I actually wrote a column about what I thought the President should address in her State of the Nation Address. I noted, however, that two other columnists had beaten me to it. So I decided to kill the piece lest we be accused of speechwriting for the President.
Sometimes it does strike me that our problems as a nation are cyclical. It seems that the words “permanent solution” is something that’s totally alien to our culture. What usually happens every single time we are faced with a problem is that we go for patchwork solutions or temporary balms that do not really make a dent in terms of fixing the problems in the long term. So the problems don’t really get solved. Some of them disappear temporarily, others stop showing symptoms; but in the end, they recur and resurface in far uglier forms than their original state.
Let’s take this problem of cleaning the waterways in Metro Manila. Obviously, we need to make sure that the creeks and canals that make up our drainage systems are not clogged so that our streets don’t get flooded at the slightest downpour. Our local governments do clean up heavily silted creeks and canals and even make a big show of the dredging operations by sending into the site heavy equipment that block traffic and inconvenience everyone. But when are these dredging operations done? When the rainy season has arrived and when the canals have been noted to overflow, that’s when.
This brings me to the baffling question: Why are these dredging operations conducted when the rainy season has already arrived and not during the summer season when most students are on vacation and there are lesser impediments to the operations? Or to begin with, why aren’t these done on a regular basis? It is as if our leaders require proof first that the rains would come before embarking on the required work.
A friend of mine attributes this to our collective unfamiliarity with the concept of “maintenance,” noting that the concept has no equivalent in Philippine languages. Instead of conducting routine, “small-scale” maintenance work, we wait until the problems have reached crisis proportions. Naturally, the reaction of most people already verge on panic.
A couple of months back, Gil Puyat Avenue in Makati was the site of a major dredging and cleanup-operation which included demolishing hundreds of shanties built by squatters on top and beside a major creek. The operations created quite a stir as the demolition required a show of force and took a whole week to finish. There were just too many families living on shanties built like a house of cards—one on top of each other. But the demolition was successful and for quite some time after, the whole area looked deserted and the murky waters of the creek began to flow once again.
Yesterday, I was shocked to see that a row of shanties have sprouted seemingly overnight on the banks of the creek. Yes, the squatters and their shanties are back. It seems that the squatters have just been biding their time, fully aware that the attention focused on them would eventually wane. It would now take another major operation to demolish the shanties again. This situation wouldn’t have recurred if the local government conducted regular watch on the area.
Related to this problem is this never-ending digging on many of our streets in the metro. It seems that construction work is never done on our streets—and again, it is strange that they time these operations during the rainy season. For example, I’ve stopped trying to figure out whatever it is that they are continually doing at Leon Guinto Street in Malate. That strip of road between Estrada and Quirino has been dug up so many times in the last five years people like me who use that street everyday has gotten used to the aggravation. I think that the utility companies and the local government take turns digging the street up.
And by the way, in case you didn’t know, the corner of Vito Cruz and Taft Avenue has been closed to traffic since March, as well as the road behind St. Scholastica’s College. Traffic in the area has been unbearably clogged for a number of months now, with nary a relief in sight. They are supposed to be laying new pipes for the water system, but who really knows what these people are doing since every time I pass by the area construction work seems limited to just digging ground again and again, and at a pace that reminds one of a snail taking its own sweet time?
Given the fact that congestion will continue to be a problem in the metro and fixing utility pipes or lines will continue to be made, shouldn’t we already put up a mechanism that would ensure that the next time we need to expand utility services, increase capacity, or add yet another system—we don’t have to dig up streets in the process?
The rollback in oil prices is yet another example of this collective penchant for piecemeal solutions. The government asked oil companies for a rollback— something which the oil companies acceded to. Fine, so it can be done after all. But anyone who thinks the agreement between the President and the oil companies does not have an expiration date is hallucinating—my personal guess is that the oil companies will try to recover their losses immediately after the State of the Nation Address of the President.
Price rollbacks are temporary and short term. What we need are long-term solutions that will cut our dependence on oil. What are urgent are mechanisms that will reduce the use of oil in this country. We need to begin putting in place effective and sustainable ways to conserve energy. We’re still not seeing these.
Anyone out there who thinks that the prices of oil will revert to December 2007 levels in the next few months is suffering from a severe case of denial. The prices of oil will continue to climb as demand increases.
If we come to think about it, even this latest brouhaha over the reproductive health bill that’s about to be passed in Congress is symptomatic of our inability to solve problems once and for all. The reason why that measure is still pending in Congress after many years is because many among our leaders continued to compromise on smaller aspects of the reproductive health issue, on the belief that small victories are better than none.
What we do know now is that previous legislation has not been enough to address the problem—we need a comprehensive reproductive health bill that addresses the issue of population management not simply from the point of view of contraception but education as well. The Catholic Church is wrong in thinking that should they succeed once again in blocking the passage of the bill this time around, the measure would already be dead. Fat chance. The bill will simply reincarnate in other forms in the next Congress. It will go on and on until a suitable and effective solution is found to address this major problem.
And finally, of course we all know that the problems of this administration are also recurring. We know the issues are essentially the same and while it is easy to think of these as a rehash of previous accusations, the truth is that they keep on resurfacing because they have not been addressed at all in ways that bring closure to the issues.