Monday, December 27, 2010

Hope for 2011

This was my column on the date indicated above.

The results of a recent Pulse Asia survey said that roughly nine out of ten Filipinos are hopeful that the coming new year will bring better opportunities for them and their families.

Actually, the results of this year’s survey mirrored the results of similar surveys conducted in previous years, which seem to indicate that the holiday cheer may have a dramatic effect on people’s perceptions about their lives and their future. But that, really, is another story. For now, the story is that media actually picked up the results of the survey! And even more surprisingly, media organizations and individuals renowned for being allergic to good news actually went to town with that particular story.

I couldn’t help but notice this trend. The Philippine Daily Inquirer, supposedly the daily with the largest circulation in the country, still resembles a huge tabloid on most days but at least it has toned down the negative reporting since their candidate won as President. We know too that ABS-CBN is in the good graces of MalacaƱang so it has also been doing a good job of cheerleading since June 2010.

For once, I actually enjoyed the newscast on Christmas Eve this year. This was because, for once, the newscasts didn’t feature what used to be staple fare in previous years—a depressing story about the ocean of difference between what was on the noche buena table of the rich and the very poor. I remember one particular Christmas Eve newscast when one reporter even delivered her story from the makeshift kitchen of a family of squatters living under a bridge. The family of six was partaking of a simple fare of instant pancit canton and bread. To make matters worse, the reporter even partook of the food, obviously taking away previous morsels from the hungry little kids.

Oh I know that there really are people who are so poor that they don’t have even a slice of cheese on Christmas or New Year’s Eve. I also think we should not forget about them and that everyone should do something for them. But putting their suffering faces in front of television cameras, trailing them around while they try to salvage whatever little pride they have left, and making them feel miserable about their conditions without doing anything else about it just makes my blood boil. It smacks of exploitation. I just don’t buy that BS about how media’s role is to simply document events. It’s like saying the job of a cameraman is to simply point the camera at a person who is dying and not to help save that person.

Which is why despite the fact that I smell politics in the whole thing, I can’ help but feel heartened when I see the likes of Korina Sanchez distributing hundreds of slippers every week to schoolchildren in far-flung areas or when Ted Failon visits a school submerged in floodwaters to distribute plastic boots to the schoolchildren. This year, ABS-CBN had reporters stationed at La Loma—lechon capital of the Philippines - and from various sites that had some festivities happening. The banner story on Christmas Eve was about how Filipinos were scrambling all over to complete their Christmas shopping and to put a hearty meal on the table for noche buena; quite a far cry from previous years, indeed, when the predominant story was about gloom and doom.

But I do agree that to a certain extent media was also simply riding on the general crest of hope that the country seems to be experiencing. Things are not as bad as they were in the past—or at least they don’t seem so. And there really is a general sense of optimism for 2011.

Like many others, there were many times in the last few months when I groaned inwardly and shook my head in exasperation at the succession of blunders committed by the Aquino administration. There were times when I also felt that the whole Aquino cabinet resembled a student council floundering on their first few months in office, operating from intuition and gut feel and doing things in a trial-and-error way, seemingly armed with nothing else but a surfeit of noble intentions. In fact, there were many times when I felt the moral righteousness was their main problem.

Mercifully, Aquino’s Cabinet did eventually seem to find solid footing and learned to work as a team although hints of the turf war between the Samar and Balay factions continued to find their way to the media.

But the government needs all the cooperation it can get from people. I initially intended to write a column on the major blunders that characterized the first six months of the Aquino administration —from the infamous Executive Order No. 1, to the bungled hostage-taking incident at the Quirino Grandstand, to those indelicate tweets about the wine served at the Vietnam banquet, to the Pilipinas Kay Ganda brouhaha, to the Nobel Prize ceremonies snub. But after some reflection, I realized that dragging people through the coils once again would not really do anyone any good particularly since if we really come down to it—if we really examine the events —we would come to the conclusion that the Aquino administration did try to rectify the errors afterwards. In short, this has been an administration and a cabinet that recognized mistakes and tried to do something to correct them.

Besides, there were quite a number of Cabinet members who produced good work in the last six months and did so silently and seemingly unobtrusively outside of the glare of the television cameras. Of course everyone is aware of the achievements of the gutsy Leila de Lima of the Department of Justice. De Lima’s case is unique because not only is the lady competent and articulate, she also happens to have had the advantage of having been at the helm of the Human Rights Commission which has given her an aura of invincibility.

But many other cabinet members did perform well in the last six months. Rosalinda Baldoz of the Department of Labor, Enrique Ona of the Department of Health, and Sonny Coloma of the Communications Group. Baldoz, in particular, has shown steely determination never seen at the Department of Labor in recent years. The DOLE rulings on the PAL cases reflect not only reflect strong political will, but commitment to fairness and to effective balance between strategic and short-term issues. It would have been convenient for the labor secretary to be populist on the PAL outsourcing issue, but Baldoz showed the kind of resolve leaders must have to become effective.

Is it reasonable to expect better days ahead then? I join many others in praying that the Aquino administration is able to finally harness the goodwill that majority of the Filipino people have bestowed on it.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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