Quo Vadis, Philippines?
By Apolinario B. Villalobos
Before you proceed reading this commentary, I would like to make it clear that what you will find herein are personal observations and questions not intended to incite dissatisfaction against the national leadership or any of its agencies. These concerns are already in the mind of the Filipinos long, long time ago, yet. They are mentioned during informal discussions among “wise guys” in barber shops, in parties to while time away, in drinking sprees. My intention here is just to open the eyes and minds of the rest who play blind and deaf to what are happening around us:
1. The perennial flooding of Metro Manila streets during rainy season and high tide. Did somebody ever mention anything about the inconsistency of agencies which are supposed to maintain the drainage system? My simple observation is that they forgot the word “monitor” in their operation. Worse, they de-clog the drainage during rainy season, when they can do such during the summer months!. Sad to say that during the summer months, esteros are left with hardened silt compose of garbage and mud. Not any of the administrations ever thought of de-silting these drainage outlets. What they do is just skim the floating garbage, that’s all.
Still on the clogged drainage system of the cities, if floods can no longer be tolerated and agencies concerned are bombarded with complaints, the drainages are de-clogged and to some extent, repaired. But, while all these are going on, the manholes are left open to be filled again by debris, sands, gravels, which are just piled beside them. By the time the manholes are closed, the drainages are again clogged considerably. Again, months later, budgets are released for de-clogging, making some people richer. It is a vicious cycle.
The towns and cities are supposed to have Administrators. But do they ever go around to check their domains, so that they can also have the opportunity to find manholes without covers and dumped with garbage, drainage outlets without iron grills, and the already mentioned hardened silts of waterways? Your guess is as good as mine.
Is the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) concerned only with streets and traffic? How about the waterways or esteros that are supposed to be given equal attention just like the streets, hence, the need for their daily upkeep? The same garbage that we find on the streets are also found in waterways. So why can’t these waterways be cleaned up just like the streets on a regular basis? If it is not the MMDA, what is the concerned agency doing about it?
While wise guys always point accusing fingers to the plastic bags, household garbage, etc. as the cause of flood, have they ever thought that the entire drainage system of the metro needs to be “elevated” to a level higher than the prevailing high tide? No amount of campaigns against plastic and garbage can help if the issue on the elevation of drainage system is not resolved. The old outlets of the city drainage system that spill out to the Pasig river are easily “covered” by the high tide due to the thick silt from the waste coming from the ground and households. The silt has been deposited for so many years. So what can we expect when the occurrence of high tide is aggravated by rains? In Thailand, the river is utilized as a major traffic artery. Though, brownish in color, the river is free of any garbage, in fact portions are even used as floating markets. Sadly for our Pasig River, several attempts have been made to make use of it as a flowing highway with the establishment of ferry terminals and even operation of ferries, but it was short-lived. The agency concerned just lacked the drive necessary to push through with the project. Most sadly, fund-raising drives were made but with no good and encouraging results. Why? Because photo coverage and TV exposures were done and those were enough to somehow put on record that the government had a project of this kind, for Filipinos in the future to know that something was done.
2. Laws relegated to the sidelines. Always, we hear comments that the Philippines has the best laws in the world. There is a law for practically against everything – smoking in public places, drinking on the sidewalk, urinating in public areas, improper attire of jeepney and taxi drivers, jaywalking, posting of streamers in prohibited areas during election season, vote-buying, drug-abuse, littering, sidewalk parking, squatting, etc. Unfortunately, none is properly implemented. News programs show solvent boys clustered under bridges sniffing the intoxicant, many jeepney drivers take to the streets in sleeveless shirts, shorts and slippers, jolly shirtless guys huddle in street corners and sidewalks with cases of beer or bottles of hard liquor, rampant vote-buying before election day, illegally cars parked on sidewalks, squatters proliferating in vacant lots and even under the bridges, etc. Why can’t these be stopped? The reason always heard from agencies concerned to impose appropriate laws is the lack of budget, hence, not enough personnel and equipment. Worse, they insist that there are no complainants. But let a violation be done to a VIP that results to media exposure, in a snap of fingers, these agencies, greedily grab the limelight and take action. What is commendable though, is the effort of Davao City government which is consistent in implementing the law against smoking in public places and fireworks during New Year. Some cities took the cue and followed suit.
3. Commercialization of public education to an embarrassing high level and unattended needs of far-flung primary and secondary schools. Just recently, the country was shocked by the news about a student of the University of the Philippines-Manila who committed suicide due to her failure to take an exam resulting from her non-payment of tuition on time. Many more related incidents, though, some not necessarily reaching the point of suicide, are still happening in government educational institutions. They just do not grab the attention of the media because of their “insignificance” compared to incidents in big institutions found in Manila. As if the commercialization is not enough, children in far-flung corners of the country are deprived of their right to proper education due to lack of conducive facilities. It is shocking to find dilapidated structures with corroding tin roofs, termite-eaten walls, muddy floors. The measly-paid teachers, sacrifice substantial portion of their meager salaries to buy chalk, blackboard eraser and even pencils for most-deprived students in their classes. You see them on TV, thanks to the effort of some stations. Interviews are made with the hope that their concerned bosses in air-conditioned rooms can give them a glance. Still, nothing is done to ease their situation. These bosses rely on reports by supervisors and superintendents that are too good to be believable.
4. One-time usability of textbooks. It is very expensive to climb the rungs of education in the Philippines. Second-hand books for kindergarten school kids and the rest of the education levels can no longer be bought by parents. Enterprising personalities in the concerned agencies allowed the inclusion of test exercises after each chapter of the books, hence, making them not applicable for the learning process of the next user because of the answers in those pages. They did away with the separate test papers, a system which is an advantage for the parents who can still keep the books for the younger children in the family. This “bright idea” practically made textbook publication and printing a booming industry at the expense of the poor.
5. Inconsistency in the maintenance of public facilities. Ningas kugon is the most appropriate two-word description for most government projects – good only for publicity or photo opportunity during the few months after they have been inaugurated. All one needs to do is just to look around: plant boxes dividing main thoroughfares that used to be painted with the colors of whoever is at the helm of the government unit are now with wilted plants and broken portions, bridges that once were blindingly lighted with colorful plastic street lamps are now with busted bulbs and broken posts, toilets that used to have gleaming granite floors and walls complete with running water are now stinking due to lack of running water and worse, with heavily stained toilet bowls, lavatories and walls. The light rail transit system (LRT) with its sister facility, the metro transit system (MRT) have toilets only in very few terminals. Toilets at most terminals are not open to the public. But during their inauguration, the said facilities were proudly tweeted to make the travel of the commuters comfortable. Such displays were shown on TV, even mentioned during interviews.
6. Corruption. Practically, all levels of our society, both the private and public sectors are tainted with it. Everybody knows about the ghost projects, misused pork barrels, sex in exchange for favors, tong system. Generations of Filipinos grew up breathing its obnoxious whiff. The atmosphere of the country is heavily smogged with it.
7. Political dynasties. It has become a profitable industry in the country. What makes it such is the great temptation to earn favors and money. That temptation is greatly enhanced by our culture, part of which are the padrino system and utang na loob (gratitude). Today, a negtive enhancement is the rampant vote buying during election season. This practice favors families who have the money to invest in politics, they who are willing to spend millions as they expect a greater return when they assume office. This practice is a glaring exploitation of the major sector of our society – those who live even below the tolerable poverty line.
Many NGOs are trying their best to correct the wrongdoings, even religious organizations are doing the same, lifting not only one finger, but all fingers to be dipped in so many issues that plague the Filipinos in general. All efforts are to no avail. A foreign student was even threatened with legal actions and expulsion from the country when he posted photos of public toilets with no running water and tissue paper. Instead of thanking him for bringing the matter to the attention of agencies concerned, though via a social network, the poor guy was treated as a persona non grata.
TV viewers are treated to scenes from time to time, of solvent boys opening doors of cars in traffic jams to snatch valuables from helpless motorists, climbing over fences along EDSA as their way of escape. But except for the TV exposure, nothing has been done to apprehend them. What happened to the radios that are supposed to be part of the gear of the traffic enforcers and are supposed to be connected to monitoring sites? If only the ones assigned to monitor the traffic through CCTVs, especially, portions of the roads identified where the aforementioned incidents usually happen immediately get in touch with their counterparts in the field, there could have been encouraging results of apprehension. But no, all we see on TV screen are interviews, that’s all.
What is lacking in our government is proper coordination and strict checking of those down the rank if they do their responsibilities properly. But how can this be done, when the guys up there who are supposed to go around and check are killing time in their air-conditioned offices? Simply said, our government system is not result-oriented. Obviously, it is reactionary in its attitude. The end result is finger pointing as to who is at fault.
Here is something on the rally culture of the Filipinos – the effigy of Uncle Sam, alongside with the one of whoever is at the helm of the country are always part of the show that climaxes every rally. Even the world-respected and spirit behind the People Power, Cory Aquino is not spared. To dramatically show the rallyists’ “deeply- entrenched emotion and sentiment”, conflagration of these paper structures is done as climax of the event. For so many years that these things were done and still being done, what have we gained? Some of those who are into this kind of activity despise Uncle Sam, but have the gall to fall in line to have their passport marked with US visa . I know of friends who shout obscenities against the government and Uncle Sam during rallies but spend their vacations in the US – in the homes of their parents or siblings who are green card holders!
All that poor Juan can do is draw a heavy sigh and ask himself: “where are we going from here?” Indeed, quo vadis Philippines? Don’t ask me….