Monday, February 04, 2008

Trumping up the media card

This is my column today.

But aren’t you a columnist? Why don’t you write about it?” I’ve lost track of the number of times a friend threw that line to me every single time I encountered something annoying, such as when products that I had paid for didn’t work, or when customer service in some establishment stank big time, or when we saw mulcting cops victimize hapless motorists.

That question ranks high up there with that other comment: “It’s amazing how you don’t run out of topics to write about.”

I admit that there are days when finding something worthwhile to write about is a major struggle. Oh sure, there are too many things that are wrong with this country and far too many politicians and public officials that deserve to be hung in the bar of public opinion. One will not run out of something to gripe about if one has no compunction about compromising integrity, or being known as an inveterate sourpuss whose concept of his job description is to spew vitriol every day.

There are a number of media people—writers, columnists and broadcast journalists—who regularly and indiscriminately use whatever power and influence offered by their jobs to get things done. When we come to think about it, it boils down to abuse of power and people who are guilty of it are no better than the people they criticize and rant about. But I know that complaining about something in print or on television does get better and faster results if one has no issues about receiving special treatment at the expense of others. It shouldn’t be the way to get things done.

In the aftermath of typhoon Milenyo, for example, I ranted about how this cable company was taking its own sweet time restoring the cable connection at my house. I wrote that piece after weeks of following up with the cable provider that didn’t produce any action. That piece was simply meant as a rant and I didn’t really expect the company to go out of its way to do anything as the subscription was in someone else’s name and I didn’t reveal my address. But what do you know, the cable provider was able to locate my residence and reconnect my house to the outside world all within a few hours. A senior official of the company even deigned to call to gloat that they have already done something about my problem.

The problem was that the company restored cable connection only in my house and ignored the rest of the neighborhood. Naturally, my next-door neighbors took offense and huffed about “how power and influence get things done.” Sigh.

When I wrote about mulcting cops on the corner of Macapagal and Senator Puyat avenues, the cops miraculously disappeared for two whole weeks. Some people in the building where I work congratulated me for the feat and even kidded me about henceforth using my name as leverage in case mulcting cops apprehend them, as in “isusumbong ko kayo kay Bong Austero.” That cracked me up, as I obviously have no illusions of my name being a byword.

For the record, I do value my relative anonymity. I don’t go around introducing myself as a columnist. I don’t hobnob with the powerful nor do I attend social functions as a columnist. I take pride in being able to walk into a concert or a theater venue without being recognized or being given special treatment. I think of myself as an ordinary citizen who simply happens to write a column.

By the way, those mulcting cops have since then gone back on their lucrative perch at Macapagal and Puyat avenues preying on hapless motorists with their shameless hulidap operations. They continue to harass motorists who turn right to Puyat avenue from an outer lane, fining them with that stupid made-up offense called swerving. Of course the offense won’t stick so the cops don’t issue a traffic violation ticket. Motorists who stand up for their rights are simply waved off with an admonition. Most simply fork over money for the cops’ lunch, presumably enjoyed at nearby Sofitel Hotel given the handsome booty that they are able to amass all in a day’s work.

Macapagal Avenue has become a haven for mulcting cops because at a side street leading to the Mall of Asia, just after the bridge from the row of seafood restaurants, hulidap operations are firmly entrenched. More mulcting cops are stationed further down just after the Edsa interaction, and right before the Coastal Mall. The most expensive highway in the face of the planet, the construction of which was attended by grand-scale corruption, is living up its name and reputation.

The offense that they slap motorists with is the same shameless charge that the mulcting cops invoke just a couple of blocks away at Macapagal and Puyat Avenues. I won’t be surprised if those cops simply swap posts every couple of hours to even out their share of the take.

I’ve noted the existence—in the case of Macapagal and Puyat Avenues, the return—of these cops for a couple of months now, but I have held off writing about these because I am a sucker for giving people the benefit of the doubt. When I first wrote about these mulcting cops, a general left a comment in my blog thanking me for bringing attention to the hulidap operations and promised to do something about it. Someone told me that all I had to do was tell people who I was and I would be left alone. Duh.

I know some people will raise their eyebrows over this, but I do have issues about being given special treatment and being offered privileges just because I write a column. This is the reason why I value my privacy and try not to call attention to myself. So when in sticky situations, I choose to argue and wing it as a citizen and expect to be treated as such.

I recently got as a gift to myself a new vehicle, which was delivered before Christmas. I know that it takes some time before the Land Transportation Office can issue a registration plate, although I don’t quite see the rationale for the delay. If this government can crow about indicators that the economy is in an upswing and uses data such as rising production levels in car manufacturing and number of new vehicles being purchased (mostly because interest rates on car loans are on all-time low), it should be able to walk the talk and provide the necessary regulatory support services such as providing vehicle plates that people pay for in the first place.
It’s been almost two months and the LTO is still giving the usual worn-out excuse: No plates available. They told me that I could drive my car and simply explain to cops (whether the diligent or mulcting type) that the plate has not been issued. Sources tell me that there is some pecking order at the LTO when it comes to releasing vehicle plates and that I should have no problem getting the plate for my vehicle if I tell them I am a media person. I have resisted the temptation to do so. As a result, I haven’t been able to use the car as often as I would like to.

When I got flagged down on two occasions, I had to show the cops three sets of identification cards in addition to the registration papers of the car. In embarrassing situations such as these, one doesn’t simply contend with the aggravation, one also suffers being the subject of unnecessary attention. We do have this penchant for gawking at motorists deep in discussion with traffic cops suspecting them of the worst possible motivations.

Some friends think I’m being foolish for refusing to trump up the columnist identity as if it is a badge of privilege. Something is seriously wrong in a society where people think being in media deserve special privileges. Even more so when media people get used to the idea that being such gives them the right to be given special treatment not given to ordinary people.

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