Clear responsibility brings efficiency, safety

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Mike Wootton

Mike Wootton

Seven years ago (January 17, 2007 to be precise), I wrote a column published in this newspaper entitled, “Is the Philippines a safe place.” My opinion then was that there were risks that the exercise of a bit of common sense should keep most people fairly safe other than from random acts of terrorism. I also opined that the travel advisories given by foreign nations to their citizens planning to travel to the Philippines tended to be overly cautious.

Well, I think I have to modify my opinion. The Philippines of today seems a less safe sort of place. Imagine standing in line outside Terminal 3 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which I do often [and many tourists do also]waiting to be allowed in, and some people are shot dead right in front of you and bullets are spraying all over the place. To say that you would be a bit shaken is an understatement. Then there are daily reports of these other anonymous motorcyclists who just drive up and shoot people in the street and then vanish—how can you ever find them again? Even if you could, there is a good likelihood of the event having been a contract shooting so more difficult to find the real source of the violence. Armed robberies at money changers, and gunfire outside shopping malls and jewellery stores attacked inside the malls in the middle of the day. People involved with gambling being caught with veritable armouries in the trunks of their cars. Not reassuring news stories these days.

There are buses that fall off Skyway killing not only their passengers but people on the road underneath. Mind you all the buses, most of which are in very poor condition in Manila seem to be driven by crazed lunatics, it’s a wonder to me that they don’t kill more people than they do. There are the passenger ferries that sink quite regularly, and to stand and look at the condition of many of them at almost any harbor in the Philippines would make you think not only twice but many times before daring to set foot on such a rust bucket.

Then there are the natural disasters; Typhoon Yolanda with the official death toll now at 6,155, the Bohol earthquake, etc., etc., with losses of life in the thousands.


And there is the terrorism and associated kidnappings, bombs and bomb threats and violence. Not to mention the nonviolent criminal activities that are so well publicized, the smuggling, the scams the stealing of the government’s money, and now the apparent entry of the Mexican drug cartel to start doing business in the Philippines following in the footsteps of various Chinese drug manufacturers and distributors. Unfortunately, the Philippines must look to the Mexicans like just the sort of wide open place that would be attractive to them.

The Philippines is beginning to look less safe than it did seven years ago.

To be balanced about this, there was a case in London some months ago in which some people hacked to death an off duty soldier in the middle of a busy street in broad daylight. Passers-by stopped and talked to the murderers no doubt to try to persuade them from any more violence, and the police arrived in some force quite fast. Then there was the case in Norway of the guy who went on a shooting spree on a children’s holiday island in Oslo fjord, again the police arrived quite fast to sort things out. So bad things happen in the advanced economies too, but awful as these high profile are they tend to be isolated incidents, which are dealt with quite efficiently and which attract a huge amount of news coverage for a relatively short time. The responses of the authorities have been fast, well equipped and well organized, and the perpetrators in both the instances I cite have been apprehended, brought to justice and dealt with efficiently. The possibility of “getting away with it” is very limited.

Reading reports about the aftermath of the Yolanda disaster and the 1,600 bodies not yet buried [25 percent of the total deaths] highlights an apparent confusion of responsibility between various government departments, many of which seem to be involved but none of which appear to take clear responsibility for proper burial, thus the bodies sadly remain unburied seven weeks after the disaster and now the pace of dealing with them has been slowed, because “it’s the holidays” and staff numbers are reduced! Meanwhile, Malacañang is looking where to place blame for this situation!

Blaming people for things that went wrong is not a useful approach. It is “locking the stable door after the horse has bolted,” it may lead to some lessons being learned for better performance next time, but in order to ensure better performance next time, some organizing and some direction is needed. Responsibility needs to be taken and if different government departments just all point their fingers at each other then as in the case of the Yolanda victims, nothing is going to happen.

There is much to be said for simplicity and clarity as aids towards achieving results, and if people are to perform well in their tasks, they should not do so under fear of being fired and publicly vilified if they make an honest mistake. What is important is that the lines and points of responsibility have to be clearly drawn, sustained and well known to everybody, then people who do not perform as they should will not be able to point their fingers at others who may or may not have had responsibility [depending on how you read the rules].

In the Philippines, there are many different forces pulling in different ways and for a variety of reasons, and there are far too many often contradictory rules, but what is clear is that there needs to be strong, active, constructive and clear management in the best interests of the citizens and while I do not pretend that it is easy, there is a desperate need for pulling together in the interests of all, particularly those most disadvantaged. Diffuse and unclear responsibilities and authorities combined with a laissez faire management style just make for a situation which invites those with bad intentions to easily weave their way through and so little gets done efficiently.

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.

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