The disturbing news that the number of traffic accidents in Metro Manila has increased in the past six months by 46 per cent caused barely a twitch of anxiety in the Philippine capital. For those who drive daily in Manila, the only surprise was that more people were not seriously injured or killed. The Traffic Management Command, the division of the Philippine National Police responsible for safety on the roads, blamed the increase in accidents on an equally dramatic increase in the number of vehicles on Manila's roads. Around 3,000 new vehicles are bought a month. But that is not the whole story. The truth is that most of the 301 deaths and 1,500 injuries were not caused by the sheer volume of cars, buses and jeepneys - about three million, according to police - that cram into Manila every day, but by bribery and corruption. At least indirectly. Bad driving has reached epidemic proportions because getting a licence is often simply a matter of offering a few hundred pesos to some underpaid staff member at the Land Transportation Office (LTO). Police estimate that as many as 70 per cent of Filipino motorists have never had an official driving lesson and have never taken any form of test. One local resident proudly boasts of how he gained his Philippine licence through bribery, and later used it to get a licence in Los Angeles. He is now free to drive in the United States without ever having had a driving lesson. Even those who follow the recommended track and go to one of the nation's few LTO-recommended driving schools, can get their licence in the kind of time that in many other countries would seem recklessly quick. 'Be an educated driver in five days', says a Yellow Pages advertisement for the A1 Driving Co Inc. A spokesman for the company said: 'Actually, we advise people to spend 10 days learning. We can help them get their student's permit after which it is pretty quick.' Exactly what driving schools like A1 are teaching young drivers is difficult to say. There is certainly no equivalent of the British Highway Code to learn. Nina Ortiz, a 32-year-old restaurateur, is a typical Filipino driver. She took a few quick lessons, then paid off an LTO official for her full licence. 'I don't drive very often,'she said. 'When I do, I have to make sure someone else is with me in the car because I don't know how to park.' Private vehicles are not the only ones driven in a less than conventional manner. The country's bus and jeepney drivers are infamous for their complete disregard for their own safety, and that of their passengers and other road-users. 'The problem,' admitted Jay Cruz of the Jeepney Drivers' Union, 'is that many jeepney drivers have never properly learned how to drive. It is the government's fault as much as it is theirs. They are forced into the job because they have no other work and the police turn a blind eye to their indiscretions. 'It is much too easy to simply get in a car or truck and drive here. Young people do it all the time and if they get stopped by police they simply offer them a few hundred pesos to go away.' Traffic Management Command statistics officer, Inspector Rodolfo Bio, said an increasing number of accidents were caused not by youthful bravado but by the average Filipino driver's total ignorance of the basic rules of the road. 'Every day we hear of cases when people have been hurt or killed because drivers have not realised they are meant to check in their mirror before they change lanes. They pull out without looking over their shoulder and they stop on blind bends.' Inspector Bio admitted that the under-manned traffic police force was having a hard time instilling discipline in Filipino drivers. Bribery, and the ease of getting a licence in the Philippines, go hand in hand with that other old chestnut - poverty. Filipinos need their cars and trucks, however badly maintained they are, because the government has provided no reliable alternative means of public transport, such as Hong Kong's MTR. 'Many people simply don't have enough money to maintain their vehicles and there is nothing we can do about it,' said Inspector Bio. 'Vehicles without lights, with bald tyres and with belching exhausts are very common. But we don't have enough police officers to stop even a fraction of them.' There is some hope of improvement on the distant horizon. The government has announced that it plans to phase out all public transport vehicles - that means buses and jeepneys - over 10 years old. Leo de la Paz, chairman of the Interphil Driving Institute, which offers 'defensive driving lessons', said this is a step in the right direction. 'Many of this city's buses are coffins on wheels. People are best advised to stay away from them.' But as usual, bad news comes with the good. 'What worries many people,' said Mr de la Paz, 'is that most of the big bus companies are owned by people in power, particularly senators. So far they have been reluctant to modernise their fleets, because it hurts their profits.'