Monday, June 02, 2008

Is anyone listening?

This was my column last Wednesday, May 28.

One question columnists need to have a ready answer to because it is bound to crop up in most conversations is: How do you not run out of things to write about?

I must admit that there are still occasions when the question manages to catch me off guard despite having been in this job for two years now and despite having been asked that question more times than I care to remember. I mean, how are we supposed to answer that question? Are we supposed to admit to having been born with a natural predilection to dish out opinions—as in, yes, I was born spewing political diatribes? Would it be okay to admit that there actually are days when one is faced with the metaphorical blank wall and there is simply nothing one can write about with some degree of enthusiasm?

Obviously, there are as many answers to that question as there are many columnists.
But given the way things are in our country, I feel that the relevant question should be: How do you not get tired writing about the same things over and over again?

I have this nagging feeling that being opinionated is not really difficult to be in our culture given the fact that everyone in this country seems to have something to say about anything and everything. We seem to be a people with strong opinions about what is happening around us and we seem to forever inhabit a metaphorical living room set of talk show.

I receive lots of e-mails from people who give me ideas about what to write about. I like to think the suggestions are done with the purest intentions as most of these are prefaced with statements like “I’m just an ordinary citizen with no access to media.” I keep receiving document after document from people who feel that their side needs to be heard as well. Lots of people out there have strong ideas and opinions and they want to be heard. The problem is: Is anyone out there really listening? It does seem that what we have is a long line of people who all want to talk and nobody wants to listen.

For example, because of the color-coding scheme, I am forced to take a cab to work on Fridays. I still have to enjoy a taxi ride without being assaulted by a driver’s running commentary about what is wrong with the country and with the world.

Why, just last Friday, the driver of the cab I was riding in was particularly vehement about how the runaway price of oil is strangling the Filipino people. He went on and on about what the government should be doing to help drivers like him. I interrupted him to suggest that he shift to LPG gas instead of relying on oil—that’s what most taxi operators have been doing, after all. He sheepishly admitted that the cab we were riding on was actually fueled by LPG and he was therefore not directly affected by the recent increases in the prices of gasoline.
But no matter, he said. And he continued with his litany of woes blaming the government, the local governments, even businessmen for the gas prices debacle.

Our congressional hearings are televised live and often come across as an episode of the Jerry Springer show where people reveal lurid details about other people to the delight of the crowd; we half expect our senators and congressmen to accept phone-in questions during these hearings. After reputations have been sullied and energies have been spent, nothing else is heard about the results of those hearings. No reports, no legislation, nothing.

Yesterday, most business organizations came up with public statements about the electricity imbroglio. Sometimes one wonders if all those attempts are necessary and serve a particular purpose other than to enhance media presence.

The one statement from a business leader that actually made a smidgen of sense—and only because it zeroed in on what really matters the most—was ignored. In so many words, Donald Dee said something about not caring who controls Manila Electric Co. as long as electricity rates go down. His comment was not given sufficient airtime by media because it didn’t add fuel to the ongoing exchange of blows between the two contending parties.

I’d like to repeat for the benefit of the Government Service Insurance System and the Lopez family: Let’s focus on the important issue, please, and that is lower electricity costs.
Unfortunately, that important point is lost in the din and dynamics of the heated discussion. Both sides are preoccupied with proving who is right or wrong and with dishing out more mud to throw at the other camp they seem to have forgotten what is really at stake in the whole sordid mess.

Who cares if other electric companies also charge systems losses, or how many others charge their own electricity consumption to the public. The fact that others do it, too, does not make it right or justifiable—besides, these other electric companies charge lower rates. The issue is not who else is doing it, the issue is whether it is jacking up electricity rates unfairly for Meralco consumers and what can be done to remedy it.

So one really wishes that the kind of discussion we do in this country moves on to actually solving problems rather than just simply talking and exchanging opinions about them. More importantly, one wishes that concerned agencies do something about what others complain or express opinions about. It’s wishful thinking, though. In this country, very few things actually get done no matter how many times it is written or talked about.

Schools will open in a few weeks’ time. There will be the usual commentaries and debate about what’s causing the sorry state of the educational system and blah blah blah. Of course it is the same problems that we’ve had in the last 20 years. We talk about them every single opening of the school year, it has become a seasonal thing. But has anything concrete been done to really remedy the problems? The answer is obvious because columnists will still be writing about them soon.

We don’t run out of things to write about because quite frankly, some people, particularly those in power, simply refuse to listen.

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