Two months into 2014, I realize one thing about this government: one of its keys to success is diversion. That is, the ability to divert people’s attention from the more important questions fundamental to change. But also, and probably more important, the ability to read what is public/social media opinion and use it to their own advantage.
Two months into 2014, how often has this government gotten away with, umm, murder? Figuratively speaking of course.
Soon after Michael Christian Martinez’s February 14 skate in the free program of the Sochi Olympics, Facebook began assessing how exactly we might help the 17-year old in his quest for a medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics. The task is huge: we are looking at thousands of dollars for training and a coaching team. We are looking at having this kid practically living elsewhere in the world just to train for the next four years.
It’s a feat that we’ve seen other countries do, and as far as I’m concerned, unless government can break down those lump sums in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) website, they cannot convince me that there is no money for one Winter Olympian who has already proven his worth.
Ah, but social media has provided the government with a diversionary tactic. One of the many things mentioned vis-a-vis Michael’s Sochi run was the possibility of having the private sector fund the boy for 2018 – remove government responsibility, the better, we were told, so that it cannot claim Michael once he wins.
That of course is to miss the point. The Philippine government can claim Michael because he is Filipino, competing under a Philippine flag. And no matter if they gave him little or enough funding, he can and will be celebrated as a Filipino by the Philippine government. Truth to tell, even if they didn’t claim him, the world would still think Michael the feather in the Philippines’ cap.
But of course the government knows this, as it also did know that since social media had beaten it to the punch, then there was reason to come out with a sound bite via Secretary Coloma: “If we unite and give help to exceptional athletes like Martinez, and others, surely they can achieve their goals in their fields.” That is, the government calls on the private sector to help government in helping Michael. That is, the government will not demand that the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) give a breakdown of where its budget goes; it will not demand that the politicking and the bureaucracy that we know exists in the PSC be talked about and changed.
Sometimes social media provides the government with the best diversions.
When that Florida bus fell off the cliff in Bontoc, it was clear that the task at hand for the Land Transportation Regulatory and Franchise Board (LTRFB) was to make sure that all buses—especially provincial ones—are grounded and checked a hora mismo! Because you know that just makes sense.
Instead we got a 30-day Florida bus franchise suspension, and not much else, the repercussions of the latter only coming to light if you do some research on the rationale behind these suspensions. What does it do as far as prevention is concerned? Not much. In fact research on the LTRFB website reveals that once buses are grounded, responsibility is turned over to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Which is to say that accidents are primarily seen as bus driver mistakes, instead of being seen as the responsibility of a bus company with buses that are not roadworthy.
But too, it doesn’t hit on the system itself that ails bus companies and is the reason for these accidents. Drivers are not regularized as employees, and are without minimum wage or health benefits. They are forced to go on as many bus trips as possible in order to earn a living—and we’re not even talking about decent wages. This is the systemic dysfunction that no one—not even opinionated Pinoy social media—can talk about. And so the call for a correct response to the Florida bus tragedy has been without focus, and just allowed the LTRFB— and this government—to do things as they always have: suspend a franchise and discuss the need for new technology to monitor buses.
Which doesn’t keep irresponsible bus companies and their defective buses off the road. Neither does it ascertain better working conditions for our bus drivers. Heck, who even cares about that.
Speaking of caring, one can only wonder if government cares at all for the Pinoy commuter who has no choice but to traverse the streets of Manila every day, and who must now deal with the fact of 15 different road improvement projects happening all at the same time at some point. They say it might only happen in the summer, but we are to brace ourselves as these start one by one, some of these on EDSA no less.
The question really is why do it all at the same time. What’s the rush? Whatever happened to planning road repairs so that the every-Pinoy who works and goes to school every day might suffer least? Whatever happened to assessing the state of our roads, looking at the volume of commuters and cars every day, and anticipating the repercussions of deciding on repairs all at the same time?
Who exactly are we doing these repairs for? Or is it what? The Obama visit in April? The APEC Summit in 2015? And what exactly are we sacrificing when we decide that these 15 road improvement projects are so important, they all need to happen at the same time? How do we get back from government the time we will waste sitting in traffic, or the money we will spend on extra gas and fare doing the same?
The answer is that we don’t get any of that back. And as we become a populace exhausted from the daily commute, how can we even begin to complain?
How’s that for a diversion that works.