‘Things don’t happen as you would expect . . .’

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Mike Wootton

Mike Wootton

I remember some years ago somebody saying that “things don’t always happens as you would expect in the Philippines.” At the time I just shrugged it off, but now I realize it was in fact a considerable understatement . . . almost true to say that things nearly always happen as you would not expect—it’s more fun in the Philippines.

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It may not be fully realized in some quarters but if a nation enacts laws and publicizes them, for example to encourage foreign direct investment, then it is not unreasonable that people expect that they will be implemented and enforced. Some are and some are not, and other things that the reasonable man might never imagine do happen and sometimes in a rather draconian sort of way.

There is a renewable energy law passed in 2008. It says quite clearly that it is the policy of the state to encourage the utilization of renewable energy and states several valid justifications for this; savings in fossil fuel imports, use of indigenous resources and environmental benefits. Investors were encouraged to explore for resources and, in exchange for a work program commitment, given exclusive rights to explore and hopefully develop renewable energy resources existing in defined contract areas. In order to effect the stated policies of the state, renewable energy was to be given dispatch priority [always used first]over fossil-fuelled power generation. All very rational. But of course, the past six years have clearly shown that it just is not being implemented in the way the law and the government policy it reflected required, surprise, surprise! Of course I have opinions as to why that is the case but that is not the purpose of this particular set of 800 or so words.

Then you have the LTFRB’s [Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board] regulations about school buses. School buses have to be painted a fairly revolting bright yellow color with black stripes, the name of the school, and the fact that the vehicle is a school bus have to be clearly displayed on the side and windows cannot be tinted. Not only is that a rather weird requirement, in my view it introduces significant security risks in a state where there is a sad history of innocent deaths in bus hijackings and a recent case of armed kidnapping by on-duty police in the middle of the day on EDSA.

What can the LTFRB be thinking of to advertise for any wrong-minded group to see that there is a bus carrying children, in many cases from specific exclusive local schools and the international schools where the parents might just be worthwhile ransom targets, or even where there might be some sort of grudge to be settled. Bussing is an integral part of Brent school’s operation. The buses are painted in school colors, they travel fast and in convoy along the SLEX, each bus carries a security guard who is connected by radio to a central control station, thus security is taken seriously, no doubt in part because the buses are clearly carrying Brent school children and they are potentially “at risk” people. But the LTFRB does not require any particular security procedures to be implemented on the transport that they require to be so clearly marked. I am surprised that the officials and staff of embassies and multilateral agencies—whose children will now be clearly advertised as being transported around Metro Manila—do not seem to have raised this as a security concern. I would not want my children to be travelling around in such a vehicle, that’s for sure.

Twice last week, schools were closed in southern Metro Manila on exceedingly short notice (an hour or two prior to classes starting on the second occasion) due to bad weather. The first occasion was on Monday 15th September, a day of relatively clear skies, the weather incident having vanished by the night of Saturday 13th. The second was on Friday 19th on instructions from Malacañang, apparently where the north of the Metro area was badly affected by a storm but there was just some fairly heavy rain for part of the day in the southern parts of the area.

I could ramble on even more, giving anecdotes about things not happening as a reasonable person would expect, but the three examples above just go to show how things indeed do not happen as you would expect around here. Odd decisions are frequently made with national implications and it’s difficult to work out the rationale behind them. Not included, by the way, within the scope of “odd decisions” are things like turning over electricity and health services from government to the private sector, as the rationale for these decisions is fairly clear albeit not in the national interest.

To be fair, though, many national governments make some weird decisions with which people may not agree. There just seems to be a greater incidence of irrationality around here. But then if everything happened in a rational and justified sort of way, it would be much less fun in the Philippines!

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.

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