Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back to work

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Yet one more proof of how globalized we’ve all become was the upsurge of attention given to the recently concluded World Cup held at Johannesburg, South Africa. It is easy to understand how Filipinos went bonkers over the championship matches between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. We’ve always been inexplicably crazy over basketball. And we’ve always been enamored with anything American. But soccer? The World Cup?

I know that there are people in this country who have been advocating the shift in national sport from basketball or boxing to soccer—I know neither basketball nor boxing is officially our national sport, which just goes to prove the wide disconnect between policy and practice in this country—but I guess nobody was listening. Hopefully soccer has finally caught our collective fancy this time around. We’re supposed to be more ideally suited for soccer than basketball because of our physical, uhm, peculiarities.

I’ve always found soccer a fascinating sport because of the extreme levels of psychological and mental torture it subjects its players to. Sure, all sports puts some demands on players, but how many other sports require its players to run around a humongous playing field to kick a ball for hours while being thwarted every step of the way by opponents? Even probably more frustrating is the fact that all that Herculean effort would often result in nothing—nada, zilch. The final game between Spain and the Netherlands last Monday morning ended up with a score of 1-0. In fact, soccer games are often decided by penalty shootouts at the end because teams fail to make a score. The point of playing most sports is to score and I would suppose the satisfaction derived by players would precisely come from being able to generate as many points as possible for one’s team, something which is almost impossible to achieve in soccer.

I think easier access to the Internet and cable television, even the fact that many business establishments cashed in on the World Cup phenomenon by holding special viewings of certain matches, all contributed to the sudden popularity of the World Cup in this part of the world. But we shouldn’t discount other factors such as the pop culture accoutrements that were present. For example, people might have expressed exasperation and annoyance over the vuvuzela but those ubiquitous horns became the de facto symbol of the South Africa staging of the World Cup. Future stagings of global events would have to find something similar to showcase, hopefully not as distracting as the vuvuzela.

But what will probably stick in people’s memories about the 2010 World Cup would be something not even directly related to soccer or South Africa. It would be Paul, the octopus that shot to global prominence as the present time’s reincarnation of Nostradamus. The octopus correctly predicted the victory of Spain over Germany and eventually, Spain’s victory over the Netherlands. This must be a good time to be an octopus although it can be argued that the octopus probably never gave his “predictions” the same level of importance that we humans did.

I suppose there must have been a marked spike in the consumption of fried octopus in Netherlands. I rooted for Netherlands, of course although I started to have misgivings when it looked like the team members intended to play the game with armalites, chainsaws and hammers. They were brutal.

***

Now that the euphoria over P-Noy’s victory and inauguration has started to die down, Cabinet members have been appointed, and things are slowly winding down to normalcy, perhaps it is time for government departments to get back to work and ensure that the delivery of basic services are resumed. People in government can argue that their operations have always been “business as usual” in the last couple of months, but we all know that the change in national leadership has resulted in a wait-and-see situation. Clearly the delivery of some services has been put in abeyance pending the assumption into power of newly minted appointees.

For example, many of our roads desperately need maintenance works. I am aware that there is an ongoing power struggle at the Metro Manila Development Authority, but perhaps people should be reminded that politics should not get in the way of governance. Center islands of major thoroughfares are overgrown with grasses. The ones at Macapagal Avenue, for example, have grasses that are almost half as tall as the lampposts. Many of our canals and esteros are hopelessly blocked with garbage and should have been dredged during the summer months. The rains have started to come and it’s now too late to do anything about the silted waterways where floodwaters are supposed to pass through. We will have to brace ourselves for worse flooding this time around.

There’s a dengue and a malaria outbreak in certain parts of this country and there’s an urgent and obvious need to scale up services particularly in certain areas where cases have breached previous records. A cousin who works with a non-government organization doing outreach work in these areas tearfully recalls the abject conditions in these areas. For example, as many as three patients share one bed in some hospitals and many don’t have money to even buy food or medicines.

And perhaps our leaders should also mind the many ways in which we squander precious resources. We were passing through Quirino Avenue in Manila last Sunday at around 5:00 in the afternoon and were stupefied to see all those red and white street lamps erected by the re-elected mayor fully lighted up when it still wasn’t dusk. Kilometers of street lamps wasting thousands of kilowatts of precious electricity! We’re being told that one of the simplest things we can do to help stave off global warming is to turn off lights.

I’ve written in the past about this really annoying predilection of every elected mayor in Metro Manila to add more street lamps in their respective localities. This has resulted in an absurd situation where some roads have three of four different types of street lamps crowding each other out on precious sidewalk space. Someone told me those street lamps are moneymaking schemes although I have it on good sources that in the City of Manila many of those lamps were actually donated by private companies. My problem, aside from aesthetics, is that the main functions of these street lamps seem to be decorative rather than practical. If we are truly serious about lighting up our cities to reduce criminality, then we should erect those lamps where they truly are needed —such as those narrow alleys and dark corners of the Metro rather than on the major thoroughfares where there are functioning street lamps to begin with.

I’ve always been of the opinion that all it will take to get things to work in this country is sheer political will. I am happy to report that, finally, authorities have been able to clean up the sidewalks around Baclaran church. This time around, it looks like those in charge are serious about ensuring that those illegally built shopping stalls will not be able to make a comeback because they have erected steel barricades that serve as passageways for pedestrians on the sidewalks. This does not mean devotees of the Mother of Perpetual Help now have an easier time getting to the church, though. The stalls around the church may be gone now but the ambulant vendors with pushcarts, racks with rollers, and various other creative contraptions such as long poles with clothes hangers and even vehicles with fabricated display shelves inside, still proliferate and play hide and seek with policemen.

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