Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Temporary relief

This is my column today.

At the height of the hidden video sex scandals that preoccupied many people in this country a few months ago, the main character in the scandal predicted that “all these will be forgotten in a few months.” It seems he was right. The hatred and repulsion that people felt toward him seem to have abated already. I caught a news bit lately about how he and his millionaire-doctor-entrepreneur paramour have since then reconciled and the treatment of the supposed newsworthy item was one of undisguised amusement rather than dread.

Actually I didn’t really want to write about the sex scandal per se. It just seemed like a good illustration of how even the most sordid and the most major of all controversies in this country automatically get swept away when a major disaster or catastrophe happens. Put another way, there’s nothing like a typhoon or a flood to cleanse us of our vexations and tribulations.

I don’t know if there are people in this country who think watching endless footages of homeless, hungry and angry people is preferable compared to watching Senators Ping Lacson and Jinggoy Estrada trying to slit each other’s throats. But I do know that Ondoy and Pepeng succeeded in shutting the two senators’ mouths off, something that many tried to do unsuccessfully.

I am also relieved—although I know this is temporary—that we have been given a respite from the empty posturing of our presidential wannabes. You bet I am enjoying two weeks of not having to read about Joseph Estrada’s latest swaggering or having to watch people in the throes of rapture over Noynoy Aquino. But like I said, we know this is temporary because the deadline for the filing of candidacies for the two highest posts in the land is fast approaching. It’s just a matter of time before we go back to election mode.

But in the meantime, all our other problems as a nation seem secondary and minor compared to the rebuilding that must be done in the wake of the two disasters.

We’re on a break from the Dacer and Corbito double murder trial, from the exchange of allegations on various nefarious corruption schemes, from other political vexations that seem perennially a part of our national life. It seems though that there is no such thing as a breather from the shenanigans of our celebrity folks but at least we know and they know that we know that it’s just entertainment.

But as the handsome doctor with the rather sordid fetish said, everything comes to pass. Calamities bring out the best in each of us and we’ve been witness to many incidences of heroism and citizenship in the last few days but alas, we know that even the spirit of bayanihan that we are seeing now has a time frame. Even good intentions have a shelf life.

Donor fatigue will eventually seep in or people will find something more interesting, something more urgent to attend to. Sources tell me that donations are now not only tapering off but actually on a downward trend already and what is propping up relief efforts are now the donations coming from abroad.

We can only hope that it takes some time before attention on the victims of the two disasters is completely diminished; hopefully when many or most of them are already on their way to recovery.

We know however that all this is wishful thinking. This early our attention is already being diverted toward the “static” rather than to the substantive issues. It’s just a matter of time before media trains its almighty cameras on something else.

This was painfully illustrated over the weekend when ABS-CBN had to spend considerable airtime defending itself from allegations that the network was using Sagip Kapamilya allegedly for purposes not entirely altruistic. There was this insinuation that ABS-CBN didn’t want to work with government or help Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro. The insinuation is unfair, of course, but is an expected consequence of charity efforts accompanied by lots of drumbeating and fanfare.

GMA-7, probably because it chooses to be less flamboyant in its relief efforts, has been spared the dirty insinuations so far. But then again as I said, all this is static. What is important is that the two networks are doing what they can to bring relief efforts to as many victims as possible.

It was slightly amusing to note that the President herself had to publicly admonish Environment Secretary Lito Atienza and Laguna Lake Development Authority general manager Edgardo Manda to set aside their enmity and instead focus on working together to solve the flooding around Laguna towns.

The ever-irrepressible Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has advocated the filing of charges against local executives—city and town mayors themselves—who have not implemented various laws such as that one on waste segregation. The non-implementation of laws was supposed to have been a major contributory factor to the flooding the other weekend. The immediate consequence of Santiago’s call was, as can be expected, more debate. In short, more pointless discussion that takes away focus from the more important tasks at hand.

If many of the powerful in this country even get away with wanton and flagrant violations of criminal or civil laws, what chance do we have of nailing them down for perceived incompetence in the performance of official duties?

Not that it is a bad idea; it actually makes sense. We must strengthen accountability among public officials. But it’s a task that calls to mind the parable of the group of mice who wanted to put a bell around a cat’s neck to serve as advance warning. No one wants to do it. So in the end, provocative statements like these make for good copy but are really just the political equivalent of self-gratification. They can’t be done. They don’t do anything to anyone else.

So as you can see, “normalcy” is slowly creeping in. It’s just a matter of time before things are back to where they were prior to Sept. 26. The temporary respite is going to be over soon.

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