every they still choose to abduct, rob or even sexually abuse their passengers.

I am pushing for this because of the recent spate of taxi-related crimes these past few months. I am not sure if you are active on any social media platforms, but if you are, you have probably heard or read about at least one of the many instances where a woman (it’s always a female) became the victim of an attempted or actual crime while riding a cab. In the last two months alone, I have read about five or six stories on Facebook and this excludes the stories outside this timeframe. It’s a scary thought to think that these are only the stories that are shared within my small circle of friends, I’m sure there are a lot more out there that either have not reached me or have not been shared online at all.

My own sister was a victim of a taxi robbery, and, it is disconcerting to think that every time she or any of my cousins, colleagues, or friends ride a taxi, they are risking their property, their safety, and in extreme cases, their lives. This is not the reality women in this city should be facing every time they go to work or go home.

As the regulator of these taxis, I see it as your office’s responsibility to make this and all other modes of transportation safe for all citizens, especially women traveling alone. This includes certifying and registering all drivers, and requiring that they display standard identification as issued by your office in their vehicles. The current regulation requiring taxis to have plate numbers and operator names displayed has not helped prevent these crimes, as these can easily be tampered with or concealed. In my sister’s case, the information was covered with tape. Requiring drivers to register with your office, and display LTFRB-issued identification with their names and photos will hopefully be a deterrent for crimes. At the very least, it will make those who dare easier to identify and hopefully, capture. I hope your office will take this step to help the women in this city feel safer in a taxi.

I hope to hear back from your office on this, and also on other measures the LTFRB might be taking to counteract this wave of taxi crime, especially with the holiday season upon us.


Let’s make ourselves heard on this matter. We need to let our government know that it is NOT OKAY to not feel safe in our own city.

Taxi Riding Tips

A week after this, another story made the rounds on Facebook. A woman (again, a friend of a friend) got on a taxi and almost got drugged by the driver. The driver kept waving a towel in front of the airconditioning unit and the passenger began to have difficulty breathing and feel numbness in her limbs. She had the presence of mind (and thank God, the strength) to get out of the still-moving cab before the unknown drugs took their full effect.

This is just one of many scary taxi cab stories that we’ve all heard. My own sister was a victim of a taxi cab mugging on Christmas Eve, of all days. A colleague also had a similar experience: she ended up in Cavite, alone and virtually penniless after taking a cab from the front of our Makati office. We all know someone or have a cousin/colleague of a friend who has had a harrowing experience with criminals working as taxi cab drivers.

With Christmas fast-approaching (yes, really) and no apparent action from our police and public transportation authorities to address the situation, then it’s up to us to take measures to keep ourselves (and our friends, sisters, colleagues, cousins, etc.) safe when taking cabs. The tips below were pooled from friends’ practices and the learnings from people who have been in the same situation. But please feel free to add your own in the comments.

  • Take note of the cab’s plate number, and make sure other people know about it as well. Aside from sending friends and family the plate number, feel free to take it as far as my friend does. Take a picture of the plate number printed outside the cab, beside the door and post it on Facebook and/or Twitter as a record, along with the pick-up location:

  • Before boarding a cab, check for the plate number written on the inside of the taxi doors. If it’s too faded to read clearly, don’t get in. If it looks like it was taped over, don’t get in. In the cab my sister was mugged in, the original print was covered with tape and a different plate number was written. Most victims are trapped in the cab for long periods of time, enough time to etch those three letters and three numbers into their brains, if they were visible and readable. It makes sense that cab drivers with malicious intent would want to conceal the primary means of identifying their vehicle.
  • Take note of the operator/driver name as well. In case of an unfortunate incident, the more information you have, the better.

  • Check the front and backseats before getting in. One MO for these taxi crimes is to have an accomplice hiding in front of the passenger seat beside the driver. Once the passenger is comfortably seated in the backseat, the accomplice emerges from his presumably cramped hiding spot.
  • Check that the doors on both sides of the backseat can be opened from the inside. And sit behind the driver. Another popular MO is to have accomplices board the taxi along the way. This is exactly what happened to my sister after she hailed a cab at KFC on Connecticut in San Juan. After the taxi took a right turn at EDSA, the driver pulled over at the next building, where a woman and a man boarded the front seat and the backseat respectively. My sister was seated behind the passenger seat at that time, maybe if she was seated directly behind the driver, she would have been able to exit through the door on that side. More likely than not, any accomplices will be boarding from the sidewalk, the passenger’s side. If you’re seated behind the driver, you can quickly disembark from your side of the cab, as the accomplices are boarding, provided that that door isn’t child-locked. Just remember to check for oncoming traffic.
  • Have the numbers of taxi cab companies to call, especially on late nights/early mornings. It makes sense (although it’s not a guarantee, of course) that cabs from a big, well-know company are safer than the independently driven/owned ones. If you call for a cab, these companies will give you the unit number of the cab dispatched to you. That also means they’ll know who was driving your cab that night, and your driver knows that, too. They are also incessantly, and sometimes rather annoyingly, tracked by their dispatchers as to their status, their location, their ETA, etc. That would make them less likely to try to do anything untoward with their passengers.
  • Call someone to give them the details of your cab. Even if you don’t actually reach anyone (especially if you’re on Globe), pretend you did. Be loud, make sure the driver hears that you’re giving other people details: plate number, name of cab, operator name, pickup point, pickup time. Hopefully, if the driver knows that his details are out there, he’s less likely to pull something shady.
  • Be alert, follow your gut. A cab ride is not the time to check your Twitter or Instagram feeds. Keep your on eye on where you’re heading, how fast you’re going, what the driver is doing. If he slows down and starts to pull over unexpectedly, it might mean that he’s picking up his accomplices. Check if he’s taking the route you agreed upon. Observe the driver closely if he’s doing something out of the ordinary, like fiddling with a rag in front of the airconditioning. If at any time, you feel like something is fishy, pay and alight the cab at the first safe, well-lit area you come across. It’s a hackneyed saying but it’s true: better safe than sorry.

It’s a sad reality that all these precautions are needed, especially if you’re a woman commuting in this city. Hopefully, this will change, and hopefully, within our lifetimes. In the meantime, if you have any other tips or your own practices apart from the above, then please do let me know in the comments.


Photo credits: Thank you to my friends V and direk Tonet Jadaone for giving me their permission to use the pictures above.

We are not safe

Almost a year ago, I had to buy a car. I say had because circumstances left me with no choice. I started a new job where official working hours were from 1-10 pm. I always stay past 10 and, on the worst days, stay deep into the wee hours of the morning. Commuting by jeepney, bus, MRT and/or cab was out of the question. That late at night, in this city, with all the stories, it was unsafe to do so for two years (or more) straight. And so I bought a car.

My decision was seemingly validated when, on Christmas eve last year, my sister was held-up at knife point in her cab on her way home. She took a cab near the KFC on Connecticut in San Juan. The taxi driver slowed down at the adjacent Petron gas station and a woman and a man boarded her cab. The man sat beside her in the backseat, stuck a knife against her side as the woman in the front seat rummaged through her bag, taking her valuables, her cash, and her ATM. They eventually let her go, in one piece, and, to this day, we are grateful that nothing worse happened to her.

I was also thankful that I had the means to get to and from work without having to risk my safety by riding a taxi or other public transportation. Today, however, I heard a story that made me realize that car or no car, however you get around, you are not safe, especially if you’re a woman. We are not safe.

A young woman (a sister of a friend of a friend) went on a Friday night out with friends at The Fort. Her friends saw her leave with her car, and she even sent a message to her family that she was on her way home. She never made it. She was found dead the next morning.

It could have happened to any of us. We are not safe.

All of us have had late nights, whether it be from drinks with friends, a last full show, an out of town wedding, or work. All of us have had to travel home, whether in a car alone or with other friends, (or, worse, in a taxi or bus or jeep) very late into the night or early in the morning. And we are not safe.

It is a terrifying, almost paralyzing thought that a sister, a cousin, friend or coworker could be next in the news, the victim of a monster/s preying on a defenseless female. Whether they are after money, fancy mobile phones, a car or (God forbid) worse, the reality is the same. We are not safe.

I have been racking my brain about what we could do to protect ourselves from these dangers, how to make ourselves less of a target. To me, there’s not a lot that we could do outside of never leaving the house after dark. But there are a few things, and something is better than nothing:

  • A few weeks ago, a Facebook post kept getting shared (rightly so) by my friends about a woman whose tires were slashed by motorcycle riders who were targeting her laptop and handbag on the passenger seat. When the riders surrounded her, she stayed inside and honked her horn continuously. That worked and drew the attention of passersby, which in turn scared off her would-be robbers. The lesson here: stay inside your car and honk that horn. Hard. Also, refrain from putting your valuables (handbag, laptop), on the passenger seat, where they would be visible to pedestrians and bikers and make you a target. I am definitely guilty of this and need to crack this habit ASAP.
  • The only exception to the above “don’t get down” rule would if a firearm was pointed at you. No car is worth dying for. Give it up.
  • I was driving from a company event at Tagaytay one evening with some colleagues. Somewhere on the Tagaytay-Sta. Rosa road, the car behind me started flashing its lights behind me and kept flashing and flashing and flashing. I think that went on for a half an hour or more. Initially, I thought that the driver was just annoyed at my driving, since I wasn’t going as fast as I could have (it was my first time driving that road at night). But there were several opportunities for him to overtake me, which he didn’t take. I thought I was free of him when we reached Nuvali and turned into Paseo de Sta. Rosa to take the Greenfield exit to SLEX. But as soon as we passed Southern Luzon Hospital, the flashing started again. It only stopped after I turned left towards the northbound exit. I checked my car when we stopped for gas and there was nothing wrong with it. When I told my mom the story, she said that it was a good thing I didn’t stop, as it could have been an MO to hijack my car. It never occurred to me, and I would never know for sure, but I’m glad I didn’t pull over at any point during that drive. All my parents’ nagging to never stop at the urging of other vehicles worked.

But the above measures seem so insignificant versus what we are up against: high-speed motorcycles, tire slashing, criminals who are on the lookout for women who are alone. There’s only so much care we can take, as long as the police doesn’t crack down on these criminals and their MOs. Until then, we are not safe.

If you have any tips to share about keeping safe, then let’s all help each other and share them below. Thanks!