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Amid Metro Manila’s rush hour traffic, a small group of transport advocates are finding ways to reclaim their space on the road.

Photography by
Jeric Rustia
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In a city that could benefit from thoughtful urban planning, the emergence of pro-people groups among disgruntled commuters no longer comes as a surprise. MNL Moves (read as “Manila Moves”) is a fairly recent addition to this pool; an online community that advocates for urban cycling and other forms of human mobility.

But while biking groups aren’t exactly new in Metro Manila, its founder Aldrin Pelicano will be the first to tell you that their advocacy is not simply about promoting the benefits of cycling or beating monster traffic (though the latter certainly has its perks). More than anything, it’s about reclaiming human dignity on the road, regardless of whether one walks, pedals, or scoots to work.

It’s high time that our leaders consider biking a viable mode of transport; one that is afforded its own kind of road protection, and not merely seen as an alternative.

Metro Manila is notorious for over-burdened transport systems. Here, roads are created to move cars, not people. You’d be hard-pressed to find a proper sidewalk—much less a proper bike lane—in most major cities, despite majority of Filipinos relying on public and active transport systems.

It’s for this reason that Aldrin began MNL Moves, originally as a space for him to process his daily commute and the nuisances that came with it: a near swipe from a jeep, an unavoidable pothole, an angry driver. By the time he set up his page in 2018, Aldrin had been biking to work for three years. Today, his page has attracted over 12,000 followers and over 900 group members on Facebook.

Filipinos have been using bicycles as a mode of transport, long before the pandemic.

At the core of MNL Moves is Aldrin's desire to spark conversations about road safety and accessibility, something that resonates with him as an urban planner. He believes it is high time for our leaders to consider biking as a viable mode of transport—one that’s afforded its own kind of road protection and not merely seen as an alternative.

“Regardless if you’re a pedestrian, cyclist, or a car user, being safe should be required of everyone,” he insists. In the advent of cars and large motor vehicles, he argues that we’ve lost touch of our humanity on the road.

MNL Moves founder Aldrin Pelicano started biking to work in 2015, having grown tired of his hours-long commute.

“[Sa Pilipinas,] kung ikaw yung nasa crosswalk, ikaw yung minamadali. It doesn’t make sense. At the end of the day, it boils down to values. If we’re to walk our talk, we need to change our roads and cities. We need to change our values. Ano ba yung mahalaga sa atin as a community?”

Since the Covid-19 pandemic launched bike commuting into the spotlight, Aldrin and his fellow bike commuters at MNL Moves have been busy working to inform the public of their advocacy, and helping those who’d like to get started. They’ve also been actively participating in online discussions with local and national leaders about creating a future network of bike lanes in Metro Manila.

To Aldrin and his fellow cyclists, the fight for safe and accessible roads is not just about gaining equal treatment on the road. Regardless of one’s transport choices, mobility is a basic human right, and one that they will continue to fight for as long as people need to move.

ROBERTO DAVID Jr.

The Data Manager
Commute route: Makati to BGC, and vice versa

David wanted to buy a motorcycle. But his wife wouldn’t allow it, so like any good husband, he listened to her and settled for a bicycle instead. What was initially meant to be a vehicle for outdoor leisure eventually became an everyday mainstay, as David discovered the bicycle’s prowess against the metro’s worsening traffic conditions.

“On Facebook, I saw that other people were using bikes to go to work. I said ‘hey, I want to try that!’, and from there, it just happened.”

Before taking the leap, David prepared himself by mapping and testing out his route on a weekend. From his house, he’d take the inner roads of Makati leading to BGC—the trip that would normally take an hour took less than 30 minutes. Encouraged by the positive results, David resolved to bike to work at least once or twice a week, but after his first ride out on a weekday, he decided to do it every day.

When asked of the benefits, David was quick to zoom in on one thing: “The improvement of my health. I get less tired easily, and I feel more agile and active. The excitement I feel knowing I will ride my bike to and from work also replaced the worries I have on my mind, and so I feel less stressed. Anyone in the workforce, regardless of the type of industry they’re in, should consider cycling to work, for these reasons especially.”

ANDRO UMALI

The Healer
Commute route: Ortigas Center

The guards at the resident hospital where Dr. Alejandro “Andro” Umali works sometimes mistake him for someone else. ‘Sir, saan po kayo?’ they ask upon his entry, eyeing his dry-fit jersey and road bike warily. He would explain that he was a medical doctor and show them his I.D.“Doon lang sila matatauhan,” he says. “I guess it’s hard for them to imagine [someone] with a very ‘noble’ profession [using] a very ‘third-class’ way of transport.”

Andro started biking to work as a medical intern in 2016 as a way to save time. At first, he tried biking to work only a few days a week, but as he became more confident, the frequency grew.

Now he’s a licensed emergency doctor, and one of the more vocal members of the MNL Moves community, sharing administrative duties with Aldrin.* As a physician, Andro also advocates for basic first-aid training, and in the past has used his platform to discuss bike safety and emergency protocols during road accidents.

When public transportation was banned at the start of quarantine, Andro volunteered to organize bike and donation drives to help his fellow front-liners. A pandemic wasn’t quite what he imagined would get people on bikes, but he’s optimistic that this new interest is here to stay.

“[We will] continue to work with the government and other groups and institutions to promote safer streets and human mobility," he says.



CHERYL SIY

The Transport Specialist
Commute route: Within Diliman, Quezon City

Cheryl Siy started out as a casual biker, joining group rides with different organizations around UP Diliman as a student. It was during those rides that she met people who biked to work, initially sparking her curiosity. After landing a job in BGC, she eventually followed suit. Unable to stomach the tedious commute from Quezon City, she resolved to get on her own two wheels and start biking. “It’s actually faster for me if I take a car, but I try to bike every day because the freedom is still different.”

These days, Cheryl works as a researcher for a transport group in UP. Her commute may no longer be a source of frustration, but the lack of support for women bikers sure is. “In my workplace, the men have two comfort rooms with showers. We also have a shower room, but for some reason the door is always locked. They don’t keep it as open as the men’s, and I don’t know why. Maybe because they don’t realize that girls like me sweat [when we bike] too?”

For first-time riders, she suggests joining group rides first to help build confidence, and to mentally prepare yourself before going out to ride. “As long as you think you can do it, your physical body will just follow,” she says.

“Kung di mo kaya, pwede ka naman maglakad. [Personally, that’s why I use] a folding bike, kasi pag di ko na kaya, at least pwede ko i-Grab.”

SAVY LALO

The Artist
Commute route: Makati to Mandaluyong

Savy Lalo began her two-wheeled journey after cyclists kept overtaking her bus in the middle of Metro Manila traffic jams. Before then, she’d been like most Filipinos: a harried commuter on the verge of a breakdown every day. “Habang nasa bus, nakita ko [na] maraming nagbbike sa gilid; sabi ko, gusto ko din non!”

Savy began her research online and came across MNL Moves, which she credits to be the push she needed to start biking. Like most first-time bikers, fear gripped her heart, though she would eventually defeat it with resolve. “May mga times na lumabas lang ako ng 10 minutes tapos sabi ko ‘ayoko na, ayoko na’ tapos babalik ako ulit sa condo unit, nanginginig pa ako. Tapos sasabihin ko, sige bukas ulit. Kaya ko ’to.”

Now, she bikes as often as thrice a week, mostly to work meetings. A freelance graphic designer and illustrator, she also volunteers to create posters and graphic art for MNL Moves' online channels.

And like a true MNL Moves neophyte, she’s also been getting one of her friends to start biking. “I have two folding bikes at my condo now; sabi ko [sa kanya], pahiram ko sayo yung isa; dali, bike tayo.”


GERI AMARNANI

The Modern Mom
Commute route: Cubao to QC or BGC

Biking on the streets of Metro Manila is no easy feat, especially when you’re a woman. For Geri Amarnani, the challenges have been aplenty—whether it’s dealing with disrespectful drivers, avoiding wayward pedestrians, or dodging dirty-minded motorists. Though the situation hasn’t gotten easier with time, even after nearly six years of biking to work, she would gladly choose to ride her bike to work every day, if it meant saving more time on the road to spend with her growing family.

Together with MNL Moves, Geri works to promote cycling among women by sharing her experiences online. In 2020, she set up Pinay Bike Commuter on Facebook, an online community of women cyclists empowering one another.

“For me, it’s also about breaking stereotypes. In Makati, there’s this traffic enforcer who always teases me whenever I cross the intersection—’uy pumapayat si ma’am.’ When he asks me how much weight I’ve lost in the six years I’ve biked, I tell him I don’t record it, because that’s not [why I do it]. Others tell me, ‘ma’am saludo kami sa’yo, kasi biker ka!’ So I tell them, ‘edi tara, bike tayo.’”

GET STARTED: BIKE COMMUTING

Every bike commuter once started out as a novice. For city folk who want to start bike commuting but aren’t sure where (or how) to begin, here are four tips from MNL Moves:

MAKE YOUR BIKE WORK FOR YOU

Does your commute involve long distances, unpaved roads, or multi-modal travel? Specific bikes are built for these, so do your research first to know which type fits your commute.

Illustrations by Isabela Ferrer

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EDITOR’S NOTE: As of April 2021, Dr. Andro is no longer a co-admin of MNL Moves.

This story was originally published in

Volume 9 | One Day in the Philippines

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