This was my column on the date indicated above.
As usual, parents and media commentators were all agog Monday evening trying to second-guess official announcement on whether or not there were going to be classes yesterday. Actually, I think media commentators were trying to apply pressure on government officials and the weather bureau people to make a definite announcement while their evening newscasts were ongoing so that they would have a scoop. It was very clear that they were trying to egg on parents and students to make an emotional reaction so that there was something “controversial” that could be discussed on air. As can be expected, officials and the weather bureau people were being very cautious. They’ve been burned before when they made premature or delayed announcements.
It has become really easy and convenient for everyone else to heap blame on our officials when they make premature or delayed decisions and announcements about suspension of classes. They are called inefficient or worse, inutile. People forget that despite advances in meteorology, predicting the weather is not yet an exact science. The reality is that the weather forecasts are really just predictions—they cannot be expected to be 100-percent accurate.
I do understand the consternation of parents who have to go out of their way to pick up their children barely minutes after they have brought them to school. It’s inconvenient and yes, it is infuriating to see schoolchildren being drenched in rain or having to wade through floodwaters when they could have been spared the difficulty with just a little more proactive thinking.
But then again, I don’t think parents are exactly blameless. Parents do have the authority not to send their children to school during days when there is inclement weather and if they think the health and safety of their children are at risk. It’s called parenting and it cannot be delegated to government, school officials, the weather bureau, or even media.
I don’t know what I will expect to see tonight when I go to Baclaran Church for my regular novena to the Perpetual Mother. It’s been pretty unpredictable in the last month or so. There were Wednesdays in the recent past when the streets around Baclaran were passable and one could actually walk to the National Shrine without having to go through a gauntlet as perilous as those set up during the medieval times. And then there were Wednesdays when everything was as it has always been—meaning, total and utter chaos and pandemonium.
I really don’t know why the Parañaque government cannot clean up the Baclaran area. If Mayor Lito Atienza of Manila could clean up Quiapo and Mayor Alfredo Lim could sustain the cleanliness and orderliness of the area, why cannot the local executives of Parañaque do it? Sure, Baclaran is not as chaotic as Divisoria. But Baclaran is host to a national religious shrine, for crying out loud. And as if to add insult to injury, the most chaotic area in the whole Baclaran district is right around the Baclaran church where every man and woman, every devotee, is left to fend for himself or herself against the elements.
The vendors around the church are so shameless they actually lay their wares right on the street and deliberately obstruct traffic so that pedestrians will have to go around the makeshift display stalls. It’s a disaster waiting to happen as people are forced to press themselves tightly against each other and maneuver to squeeze themselves in and out of whatever little space is opened up for pedestrians to pass through. I dread the thought of what could happen if a stampede were to occur. There would be lots of fatality as the exit points are quite narrow.
Devotees have had enough of the aggravation so a few months ago, a movement was launched to gather petitions aimed at pressuring the city government of Parañaque to finally do something about the chaos and the mess around the Baclaran church. I was told the organizers were able to gather hundreds of thousands of signatories.
Thereupon, the changes became evident. There were Wednesdays when the streets around Baclaran could actually be seen and people could walk through without having to bump into another person. These were the times when policemen and their mobile cars could actually be seen in the area to ensure that no vendor would dare set up their makeshift stalls and their mats along the streets. This went on for about… two Wednesdays.
But apparently the officials could not be bothered to make sure that the changes become permanent. The number of policemen and mobile cars started to become less and less each week and the vendors started to trickle back, emerging from the shadows with their pushcarts and movable clothes hangers. As of last week, the vendors were back in full force. And they were back with a vengeance. While in the past they would only occupy two-thirds of the streets and would allow at least space for one car to pass through, they occupied the whole street last Wednesday causing traffic to come to a complete halt as no vehicles could enter the side street leading to the church.
This is another reason why we cannot fix things in this country. We lack the political will to make changes sustainable and permanent. Of course we hear that the reason why the vendors in Baclaran cannot be eradicated is because most of them are squatters who produce the votes during elections. There are rumors that there is an untouchable syndicate that controls the operations in the area. And yes, a policeman has died while trying to get vendors out of the area so policemen are quite wary of being assertive and in doing their jobs.
Within every few meters, one could see signs along Macapagal Avenue reminding motorists that the speed limit in this particular strip of road is 60 kilometers per hour. Some of the signs are even festooned with twinkling lights—one can see the number 60 blinking up at you in red Christmas lights as you travel down the length of this expensive avenue. Are all these effort really necessary on an avenue that has very little traffic?
Of course, friends tell me Macapagal Avenue’s reputation as the most expensive avenue in the Philippines has come to acquire a newer dimension—it is the most expensive avenue because of the presence of too many cops out to mulct motorists for the simplest of all offenses—swerving, changing lanes, and yes, going above the speed limit.
The speed limit was prescribed allegedly because of the number of accidents in the area. But the presence of too many cops in the area belies the justification. And boy, oh boy, what a conscientious lot they are! There is hardly any traffic to manage except at the corner of Edsa so the cops are all eyes and ears at every vehicle that passes through this strip of road. Anyone who goes even just a tiny bit beyond the limit of 60kph is automatically flagged down and fined. And yes, most of them don’t issue tickets, they just mulct unsuspecting motorists.