Flashlight in hand, the street-sweeper Alejandro Galasao, 58, navigates a labyrinth of alleys to catch a bus to the capital, Manila, 30km (18.6 miles) away. He has to wake up in the middle of the night for a job that does not start until 6am. Traffic is so bad in Manila that if he leaves any later than 3.30am, there is no way he will clock in on time.
“If I go to work at rush hour, it would take me three hours, but without traffic, my travel time is just an hour,” Galasao told Reuters. “This is the only job I know. Even if I find something else, I doubt I would earn any better. To be honest, there’s really not enough time [when I get home] to sleep.”
Alejandro Galasao, 58, a street sweeper, makes his journey to work
Metro Manila, a sprawl of 16 cities fused together by outdated infrastructure, is creaking under the weight of millions of vehicles, owing largely to economic growth of more than 6% a year since 2012.
Urban rail coverage is limited, trains are prone to breakdowns and queues spill on to streets, where exhaust fumes are intoxicating. The quality of life is poor for many urban Filipinos, who spend a chunk of their day commuting.
Janice Sarad works at a bank head office and leaves home four hours before work starts in Bonifacio Global City, a Manila business hub. On a typical day, Sarad, 22, takes a train, a bus and two passenger jeeps to get to work.
“In the morning, it’s even more difficult to commute because the pressure not to be late is there. You really have to fight your way in,” she said.
“When I feel stressed, I try not to dwell on it. I just think about how lucky I am being able to work, and for getting home safely every day.”
A 2015 survey by GPS-based navigation app Waze found Manila had the world’s worst traffic congestion, partly due to a trebling of annual car sales from a decade ago.
Oliver Emocling, 23, gets to work by train, but queues are so long that he often arrives late, and has been docked wages as punishment.
“I usually don’t get to eat breakfast or dinner unless I wake up really early, or eat out. When I get home, it’s already 10pm, and my body is just craving sleep rather than food,” said Emocling, who works at a magazine. “I could be using the travel time to sleep more, rest more. Instead, my time gets wasted.”
Oliver Emocling, 23, who works for a magazine and often misses meals because he spends so much time commuting
The daily loss of business in Manila because of traffic woes has risen to 3.5bn pesos (£51.2m) in 2017 from 2.4bn pesos in 2012, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday fixing Manila’s traffic was not easy, adding that it was the only campaign promise he had failed to deliver. He recently approved a law that encourages companies to support more employees to work from home.
The government is making some headway on an $180bn (£137.2bn) program to modernise roads, railways and airports, including a subway system set to begin construction on Wednesday. However, the building works are exacerbating snarl-ups.
Ferdinand Tan, a 53-year-old wealth coach, lets his staff work from home and has modified his van to cope with traffic, turning it into a mobile office with a power supply, computer and even a foot massager.
“No one can really solve the traffic. So instead of complaining about it, I try to maximise [the time],” he said. “I use unproductive time to be productive.”
He also chooses for his children to be homeschooled. “I don’t want them to spend so much unproductive time travelling every single day. That’s time away from the family. And by the time they get home, they’re already tired.”
Ferdinand Tan, 53, wealth coach and motivational speaker, who has turned his van into a mobile office