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Habal-habal ambulance

February 2014


I came across a documentary one late night after watching the news on GMA’s Channel 11. Motorcycle Diaries featured an episode on Surigao and a segment was devoted to habal-habal, those ubiquitous motorcycle taxis that are popular in the rural areas but are also found in many cities around the country. What caught my attention was not really the habal-habal itself (I’ve seen many other features in the past about these taxis.) but the use of the same for a purpose other than public transport. A habal-habal was fitted for use as an ambulance by a community in Surigao to transport people needing medical treatment to the nearest hospital. All photos below were taken from the television screen.

2014-01-23 22.14.07Unlike other habal-habal, this one has a roof and two planks on either side where patients lie down for transport. While I’ve seen habal-habals in Leyte and Samar that have roofs, the planks are more “skylab” than the typical habal-habal. “Skylab” is a term coined for the shape of motorcycle taxis with a plank installed perpendicular to its body. Passengers seated on the plank have to be balanced by the rider/driver.

2014-01-23 22.13.56All terrain – the habal-habal is popular in rural areas as it can operate on bad roads, trails, no roads and even cross rivers and streams.

2014-01-23 22.12.14The documentary also had interviews with the owner and driver of the motorcycle ambulance.

2014-01-23 22.12.05Rough roads, typical of municipal and farm to market roads, do not deter haba-habal operations.

2014-01-23 22.11.30Rural roads are a big challenge given the conditions like these huge holes filled with water. I’ve seen roads like this that are like rivers or streams during the rainy season.

2014-01-23 22.11.35Travel is quite treacherous along these roads and I can only imagine how difficult it would be to transport a patient on a motorcycle ambulance. The risks are quite high that there can be a mishap along the way that could result in not only serious injuries but death.

2014-01-23 22.11.39The sign makes it unmistakable for what the vehicle is for.

2014-01-23 22.12.01The ride is a balancing act and the driver should be highly skilled for the task.

2014-01-23 22.11.27Patients or people needing medical attention are made to lie down on one of these cots on either side of the habal-habal. There are what looks like straps to secure the person. I assume that another person or weight should be placed on the other cot for balance. Likely, another person will ride behind the driver to care for the patient(s).

Such vehicles used for emergency are fitted out of necessity for these communities. As shown in the photos, the roads connecting these communities to the municipal or city centers are unpaved and conditions can be quite bad during the rainy season. It is clear that many such roads need to be paved so that they can be used under all weather conditions. Paving the roads also makes them usable by regular vehicles such as your typical ambulances. It makes me angry to see many such ambulances in Metro Manila being used for personal travel while communities in dire need of emergency vehicles can only improvise with the habal-habal to get people to hospitals.

It’s a shame that our government can spend a lot or engage the private sector in major projects while hundreds or even thousands of communities remain under-served for basic needs including access to schools, hospitals and workplaces. These are not even the typical farm-to-market roads but appears to be municipal, city or provincial roads. The fruits of economic development will not trickle down or cannot be felt in these areas if transport facilities cannot be upgraded. These are requirements for inclusive growth that government should address  – and with urgency.


  1. Incredible…That takes a talented rider to control such a burden. I am in jealous of the skill and only wish I could handle the task and responsibility….

  2. […] once saw a Habal-Habal ambulance and got disappointed with the […]

  3. […] “Habal-habal ambulance,” [Last accessed: 12/2/2018] […]

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