Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bar ops and street floods

This is my column today.

The bar examinations are ongoing every Sunday at the De La Salle University along Taft Avenue, Manila. I live near the area and the annual hoopla associated with the exams is one of those things that just do not make sense to me. During the four Sundays when the bar examinations are conducted, traffic in the area becomes hopelessly tangled as various universities and colleges, fraternities, student organizations, and, as can be expected, business enterprises, set up tents, stalls, or rent the garage areas of neighboring houses. Together, they transform the whole place into a giant festival. The whole atmosphere becomes that of a school fair, except that there’s unlimited alcohol available.

It’s called bar ops. The whole point of the exercise is supposedly to provide moral support and inspiration to the examinees. Law schools and student organizations put up tents along Taft Avenue and some even rent out business establishments in the area to serve as some kind of temporary “headquarters” for their group. This is where examinees are supposed to be pampered by their supporters, mostly law students who expect to be given the same royal treatment in a few year’s time when it’s their turn to take the bar exams. While the examinees are taking the bar, their supporters start the vigil of a different kind—not involving prayers and meditation but merrymaking, strange rituals, and large-scale consumption of food and alcohol.

How the bar ops is related to passing the bar examinations is something that is incomprehensible to me. I’ve always been under the impression that passing the bar examinations—or any other professional examinations, for that matter—is the product of long years of training and months of preparation and not dependent on strange rituals conducted on the days of the examinations.

At the end of each Sunday, as the bar examinees begin trooping out from the gates of DLSU, their supporters stage various kinds of rituals that include singing, chanting, cheering, etc. In fact, things even get out of hand on the last Sunday of the exams when ati atihan dancers, drum and bugle bands, and stark-naked men greet the examinees, who are often drenched in a shower of beer and wine. The whole point of the hoopla has remained unclear to me. It’s obviously too early for a celebration considering that the bar exams are still checked individually and by hand by the examiners and therefore takes a good six months before the results are made known. So perhaps the rituals are meant as exorcism, which, if we come to think about it, does not speak well of the law profession.

Fortunately, the City Government of Manila has disallowed the conduct of bar ops this year. It was reported that the setting up of tents along Taft Avenue and surrounding streets would not be allowed and that the usual festivities and rituals will be banned. I don’t know if the city government would be successful in implementing the ban. When I checked the area last Sunday evening, people were still dismantling tents along Estrada Street and the whole area was littered with the remains of celebration.

I think that the whole bar ops thing is reflective of the kind of norms that operate within the groups that are supposed to prop up the justice system in our country. There’s this whole focus on academic identification. Thus, even universities and colleges from Mindanao and other far-flung areas send delegations to the bar ops and try to assert their own places along Taft Avenue. Sometimes, this whole business of academic identification reaches bizarre levels such as in a recent case when a judge scolded a lawyer in court and declared him incompetent simply because the lawyer did not come from the same school where the judge finished law studies.

There’s also this whole emphasis on ego and pride. I know that the bar exams is one of the most difficult examinations there is, but I doubt if they can claim to be any more difficult than the other board examinations. But going by the kind of ego boosting that happens during the bar exams, and the kind of attention that is given to it by media and everyone else, it would appear as if the future of this country hinged solely on the law profession.

***

The rains lasted only for an hour or so last Monday night but that was all it took for the streets of Metro Manila to become flooded. I knew the rains didn’t last that long because I was out with my kids having dinner and the downpour started just as we were sitting down to eat. By the time we were done, the rains have stopped. Traffic along major routes, however, was already hopelessly gridlocked and total anarchy and chaos reigned. We got stuck on the road for three hours. We were luckier, I was told. A friend didn’t get home until almost 4:00 a.m. yesterday.

The first question that begs an answer is: Why is it that our streets get flooded immediately these days? In the past, it would take a whole day’s worth of heavy rains before streets became impassable. And even during a heavy deluge, some streets would still remain passable. Not anymore today. Like I said, the rains last Monday night lasted only for an hour or so but the flood in some areas reached more than two feet high.

Some people have been quick to blame Mother Nature. There’s this general belief that typhoons today have become stronger and more destructive on account of global warming and that this applies to other forces of nature, including heavy downpour. I am willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and concede that the amount of rain that’s been falling from the heavens have increased tremendously over the last few months. Okay.

There’s not much we can do about forces of nature. But I refuse to fall into this victim trap. I refuse to subscribe to what our leaders seem to want us to believe in, which is that we should simply accept the flooding, the traffic, and the bedlam that inevitably happens in our streets during these times as givens that we can’t do anything about.

Oh please. The reason why our streets get flooded easily is because flood control projects have not been pursued more aggressively, our drainage systems are hopelessly inadequate, canals are heavily clogged with garbage that are not efficiently collected, etc, etc. In general, it is really because our leaders lack the foresight and the political will necessary to solve the problem.

The traffic gridlock that invariably follows a heavy downpour is caused mainly by two things: Lack of discipline on the road and inefficient traffic management systems. I will not anymore go into the embarrassing details. We are all familiar with how we Filipinos seem to forget basic courtesies—even basic manners—when in tight situations such as when stuck in the middle of horrendous traffic. These are exactly the times when traffic enforcers should be visible.

Unfortunately, Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando cannot seem to be bothered by these things today. It seems his mind is too preoccupied with his premature campaign for the presidency. Instead of addressing the problems of Metro Manila residents, Fernando has been very busy posting campaign stickers on buses and jeepneys and fending off criticism. If the scuttlebutt is to be believed, most of the resources of the MMDA, including equipment and personnel, are now fanned across the country to campaign for Fernando.

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