An estimated number of 1500 (almost 800 focused at the NLEX northbound destination, 400 were at the other end of NLEX anticipating the riders from Manila, almost 200 targeted SLEX, and more than a 100 darted through Coastal) riders from different regions stormed the expressways as a show of protest against the illegal freeways ban.
At around 10 in the morning last February 25, almost a thousand riders rallied to the NLEX Balintawak tollgates in an attempt to use the expressways. Using a two-line staggered formation, club and individual riders (some, from the provinces) were stopped by the NLEX security and spokespersons even before they reached the booths.
In an attempt to clear the issue, NLEX spokespersons stated that sub400 bikes cannot be allowed in the freeways because of an old TRB ruling. The Freedom Riders rebuked the claim and showed a certified true copy of the SC decision which voids the ban. The spokespersons stalled the conversation and deviated to other issues such as safety of the expressway users and that bikers are more prone to accidents in the freeway. When they were asked for statistics, they hesitatingly said they donâ€™t have any.
The NLEX spokespersons went back to the old and obsolete freeways rule and even showed a TRB memo. The Freedom Riders then asked, if their presence in the freeways was highly illegal, why couldnâ€™t the NLEX authorities simply issue them a traffic ticket? The spokespersons were not able to give a straight answer.
There were two options given to the NLEX personnel: give access to the Freedom Riders or their lane would be blocked until they give in. After almost two hours, the Freedom Riders decided that it had been too long a wait that they went straight to the booth ahead. The NLEX security men blocked the Freedom Ridersâ€™ lane, so the rest from back had to swerve to another booth. The NLEX security men again blocked the next booth and the riders gave the same response. They swerved to the next two booths until the Freedom Riders have occupied five lanes.
Tension arose when the NLEX security men resorted to different forms of harassment. A Freedom Rider was pushed towards the pillars of a toll booth while his bike was running. He was thrown to the street and his bike was badly beaten. The security men brandished their shotguns and rifles at the Freedom Riders in an attempt to scare them away. There were pushing and high voices as the Freedom Riders stood their ground and the NLEX security men continued to harass the front liners.
The Freedom Riders stayed amidst the harassment, the heat, the hunger and thirst. One ironic turnaround was when a truck (driver) decided to ram against the bikes blocking his lane. The riders were not pleased but they simply talked with the driver and asked him to wait a little longer.
As more armed men arrived and harassment continued, the MCPF directors decided that it would be unsafe for the Freedom Riders to stay. They regrouped in Quezon Memorial Circle and discussed their next move.
The expressway authorities can expect more actions from the Freedom Riders as long as they hold their illegal sub400 ban.
ride report by majongero