Viral > Lesson

I drove up and down NLEX to verify a Facebook rant

A 2am joyride in pursuit of the truth and nothing but the truth

We live in the golden age of whining. Thanks to social media, rants from ordinary folks get amplified a thousandfold if they manage to hit a raw nerve—truth be damned. It’s a petulant culture that thrives with the help of influencers who bash consumer brands left and right in an attempt to extort money or freebies from the “offenders.”

Take a photo, provide a dramatic caption, appeal to emotions—and you have a viral post that has people seething in anger and screaming a boycott of the company involved.

Sorry, no entry to this exclusive restroom if you're not a Petron Value Card holder. PHOTO FROM A FACEBOOK RANT

Last Friday morning, one such tirade was posted to Facebook by a man who identified himself on his personal page as the head pastor of a Baptist church. The complaint was addressed to “Petron management.” According to the gentleman, they stopped at a Petron station on NLEX and discovered that the fuel station refused to allow non-holders of the Petron Value Card to use its restroom. Indeed, the two photos he shared showed a prominent sign that said: “Petron Value Card Members Restroom.”

The complainant claimed to have talked to the attendants and to have been told that they were just following orders. And then the requisite dramatics: “Ako, may card. Pero nagpasya ako na hindi na ako magpapa-gas sa inyo. Dambuhalang gasolinahan na nagpapahirap sa bayan. Pati restroom, negosyo pa rin.” (“I have a card. But I’ve decided never to fuel up with you again. You’re a giant oil company that oppresses the nation. You even want to make money out of restrooms.”)

When I saw the post last night, it had already amassed hundreds of comments and had been shared thousands of times. It was, by every known social-media metric, a viral one. So much so that I decided to write an article about it. But then, what else was there to add to the story that netizens hadn’t already pointed out?

A light-bulb moment: Why not go to the gasoline station itself and find out what really happened?

So off to North Luzon Expressway I drove—at around 2am to avoid vehicle and human traffic. I had no idea which Petron station to check as the Facebook critic didn’t indicate the location. This should be an interesting little road trip, I thought.

First stop: Petron's expansive station on northbound NLEX, before the Marilao exit. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

Since I started from Balintawak going north, the first Petron station I found was the humongous one before the Marilao exit. I asked an attendant to put air into my tires so I could play sleuth and unleash my world-class investigative skills.

Is this the station that went viral on Facebook because of the Petron Value Card restroom?

He gave me a confused look.

Never mind. How many restrooms do you have here that are for public use?

They have three public restrooms—one on each end (open 24 hours) and another in the middle (open until 10pm only).

These spacious restrooms are all open to the public. Not the one we were looking for. PHOTOS BY VERNON B. SARNE

They have a fourth one, the attendant said, but this is only for Petron Value Card holders. PVC is a privilege card that Petron customers (or those who choose to get one) use to accumulate points whenever they gas up. It offers rewards and benefits to loyal patrons, like roadside assistance and perks at commercial establishments. Pretty similar to SM’s Advantage Card.

The attendant told me that anyone could get a PVC for P50 (although the PVC page on Petron’s official website pegs the card price at P100).

One of the card’s benefits is the exclusive use of a nicer (I assume) restroom at select Petron stations. And since this Petron station has one, I just had to inspect it.

Yep, this is exclusive for PVC members, but is unfortunately not the one in the post. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

The restroom for PVC members was closed at the time of my visit (apparently, it’s open from 6am to 10pm). As you can see from the photograph that I took, this is not the same restroom the Facebook complainant was referring to.

So I continued my search and drove to the next Petron station, still along the northbound half of NLEX.

We like the individual toilets at Petron Km 42. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

This one is after the Santa Rita exit and is commonly referred to as NLEX Kilometer 42 Petron. It’s a much smaller outlet and hence has no special restroom for PVC members. The individual-room setup for the toilets is a nice touch, though.

On a side note, I was beginning to regret this self-assignment. Because I had yet to find the PVC restroom in question, this meant I would have to carry on and drive all the way to the end of NLEX.

I had no choice but to proceed to Petron Lakeshore in Mexico, Pampanga—the last Petron station on northbound NLEX. I had come too far to stop now. Slightly larger than the previous one, this station also has no exclusive restrooms for PVC holders. What it has are two public restrooms—a 24-hour one and another that closes at 10pm. Tough luck.

Also for public use, these decent Petron Lakeshore restrooms look clean and comfy. PHOTOS BY VERNON B. SARNE

I then drove to the very end of NLEX—just before the SCTEX entry point—just to be sure I wouldn’t miss any new Petron station that could have sprung out of nowhere. Finding none, I exited the expressway in Dau and got on the southbound half to finish my mission. By this time, I had already driven some 80km in search of the “truth.”

The drive back was long and admittedly boring. All I remember seeing were alternating stations of Caltex and Shell—not a single Petron outlet was in sight.

Finally, I spotted a Petron logo as I approached the Bocaue, Bulacan, area. I dove right in and parked in front of the convenience store. I walked to find the restroom.

The public restroom at Petron Bocaue seems well-maintained. But still not the one. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

Like the others, this restroom is for general public use. No exclusive card necessary to gain entry. But I also couldn’t see any other possible spot for a special restroom. And if my memory served me right, I was sure this was the last (and thus only) Petron station on southbound NLEX.

Where did the Facebook accuser see the “oppressive” Petron Value Card restroom? Was it fake news? Was he merely trolling?

Ah, whatever. The hell with unverified Facebook posts.

As I was about to leave, I saw the bright signboard of Army Navy waving at my stomach.

Damn you, burrito! Why can’t I quit you?!

And then…wait…is that…could it really be?

Mission accomplished: We found the Petron Value Card restroom in Bocaue, Bulacan. PHOTOS BY VERNON B. SARNE

There it was, in all its dimly lit glory—the Petron Value Card restroom I had wasted gas and toll money to see. It was closed, but it had a dedicated security guard standing by—like some Area 51-ish site the authorities didn’t want passersby to stumble upon. Perhaps a number of curious individuals had already inquired about it since the Facebook rant.

This exclusive restroom is located at the very end—and in the innermost corner—of the property. The public restroom is the accessible one, placed in the middle of the premises and actually just 115 steps away from the PVC toilets (I walked to measure the distance myself). I couldn’t see what the diatribe was all about.

Petron is a business. As such, the petroleum company is perfectly within its rights to provide special privileges to select customers. It’s just like maintaining a lounge for business-class passengers at the airport. And the restroom available to the public is a fairly okay and commodious one, to be honest. Not excellent, but decent and better than most.

But it is what it is. Somebody posts a scathing attack on a business entity, and we all somehow feel emotionally invested in it—because we’re all customers and the customers are supposedly always right. Well, sure. But customers can only be right when they’re truthful and their grievance is fact-based.

Come on, guys. These social-media rants are getting old now. Comment all you want, but be sure you have all the information from all the parties involved.

PS: I can assure Kris Aquino I wasn’t paid by Petron for this story.

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist for 26 years. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.