Thursday, June 12, 2008

Not getting through

This was my column yesterday, June 11. I inadvertently posted the wrong column yesterday. Thank you to a very perceptive reader who pointed out the oversight.

In a public appearance over the weekend that somehow conjured images of a junta, the President’s men sought to allay the public’s fear related to the runaway prices of oil, rice, and commodities.

Understandably, the rhetoric was still about how the government was in control and remains prepared for any crisis. The last thing this government and this country needs is widespread panic. However, I don’t think the government should bother about allaying our fears— quite frankly, there is very little else that can scare the hell out of us Filipinos after everything that we’ve been through and continue to go through.

But at least the government was already talking solutions and recommendations on exactly how we can survive the skyrocketing prices even if the current solutions being peddled are still rather inchoate and remains at the level of “nice to do” rather than as imperatives.

The government’s action on the oil crisis has so far been limited to justifying the increases in oil prices (“it’s a global problem”), in chastising oil companies for jumping the gun on the succeeding rounds of oil price increases, and of course, deflecting the blame somewhere else.

But like I said, finally something concrete such as encouraging people to use bicycles or walk to destinations. These are great ideas because using our legs to get us to where we want to go obviously offers health benefits as well. I am sure there are many people out there who would be happy to oblige Secretary Angelo Reyes on his suggestion. I personally see it as a much better alternative to the hamster-like efforts we do inside gyms.

The problem is we don’t have facilities where people can ride their bicycles in safety. There are no designated bicycle lanes or streets.

We can walk, sure. We are an ingenious people who can summon people power when we want to and commandeer streets into spaces that suit our personal needs when the situation calls for it. I am not talking about people power in the political sense. I am talking about people simply taking over streets and turning them into funeral lounges, markets, beer gardens, and living quarters.

We also transform busy streets into huge pedestrian lanes when the situation calls for it. The problem is that motorists are just as capable of doing the same. The sad fact is that in this country, pedestrian lanes, just like traffic lights, are mere “suggestions.” So unless the rules on pedestrian lanes are strictly enforced, I am afraid walking remains out of the question. We haven’t started talking yet about the other hazards such as Metro Manila’s lethal fumes.

There are days when I wonder if the government is truly serious about energy conservation or about reducing our dependence on oil. It has so far been unable to walk the talk.

For instance, there was a directive last week to government offices to conserve energy but I still have to see very concrete steps being implemented to back up the directive.

On the front page of this paper last week was a photo of streetlamps at Roxas Boulevard that were still open at noontime. It wasn’t an isolated incident—many streetlamps in Metro Manila seem to perform a different purpose than what they were intended to do—which, lest we forget, is not really to serve as makeshift bulletin boards and host to all kinds of streamers and greetings—because they don’t light up when they should, which is at night. I know that many streetlamps are no longer manually controlled and are equipped with light sensors. But whoever is responsible for ensuring that the mechanisms work seems to be sleeping on the job.

And while we are talking about streetlamps it must be pointed out that we do have more than enough of them in Metro Manila. Most of them, however, were built more as monuments to the terms of office and inflated egos of local executives who also needed some physical proof to show their electorate that they were doing something. We all know of course that building streetlamps has been a steady source of kickbacks for some local executives. This explains why they keep on building more and more streetlamps every year, very soon they will be built one on top of each other.

I found myself inside a government office last week and noted that while the air conditioning system was not working, it really wasn’t because they were conserving energy but simply because their decades-old aircon units had already conked out after all that sputtering, gasping, and hissing went largely ignored for sometime. Where they saving on energy while sweltering in their barong Tagalog? Good heavens, no. The ratio of electric fans—all running at industrial speed—to people was practically 2:1. This meant that there were more electric fans than there were employees in that office. For a while there, I had a glimpse of what it must be like to be sucked into the eye of a tornado.

We keep on talking about an impending crisis, but the shopping malls were all bursting to the seams over the weekend and people were spending as if there is no tomorrow. We talk about how oil is becoming more and more unaffordable but there doesn’t seem to be a major reduction on the volume of vehicles on the road. It’s still bumper-to-bumper out there.
I don’t think the government is really serious about getting people to save energy. I don’t think the message is getting through to people.

3 comments:

Twin-Skies said...

I think you loaded the wrong column by mistake. "Not Getting Through" for June 11 has the same content as the June 4 post:

http://bongaustero.blogspot.com/2008/06/this-was-my-column-last-wednesday-june.html

Bong C. Austero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bong C. Austero said...

thanks twin-skies. appreciate the hat tip.

bong