The internet doesn’t work properly, neither does much else!

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Mike Wootton

Mike Wootton

WELL, Typhoon Glenda certainly did its work in Ayala Alabang.

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Electricity has been off for over two days in my case, and even when fixed, remained very unstable. For many others, even now—seven days after the typhoon—there’s still no power and no water. But that is just part of the story; the internet connections don’t work properly, if at all, either. Ask Sky broadband when it will restore its service and the answer is: “There are ongoing repairs. If it is not fixed within the day, call again.” I mean, not only is the quality of the connection rubbish, even when it is working—can Sky not even say when it will restore its service, instead of giving meaningless answers to enquiries?

Globe and Smart—those massively profitable communications monopolies do not work properly, either. The data links do not function as they should, and e-passes can’t be loaded. I know that these complaints are trite when compared to those whose homes have been severely damaged and have to struggle to get through life, anyway, but all taken together they paint a picture of a system which is so fragile that it just cannot withstand predictable severe annual weather events without massive disruption to lives and the economy.

A fellow Manila Times columnist, Bobi Tiglao, has already written a piece about the time it takes Meralco to restore its “service”—far longer than it takes to restore public utility services in other countries.

He quotes Meralco as saying that they are motivated to restore their service because their business requires them to sell electricity. Now, knowing the way that private companies operate public utilities around here, I wouldn’t mind wagering that someday soon, Meralco will be off to the ERC, the captive regulator, to claim an increase in its tariff to cover the shortfall between the amounts that it is unable to collect from consumers due to typhoon damage and its own snail-like pace of restoring electricity supplies, and the power generation costs which it is committed to pay to generators. I have no doubt whatsoever that if Meralco claims this, that the ERC will approve it, and thus, all consumers in the Meralco area will not only have had no [outrageously expensive]electricity for quite a while but will also suffer the ignominy of ending up subsidizing Meralco’s losses brought about by Typhoon Glenda. What a great business model—only in the Philippines! I would also guess that Sky, Globe, and Smart won’t be offering much in the way of reductions in their billings for the typhoon aftermath problems and the ever inaccurate e-pass system will be even more inaccurate than usual.

Whatever happens, “it wasn’t our fault”—this reluctance to accept blame is a most unfortunate national characteristic and as we can see recently, it is exemplified at the highest political levels. Indeed, typhoons are not anybody’s fault. They are, however, to be expected and they are to some degree predictable. I mean typhoons hit the Philippines every typhoon season and they have been doing so for years. So it might not be unreasonable to expect that things like electricity distribution cables would be installed with that in mind, i.e., ‘typhoons will come so we’d better plan for that and find ways of installing our equipment which will minimize any typhoon impact.’

But clearly that is not the approach adopted: a tree falls over and the power is out for hours. Ah, but it is expensive to put electricity distribution cables underground, “to do that would just make everybody’s costs higher and we do struggle so hard to keep costs down and maintain our excellent service quality.”

I have recently been wondering just what the Philippines would be like if the DAP and PDAF monies had been spent in a well managed way and for the national interest, and if government took responsibility for the provision of public services. All told, the DAP and PDAF may not have been a very high proportion of total gross domestic product (GDP) but the difference that their proper expenditure would have made would have been very visible; better roads, transport systems, a better national airport, hospitals, schools and housing for those without shelter—and to link to what I say above, there would be regulators and a government, which is above being “captured” by the powerful and which ensures that the people do not have to suffer such ignominies at the hands of those who truly control the Philippines.

This takes me to a joke I heard recently and my compliments to whomever it was who thought it up:

A young Senator visits an older Senator at his home—a magnificent 15-bedroom palace in an exclusive subdivision, a Rolls Royce and several Porsches are in the driveway, expensive paintings and furniture inside the house. The young Senator is impressed with this ostentatious display of wealth and asks the older Senator: “How do you come to have such a luxurious home and possessions?” The older Senator gives a wry chuckle and answers, “Ah, my boy, this is what my 10 percent gets for me.”

Some years later the older Senator visits the younger Senator at his home, again a massive palace like a house on top of a hill with a view for miles around. The older Senator is very much impressed, for the younger Senator’s house and possessions are much more grand than his own. The older Senator asks the younger Senator how he managed to achieve such wealth in a relatively short time. The younger Senator points into the far distance and says: “See that hospital over there?”

The older Senator looks hard but can see nothing, so he says, “I can’t see any hospital.” The younger Senator grins and says—“you see, 100 percent!”

And that is how the Philippines is.

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com

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