MMDA’s Proposed Ban and Bane

People are outraged by MMDA’s proposed number coding scheme that is set to ban vehicles plying EDSA for two days instead of one. While the movement seems like a legitimate effort to curb vehicle volume, perhaps the same has not been well thought and apparently costing the administration some points especially with the upcoming SONA. The poor timing does not come as a surprise as people have been well acquainted with the chairman’s pomposity made public in his recent displays in the “Hell’s Gate” issue. The truth of the matter is EDSA is a Hot Gate for motorists and is an expected choke point for Metro Manila’s motorists. While our chairman is obviously in denial of Metro Manila’s hellish conditions, anyone plying through Metro Manila’s main thoroughfares is no stranger to its pervasive lawlessness and displays of human misery. Corruption still prevails as well as the abuse of the strong versus the weak and helpless. In recent days netizens desperately tried to make their point by posting photos of buses holding up traffic at the expense of the common motorist. The problems are obvious however it seems like the middleclass is always expected to bear the weight of inconveniences and losses in productivity.

Early during the onset of the administration, the same middleclass that rallied in support of the “daan na matuwid” lauded at the ideas and promises especially those made by the newly appointed chairman. If memory serves me right, some of these ideas are now being recollected. Some of these include: Banning regional buses along EDSA and getting buses off the quota system. Enforcing the bus lanes and impounding colorums are just stopgap measures that span across administrations and often used to appease the public ad hoc. Certainly there is no sustainability in the latter and it takes a lot of political will to achieve the former. Apparently, nothing has changed and the promised political will remains to be an illusion. Ironically, “Daan na matuwid” could not even keep the buses in their own lanes.

The problem is obviously systemic. Transportation operators are organized and have a huge leverage over our politicians. Our public transportation system is inadequate and remains riddled with allegations of corruption to this very day. While the administration dares to present the traffic problem as a sign of progress, millions of Pesos are lost daily due to losses in productivity caused by traffic and an inefficient public transportation system. The new number coding scheme is certainly a bane to the middleclass but do they really have a choice? The middleclass who is overly taxed and overly charged with the rising cost of petrol, tolls and poor roads continues to be the whipping boy of government, big business and the entitled poor. One thing I do ask of the administration is for them to stop lying to us. The middleclass has had enough!

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Modern Idolatry and the Social Media

Two days after April Fools’ Day and I am still reeling in from the bitter truth that we are living in the days of a perpetual practical joke, with the general public being its perennial victims. Where jokes usually end in laughter, the Filipinos are on apparent overdose. It is a subtle and addictive substance that helps us cope with our realities. It is said that the Filipino could laugh and smile over any catastrophe; this is perhaps one of our greatest strengths. The realities behind the veil of illusion however are no laughing matter at all! Our society needs to wake up to confront the bigger issues that surround us rather than be preys to the whims of those who control our thoughts and behavior.

Over the Holy Week, I found great privilege in witnessing one the greater Roman Catholic traditions: The Procession. In this timeless tradition, the saintly idols parade the streets of the Philippines. A procession tells the story of Christ’s final days on Earth in graphic detail; a storyboard rendered in hyper-reality. Taken individually the idols played a specific role in the crucifixion story and more importantly, each idol character embodies the roles, character and ideals that they represent. It is a lesson on what we ought to be. The idols are reminders of our Christian forebears, who we are and how we ought to live our lives according to tangible examples.
Looking back at Classical History, mythology was exemplified in sculpture with Gods and Demigods that served as literal embodiments of superhuman qualities in tangible folklore (lessons attached as well). Idols help us see the better side of ourselves against the facts of our flaws and frailties. When someone exhibits excellent qualities or skills to emulate, it is easy for us to say that he or she is our idol. Idols are part of our vocabulary, but where does admiration and emulation end and idolatry begin? Ironically, it begins when the idols become an end by themselves.

Idols and Icons are cultural creations. They serve to represent our ideas and beliefs. Idols render a human face to the ideas we espouse. They serve as a relatable and sometimes better image of ourselves. To love them, is to love ourselves. This however is now far from the idols of today. Can we really ascribe to the modern idols that we created for ourselves? Could our Golden Calf lead us to our Promised Land? Could our Sacred Cows lead us towards the path of National Enlightenment, Restoration and Reconstruction?

From Gods to Prophets, Heroes to Thought leaders, Basketball Stars and Charlatans, we “Follow” and “Like” them all (pun intended). Modern Idols thrive on popularity votes. The more they have the more powerful they become. That’s how we made them to be. Does that make them right? Or have we become victims of “The Crowd Wave” – perhaps caught within the grand gesture of herd mentality? We have become victims to of our own idolatry. We let them lead us even when they are used to distract us from the real issues. At times we venerate them for making bold statements only for them to later mislead us with lies once their popularity has been established. The social media empowers them to say anything. The problem lies once we put them on a pedestal whereby their mere presence or image enchants us, and their own opinions (true or false) become truths.
We wallow in this farce that we have made to amuse ourselves. Here are a few facts on this phenomenon:

  • Kim Kardashian has more than 17 Million followers on Twitter….. WHY?
  • Nicki Minaj is American Idol’s Judge over talent. An even bigger WHY!!

The mysteries to the their success still boggles me, but realizing the manipulation of the media (social media included with emphasis), it is very easy to understand. We don’t even have to look overseas to see blatant examples.

Chris Aquino makes accusations of overt sexual advances perpetrated by one of her exes, grants a very public interview and announces her retirement from showbiz. Chris takes the media’s center stage over more important issues such as Sabah with its death toll swept under the rug.
Chiz and Heart makes it to the headlines (Romantic Picture and all) with their Love Life and her parent’s detailed disapproval featured. This takes precedence over his political platform and other national issues. What a stunt!
The general public laps it up for their amusement, only to leave a few still asking about what happens beyond these superficial and misleading issues.

The social media also lends itself to the creation of our own demigods with some of its charlatans making bold, sometimes visual and even perverse messages to court our attention. While bold statements (some of which I agree with) always garner the “Likes” and “Follows”, one needs to be more discerning with what is being served. Let us separate message from the messenger, the truth apart from the deception.

We have created these monstrous social idols of today reflective of what we aspire to be or perhaps what we want to excuse ourselves of being. Nonetheless the social media empowers us to speak our minds openly and to multiply our message among like-minded people. It is one of our greatest human achievement, as well as our Tower of Babel. With such great freedom, much more is required of us. While many have no thoughts of having you believe that WD-40 is made from fish oil, perhaps most of us would care enough to speak and embrace the truth as Freedom demands from us.

Getting over the “Yellow Fever”

The Philippines tends to pride itself in being able to topple the 20-year dictatorship of then President Marcos through a bloodless revolt headed by the widowed housewife Corazon C. Aquino. Exactly twenty-seven years have passed and we still try to recapture the romance of EDSA and our love affair with democracy. Freedom songs are being chanted in front of the shrine replete with romantic visions of tanks, rosaries and flowers. The EDSA that was still very much remains the Icon of democracy. Yellow fever has enthralled and captured our nation’s emotions over and over again.

Perhaps I was too young to be at EDSA twenty-seven years ago but I also caught the “Yellow Fever” back in 2009. It started when I was gassing up along Commerce Avenue in Alabang when a small motorcade passed through. I saw an old acquaintance who stopped to chat. At that point I actually had no plans on voting at all. That was a pivotal moment in my life where I turned from apathy to active voting. I identified with them, as I saw them primarily as middle-class volunteers who believed in what they are doing. I was convinced. Without so much discussion I found myself with a deck of yellow car stickers and an official Yellow Baller I.D. around my wrist. I was quick to debate on the idea of democracy, equity and the “Matuwid na Daan” and the new democratic renaissance that would propel our nation back into idealistic significance.

Where are we now? I have long scraped that yellow decal from the back of my car. Twenty-Seven years from EDSA 1 what has truly changed? I have to say. “Not much to what matters most”. I’m afraid the idealism that I had three years ago has since dissipated like a yellow puff of smoke.
Allow me to make a few pointed (pun intended) observations:

On “inclusive-growth”: While many are lauding up the economic rallies of the country such as the stock market and growth rates, I couldn’t find the sense of these numbered improvements in the lives for the common Juan.
According to a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey published by the Philippine Star in Nov. 16, 2012 unemployment rates stands at 29.4%. The throngs of the unemployed seem to be left out of this inclusion.
While the stock market rallies, most of the biggest winners seem to be the Property, Services and Financial sectors. The Industrial and the Mining and Oil sector seem to be missing out on the boom.

Are these simple economic facts and realities that have nothing to do with the administration? I beg to differ! I’m not just talking about the economy either. Keeping things status quo is a social injustice in itself. The promises of EDSA 1 continue to be undelivered. Economic policy reforms remain flaccid and ironically non-inclusive. All this window-dressing has not resulted in decent jobs being created, nor has it paved the way for foreign investment. Despite the window-dressing we are still behind the likes of Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Philippines still has the highest energy rates in Asia: a cost that bears heavily upon the backs of every common Juan.

Are we building the economy based on pure consumption or do we actually have plans to develop our natural endowments? In the process of ignoring the latter aren’t we committing a grave mistake in our efforts for sustainable economic development? Are we ensuring an environment of Fair Process across all sectors or are we favoring some of which whisper closest into our President’s ear?

It has been 27 years since EDSA 1 and the balance of power has not changed a bit. The same protective policies exist to keep the oligopolies in place. Where then is the promise of democracy and its empowerment for the common Juan? The dream of EDSA still remains to be just that, the Yellow Fever that once bit this author had since become a passing infection. In today’s language: “I am so over it!” EDSA is not about him after all.