ON Saturday, a tragic news story from Zamboanga City capped off what was a terrible week for the Philippines: 15 people, most of them young children, were killed and at least another dozen badly hurt when a fire swept through the market building in which they were sleeping.
The fire was apparently caused by faulty electrical wiring. Although a source in the area confirmed that not all the entrances to the building were locked, the exit—which would have been the easiest escape route– was. And that, combined with the congested interior of the building—a situation made worse by illegally-constructed stalls, the darkness, and the general panic—simply trapped the victims.
The first news that most people elsewhere in the Philippines received about the tragedy came from the international media, none of whom failed to note that “huge and sometimes deadly fires at sprawling slums as well as markets and factories are common in the Philippines, where fire safety regulations are sometimes willfully disregarded.”
They cited last May’s horrifying disaster in which 72 were killed in a blaze at a factory in Valenzuela City as an example.
Coming as it did at the end of a week in which the Philippines was embarrassed on a global scale by an extremely uncomplimentary assessment in the World Bank’s annual Ease of Doing Business report and the utterly shameful revelations of a widespread and apparently out-of-control extortion racket plaguing the country’s main international airport, the Zamboanga market tragedy is almost more than we can bear.
If the administration of President BS Aquino 3rd reacts in the same defensively childish way to the latest black mark on the Philippines’ reputation as it did in the above two instances, it will surely have a negative effect on the hopes to bring in millions more tourists to our country than we are getting now. Our tourist arrivals are among the lowest in the 10 countries of Asean.
This is another damage due to incompetence that more than five years under a misanthrope who should have never been allowed to get anywhere near an elected office, let alone the presidency, has inflicted on our country’s reputation.
Even the most unsophisticated observer would probably conclude that a man who sincerely believes that a brief career as an itinerant shoe salesman and some sort of imagined divine commission from the ghosts of his dead parents qualifies him to exercise absolute, unquestioned authority over a nation of 100 million people is certainly the wrong man for the job, but incredibly, that is the man most Filipinos and the Smartmatic PCOS machines chose.
As a result, people die by the dozens in huge fires; some languish for months and years in desperate and dangerous conditions after natural disasters; watch hours of the most productive years of their lives slip away in the daily struggle to move around in a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure; see their earnings evaporate in usurious tax levies; and are terrified to return to their homeland on their vacations from jobs overseas (which they do because there are no jobs along the daang matuwid) because they might be falsely arrested and robbed by officers manning the one inadequate airport they must pass through.
Enough is enough. In about two weeks’ time, many world political and business leaders will be visiting the country for the APEC summit, and what they will find frankly worries us. We sincerely hope – although given his performance in other high-level, globally-observed events such as the visit of Pope Francis last January, it is a hope that is almost certainly in vain – that President Aquino and his coterie of mindless sycophants can find a way not to embarrass us again.