Thursday, December 25, 2008

Because it's Christmas

This was my column yesterday. Merry Christmas!

Isang tulog na lang, pasko na.

It’s the season to be more giving and consequently, forgiving; it’s supposed to be the time to be kinder and to be more tolerant.

And it is in this context that we let pass the controversial statements made by former President Corazon Aquino last Monday at the launching of Jose de Venecia’s autobiography. Aquino’s statements, as expected, were splashed across the front pages of the major dailies yesterday. Ordinarily, people would find a lot of things to say about former President Aquino’s very public request for forgiveness from former President Joseph Estrada for having led Edsa Dos, which as we all know, caused Estrada’s disgraceful exit from Malacañang.

But since it is Christmas, I think we can all be allowed some latitude for statements done “in the spirit of the season.” Of course some people might want to factor into the equation the former president’s current medical condition but I don’t think it is something that she herself would like people to do. Definitely, there is nothing wrong with her mind or the strength of her moral convictions.

The statements were supposed to have been uttered in the same spirit as Estrada’s lighthearted attempts to “roast” Jose de Venecia Jr. Aquino has her reasons for saying what she said.

But I’ve said this before and I will say it again categorically and without any hesitation whatsoever: Joseph Estrada is not any better than Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Of course there is no way anyone can divine what would have happened if Estrada was allowed to continue as president in 2001 despite the profligacy and the mass-scale incompetence. But I am aghast that barely seven years after his fall from grace, Estrada is now being held up as an exemplary government official. I am tempted to make a litany of former President Estrada’s major transgressions, but then again… it’s Christmas. So I’m going to cut the man some slack and leave him and his delusions of having been a great president and being this country’s last remaining hope.

It is also in the same spirit that we turn a blind eye to the shameless campaigning being done by a number of politicians this early—all of which are done under the guise of public service.

Many of our streets are now plastered over with all kinds of Christmas greetings conveyed through tacky tarpaulin posters of our politicians strutting like peacock in their designer clothes and grinning and flashing their pearly whites like chimpanzees. We all know that the money used to pay for these posters came from public coffers so we wish that these posters have some aesthetic value at the very least. But there is truly no accounting for taste, so I guess we just have to grin and bear being assaulted with the hideous Photoshopped mugs of our politicians at every lamppost.

We’ve also started receiving calendars from various politicians—all of them illustrative of the absurd level of conceitedness of the very people who profess that they have our best interest at heart. It does seem as if our politicians harbor some fantasies of being royalty because their calendars almost always feature them or their official families posing like monarchs.

I’m howling for the moon here, but for once, I would really like to receive a calendar from a politician which features the picture of something else—perhaps a religious image, or even a national landmark. When that happens, I’ll probably display the calendar at home rather than recycle them as gifts for relatives in our farm in Leyte.

Some politicians have also started distributing goods to their constituencies as Christmas gifts. Using money to buy food for constituents is way much better than wasting money on tarpaulin posters and calendars. It’s a good gesture if only our politicians were honest and sincere enough to acknowledge that the money used to purchase the ingredients for spaghetti, a few tins of milk and sardines, and a small bag of rice that they are distributing to their constituents came from government funds and not from their own personal pockets. Unfortunately, our politicians are so shameless in this area. They take all the credit and bask in the glow of misdirected adulation.

But again, it is Christmas. And at least some people are going to get fed, so I think we can let these things pass as well.

There is something, however, that I will not let pass even if it is Christmas.

I had to be in Trinoma at Quezon City for lunch yesterday. Since I work in Pasay City, I figured it was more practical to take the MRT rather than brave the Edsa lunchtime traffic. I’ve already written about this in the past, but my previous column was based on the experience of other people. I finally saw, smelled, tasted, and felt the really horrible, awful, horrendous things that commuters of the MRT have to put up with every single time they take the MRT trains.

I went up Taft Avenue Station where the lines leading to the windows where they sell tickets were hideously long. And because the stations were not built to accommodate long queues, people end up being crammed tight. It took me 30 minutes to buy a ticket—and the waiting time was the least aggravating factor.

I went through a more excruciating hell going back. The lines at the North Station extended from the third floor down to the ground floor at Edsa. The mass of sweaty, impatient, smelly, angry people was writhing in agony. The commuters were like animals trapped in a place with only one exit.

The problem is really simple—one which requires only the most basic strategic thinking skill and some bold leadership—obviously, skills which the people who run the MRT system don’t have. The lines are caused by inadequate space leading to the windows that sell tickets. Therefore, the solution is simple —sell tickets somewhere else or put in place an alternative system for purchasing tickets. It’s really that simple!

For example, there were at least a thousand people queuing up at the North Station at the same time that I was there yesterday. It would have been simpler if they had ready tickets that they could have sold to people waiting in line—this system is done regularly at the exit points at both the South and North Luzon expressways. But no, they insisted on having tickets sold only at the designated windows. They simply watched people queue up and wait for their turn at the windows. And there were only five windows, for crying out loud.

The mayhem created by the poor management systems at the MRT resulted in one very glaring fact: Security checks could not be done at all. So riding the MRT is not just inconvenient, it is probably unsafe as well.

At the root of the problem is utter lack of concern for commuters. And that negates the spirit of the season.

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