Today, I was a victim of the Airport Taxi Meter Scam.  As if greeting me with a “Welcome Back to Manila” wasn’t enough.

I grew up in this city and I’ve ridden planes that landed in NAIA 3 many times.  I am well-acquainted with the city and the many schemes taxi drivers have, but I was still caught unaware when a seemingly regular taxi charged me 900PHP from the airport to Makati.  And no, I didn’t ride in the arrivals area.  I deliberately fell in line in the departures’ unloading bay to hail the non-yellow cabs.  Diskarte yun, to avoid paying expensive yellow airport cabs.

I exited the airport at B2, right side of the departures’ area of the terminal (facing Newport) and headed to the first taxi line.  The taxi I got seemed like a regular taxi with a seemingly nice driver who helped load my luggage on the trunk.

Driver:   Saan tayo?
Me:       Manong, Pasig.
D:         Okay. Skyway na tayo para mabilis.
M:        Ay, hindi ako magbabayad ng skyway. Mahal.

Then, he started to drive.  Being a frequent taxi rider in Manila, I checked the meter if he turned it on.

Me:       Manong, yung metro.

We were already headed down the ramp of the airport.

D:         (mumbles)
M:        Ano ho?  Yung metro.

Already down the ramp, he said…

D:         Metered Fare lang tayo, ma’am?
M:        Ha?

Then he handed me a laminated card that was a menu for the different areas in Manila.

Sorry for the photo. It was taken using my mobile phone under dark conditions.

I read it and NAIA 3 to Pasig was 1,650PHP.  Makati was 900PHP.  Pasay was 600PHP.

M:        Totoo ba to?  Ba’t ang mahal?!
D:         Oho ma’am. May signage kami dun sa pila. Hindi niyo po ba nakita?
M:        Wala. Kung meron man, it’s not big enough.
D:         Ah, airport metered fare lang ho.
M:        Ha? Pwede ba bumaba?

By then, we were already past Resorts World.

D:         Hindi ho. Airport taxi lang ho talaga.
M:        Patingin nga uli. Bakit walang LTFRB ‘to?
D:         Sa DOT ho ‘to. Sa Department of Tourism.

In support, the laminated piece of junk had the DOT logo and the PAL logo printed on it.

M:        Sige, sa Pasay mo nalang ako ibaba. (It was the cheapest rate on the card.)
D:         O sige ho. Paki-advance nalang ho nung bayad kasi LPG ho ito. Kapapakarga ko lang ho eh.

I was busy trying to take a photo of the card and noting down his plate number.  All the while, his hand was reaching back waiting for me to pay.

D:         (Demandingly) Ma’am, yung bayad ho!

So he turned on the lights, I took 600 pesos out and paid him.

M:        ANG MAHAL HA!

Then I took my phone out and called my friend who traveled with me but went home at an earlier flight.  As soon as I started to converse with my friend, the driver looked back and said,

“Ma’am, pakibaba nalang ho nung telepono kasi LPG to, baka sumabog!”

I ignored him because I live near the garage of one of Manila’s “branded” cabs and have been taking mobile calls with the smell of gas reeking through the back seat.  Yeah, I know there have been stories on gas stations exploding because of a cellphone; but looking back, the taxi didn’t reek of LPG and my experience tells me that his logic was questionable.  Could it really happen? Please let me know.

But he was panicky. I dropped the call and started to text my friends about this monstrosity.

Soon, we were in EDSA, near the Rotonda and MRT-Taft station… that corner where you turn to get to the airport… in that red-light-district-of-an-area in Pasay.  He dropped me off in front of a bar where ladies in scanty clothes were seated, chatting.

At this point, I think it’s important to tell you that I was a solo traveler with one suitcase, one box of Bongbong’s, one box of Calea, one bag of napoleones and more cheesecake, and one plastic box containing inasal.  (Yes, Bacolod offers a wide variety of food pasalubongs.)  I couldn’t combine all those items into one bag at the risk of damaging the food.  Kaya nga ako nag-taxi eh.  Otherwise, I would’ve gladly ridden the shuttle and have taken a cab at resort’s world.

But I had to act fast.  Who knew as he was unloading my luggage that he had an accomplice who would snatch them all away?!  The horrors quickly formulated in my brain that I was just focused on making sure that all my items were unloaded and safely.  It all happened so fast that I had no time to look at the driver’s face or ask for a receipt.  I was left with no choice.  I was one girl who needed to carry a lot of things, get away from that corner and onto EDSA as quickly as possible.

I was a victim and I was afraid.  I was alone and had a lot of stuff.  If you know me, and you know how big I am, I would be the last person you’d refer to as helpless but I was.  It was my very obvious weakness at that time and the world took advantage of it.

Worse, I let it.  Looking back, I regret not being firm and resilient.  I regret not demanding an explanation or a certificate or anything to disprove his legitimacy.  I regret not having someone pick me up.  I was stupid and was caught off-guard.  I let an obvious modus operandi get me.  (Although, as I look back, it may have been the HS protecting me from more harm.  If I spoke too aggressively, he could’ve treated me worse.)

It was a classic “use-the-government-and-the-system-to-take-advantage-of-fellowmen” sort of scheme.  Movies have featured this modus operandi countlessly.

I’m charging this to experience.  I knew it was a scheme the minute he handed me a laminated “rate sheet.”  In total, the guy scammed 500PHP off me.  That’s better than having my entire luggage stolen or worst, getting myself killed.  I just praise God for that’s all that was taken from me and that, thankfully, I had enough cash on me.

But as a concerned citizen, this cannot  — SHOULDN’T — happen to anyone else.  Pilipino ako.  Pakiramdam ko nanakawan ako sa sarili kong lupa! So a shoutout to the DOT and the airport management:

1)       Taxis like this shouldn’t be allowed INTO the terminal.  I know it’s impossible to check but there were guards assisting us at that taxi line.  They should add a security check to their protocol in assisting passengers; and not act as mere traffic enforcers.

2)       The DOT shouldn’t make their logo so easily accessible.  Does the cybercrime law cover illegal downloading of government logos?

3)       Giving this the benefit of the doubt, that maybe he was really a commissioned airport taxi guy (but I highly doubt it), then there should be ginormous signs in the taxi line area to tell passengers so.

I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.  Help me spread this.

If you’re from the DOT, please lend me your ear.  There are still many more things we need to work on in order to encourage not just the foreigners, but also the locals to travel.  Hanggang ngayon, para sa ‘kin, ‘pag Manila na ang pinagusapan, nawawala na yung “more fun” sa tourism slogan.

If you’re from the police, please discipline the culprit.  Taxi was: 

Kalayaan Taxi

Plate No.: OVJ 812

Telephone No. (painted on the door): 456 2983 / 448 4612

To my fellow passengers, please learn from me.  Starting today, I’m making a pact to note the following traveling advice:

1) Travel light whichever direction you’re headed (towards your vacation or after it);

2) As much as possible, have someone pick you up or…

3) Share a cab with someone you trust.

4) Even if you take the cabs in the departure area, check if their meter’s legit BEFORE letting them load your items.

5) Go for branded cabs as much as possible – even when you’re in a line.  Be patient and be choosy.

6) Text or tweet your cab’s plate number to trusted family and friends as soon as you ride it.

7) Be informed and know your rights.

8) Fight for yourself but be smart about it.

9) Always be on your toes (don’t sleep) especially with cabs.

10) Trust no one.

Coming from Bacolod where taxi drivers are honest (based on my experience), vehicles really stop at an intersection at the sound of an ambulance, jeepneys give exact change, and people are generally nice, Manila’s a far cry!  Makes my desire to relocate stronger.   Nakakahiya ang Manila, honestly.  This is the last city tourists should see in our beautiful country; yet all our major airports are here.  Ah, misery!

Such is life on earth.  Such is sin set deep into the core of mankind.  The only way to break free is to set your mind to eternal things.  To find joy not in material possessions.  That way, nothing man can do would bring you down.  That way, no man can take away your joy and happiness.  That way, fear is in its proper place.  That way, your life is protected from eternal harm.  Starts with a J, and ends with an S.

Be safe, everyone!