Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wasted energy

This is my column today.

I am going to make a fearless forecast.

In the next few days, we are going to see a lot more of tempers boiling over, accompanied of course with a lot of screaming as our representatives in Congress try to find someone to blame for the unfortunate sinking of m/v Princess of the Stars.

And then, when everyone has grown hoarse, has his or her fill of strutting around and posturing like some great inquisitors, or when something more earthshaking and newsworthy has come around to divert everyone’s attention, whichever comes first, the whole thing will be promptly dropped and forgotten.

The whole thing will then be turned over to the proper courts where it will fester for some time because we all know that those with the means to throw all sorts of impediments into the system do get away with that kind of tomfoolery.

In the meantime, Sulpicio Lines will be allowed to operate their floating coffins once again because let’s face it, this country needs to transport goods and people from one island to another. Lest we forget, the Philippines is still an archipelago, and ships are still the most affordable and practical means of getting around. And Sulpicio Lines happens to have the largest fleet of transportation ships in this country.

Forget about a government takeover of the company. The government can only do so if it declares martial law and we already know that those two words can’t even be mentioned in this country without sending some people into apoplexy. Besides, this government has already proven itself inutil in the area of providing services to people. I fear for the lives of more people if government takes over the largest passenger shipping fleet in this country.

The business sector, the Filipino-Chinese community, and the other influential sectors in this country may have distanced themselves momentarily from the company that is now on record as the main perpetrator of the number one cause of death in this country since World War II. But when some semblance of normalcy has befallen and it is once again safe to declare affinities and public support, we know that the owners of Sulpicio Lines will be able to regain their standing in the community.

The weather bureau may be getting some media attention right now because the perceived ineffectiveness of its antiquated methods and technology has caused national grief and embarrassment. However, it remains doubtful if major breakthroughs will ever be achieved in terms of finally outfitting our weather scientists with cutting edge technology.

We may be visited by all sorts of natural calamities frequently, but the weather bureau is hardly seen as a priority government agency in terms of budgetary allocation. Besides, in this country where fatalism is the norm, typhoons and natural phenomena are still largely seen as acts of God and therefore perceived as beyond the means of science and human competencies.

I know I am being cynical. But there is more than enough history and a number of indicators in the way this current tragedy is being handled that make it difficult for anyone to be optimistic.
Take for example the way the current investigations are being conducted.

To begin with, there are just too many bodies looking into the tragedy—all of them with questionable intents. Thankfully, the Senate has not yet jumped into the act—at least not yet.
Quite frankly, it looks like these bodies and everyone else involved in the tragedy are more interested in making sure that they don’t get blamed for what happened than in really finding out what happened and more importantly, how to make sure the tragedy is the last of its kind.

I know that investigating the factors that caused the sinking is important, but one wishes that energies are focused on more productive and urgent matters. For example, ensuring that whatever toxic cargo that ill-fated ship was carrying is retrieved before these seep into the waters off Masbate and cause irreparable harm to people and the environment. Shouldn’t these be the main priority now?

This has been said by many and repeating it seems futile since the Go family seems deaf to the criticism anyway, but what really aggravated the tragedy was the seemingly heartless and insensitive way the people behind Sulpicio Lines responded to the situation. They’re still not getting it now. They are still unable to project a more caring and humane way of dealing with the families of those who perished in the tragedy.

Of course people should be held accountable for the tragedy. But must we drag them across the coils in public, scream at them and call them names in the process? Is simply embarrassing them in public the kind of punishment that we want for these people? I ask these questions because the tenor of the ongoing investigations, particularly the initial inquiry conducted by Congress last Monday, seems to indicate that the whole idea is really more focused on scolding people and putting them to task for perceived misgivings than in objectively unraveling the events that led to the tragedy.

It’s really wasted energy because if the whole point is to find someone to blame then we’ll never hear the end of it. Obviously, there are all kinds of ruses, justifications, alibis, and legal gobbledygook that people can trump up to protect their asses. Besides, at the end of the day, it’s the courts that decide on guilt anyway, so the energy is better spent on more productive discussions such as what should we do to make sure the sinking of the Princess of the Stars is the last tragedy of its kind to happen in this country.

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