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Tandem Essay

The phrase “riding in tandem” was one of those nominated for this year’s “Salita ng Taon” or Filipino Word of the Year. Although it lost to “selfie,” “riding in tandem” has certainly entered Filipino public consciousness.

I googled the phrase to check if other countries were using it and found “tandem” defined as a bike with front and back seats, and an arrangement where someone or something is in front and one is at the back. But “riding in tandem” has taken its own meaning in Filipino English: It is used as a noun to refer to crimes perpetrated by more than one person, usually two men, on a motorcycle. The crimes range from snatching to murders, the killings motivated by anything from extramarital affairs to political rubouts.

Last month the Mandaluyong City government began to implement an ordinance banning “riding in tandem.” It was actually my son who first alerted me to it, when he spotted a billboard explaining the ban.

“Hey, look, Dada,” he exclaimed as we were stuck in the traffic. “I can still drive you around on a motorbike.”

I looked at the billboard and there it was, the ordinance explained in bold and large letters with accompanying photographs. The ordinance bans males from, well, riding tandem, unless, according to the billboard, “mga mag-ama”(father and son), which was what had caught my son’s attention.

On the Internet I got more details on who is exempted, which turns out to be not just fathers and sons but also siblings (brothers, since the ban is only on males).

Women exempted

I’m learning now to read public reactions through social media and I found a Facebook site, “wheninManila”, that asked for, and received, an avalanche of comments on the new law, most of which were negative. Why, some bloggers asked, are women exempted when they can also commit crimes?

That got me thinking: And what about transgender persons? Or men dressed as women?

One reaction was apparently done tongue-in-cheek: “Paano kung mga lalakeng may jowang bading na binilhan sila ng motor (What happens to men whose gay partners bought them a motorcycle)?”

Well, the ordinance actually exempts “spouses” from the ban, but the problem is that only men and women can legally marry in the Philippines, so for now, same-sex couples will have to try to get away by claiming a Papa-and-son or a “brod-erly” relationship.

A side story: I’m reminded of when I was driving in the Netherlands some years back with a Filipino friend who has lived there for many years. Next to us was a car with two men seated on the front seats. My friend, who’s very innocent despite years living in the Netherlands, remarked, “How nice to see brothers taking trips together.” I looked, and laughed: “There’s no way these guys can be brothers. They have to be friends.” In Dutch, “friends” means “lovers.”

Back to the Philippines. The Mandaluyong ordinance requires people riding tandem to prove they are exempted from the ban by showing a marriage certificate and ID cards. Now I find that strange, too, because ID cards don’t mention your spouse, or your brothers.

As for the marriage certificate, again if it’s a Filipino Mr. and Mrs. Couple, they’re exempted anyway because the ban is on two males in tandem (oops, that sounds a bit naughty, doesn’t it?). And if it’s a Mr. and Mr. Couple, who married in one of the growing number of countries that recognize same-sex marriage and have their marriage certificate, then would that mean that they can ride tandem—on a motorcycle, that is?

Seriously now, might there be some rational basis for this ban?

Motorcycle ‘sicarios’

Mandaluyong Mayor Benjamin Abalos Jr. said his city’s ordinance was inspired by one passed in Medellin, Colombia, where criminal syndicates dealing in cocaine have been using pairs of motorcycle sicarios or hitmen to wipe out competitors as well as antidrug politicians and journalists. The motorcycle-hitmen practice dates back to the 1980s, and is said to have been started by the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. After his death, it was carried on by Griselda Blanco, the “Queen of Cocaine,” who herself was assassinated in 2012 by motorcycle sicarios.

I did some research and found that the ban was first imposed in November 2012 on an experimental basis and then extended to 2015 because of successful results. The ban is on male passengers and applies only from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. During the first 13 months, assassinations by the motorcycle sicarios were said to have dropped by 39 percent and robberies by 30 percent.

Honduras and Guatemala, notorious for political and drug-related assassinations, have similar problems, and bans.

Besides outright bans, Colombia and Guatemala have tried another measure, that of requiring motorcycle riders (the driver and passengers) to wear reflective vests and helmets displaying their license plate number (in Colombia) and their vehicle registration number (in Guatemala).

The Mandaluyong ordinance is the first of its kind in the Philippines, but it seems that a number of towns and cities are considering their own measures, including banning the use of helmets, oblivious to the fact that there is a law requiring helmets for people riding on motorcycles.

Those opposed to the Mandaluyong ordinance argue that the solution is to be found in the deployment of more policemen, but we know it doesn’t necessarily work. CCTV cameras have been suggested, but I doubt if it will work either. TV newscasts are always featuring CCTV footage that captured “riding in tandem” crimes, but these have not all resulted in the actual physical “capture” of the criminals.

I am really at a loss thinking of alternatives to the Mandaluyong ordinance. Until law enforcers apprehend more of these motorcycle criminals, they will continue to find alternatives—maybe, for example, even using their own children.

I do worry that the ordinance, like so many of our traffic laws and rules, might just lead to more reasons for extortion, what with all the requirements like IDs and marriage certificates. I also worry about the ordinance making life difficult, in general, for motorcyclists. The motorcycle has become an important alternative mode of transportation, given the daily traffic gridlock.

I’m looking forward to the day when my son becomes old enough to drive me around on a motorbike, to get through traffic. The problem is that by the time he’s of legal age, I’ll be hitting 70, and probably won’t even be able to get on the bike or hang on to him. I hope, too, that we won’t be seeing a day when motorcycle father-and-son teams begin to victimize other (old) father-and-son riders, in a regression to the era of horseback warriors, and cowboys.

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E-mail: mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: riding in tandem, Salita ng Taon, Selfie

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Well, this Tandem and its story had a very clearly strong future-oriented identity from the very beginning.

Starting with Matina who was already pregnant at the partner forum, followed by Eirini, who was going to substitute Matina during her maternity leave but got pregnant too, and so we turned to the other Eirini from the local Athens team and, guess what? She was on her way to motherhood too. Then our team mentor also got a baby and we started to wonder if there was some contagious effect going on here.

If you happen to be in our situation:

1) Arrange your working hours according to the breastfeeding and the baby’s schedule: that’s clearly the most important thing!

2) Make sure you have the support of your Tandem partner’s partner too: your project needs him/her and his/her understanding of the situation in order for things to happen at all.

3) Enjoy observing the Tandem baby growing with the project.

4) Be ready to welcome mum and dad during the placement – in our experience, this is likely to happen if your Tandem partner comes from the South or East of Europe. Relatives are a unique help and support for your Tandem partner and might be the reason why things happen at all. Cherish them!

5) Be aware that if you are the one not having kids (yet), this could be a learning moment for you, and who knows, you might love it, or you might not.

In the end, we both enjoyed the journey and its clear uniqueness. This family experience has also helped us very much in redefining effectiveness and social impact.