Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Unfinished business

This was my column on December 28, 2011. This post is antedated in the interest of keeping this blog better organized.

The interlude between Christmas and New Year is opportune time to look back on the year that was and to ponder what is in store for the coming year. Around this time every year I usually reflect on the great and the not-so-great things that happened during the year and try—the operative term is try—to come up with resolutions.

A number of great things did happen in 2011 despite the lackluster performance of the Aquino administration in the areas of pump-priming the economy, getting critical programs the necessary boost, and even in terms of getting important legislation passed.

A number of global experts has offered relatively grim prognosis for the Philippine economy in 2012 on account of a combination of global and domestic factors although the government has remained oblivious to the threat and to the projections. We are being told that the government will hit the ground running in 2012, finally making up for the slack in 2011. How exactly this is going to happen is a major mystery.

It can be argued of course that the government in 2011 succeeded in getting the former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos detained and having Chief Justice Renato Corona impeached by Congress. The sad thing is that these “successes” also raised a lot of questions and there are lingering doubts about the long-term consequences of the rather Machiavellian way the so-called “moral victory” was rammed through people’s throats.

So anyone looking for really bright spots in the year-that-was will have to look at the feats of individual Filipinos. But then again, even professional boxer Manny Pacquiao’s victory over Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez was subjected to a lot of catcalls and protests. But yes, we produced another CNN Hero in the person of Robin Lim, a Filipino-American midwife based in Indonesia. Philippine movies made a comeback in 2011 with a number of mainstream as well as indie films breaking records at the box office. We didn’t do so badly in international beauty contests. Shamcey Supsup placed fourth overall in the 2011 Miss Universe while Gwendoline Ruais placed second in the 2011 Miss World pageant. I know. These are important, but....

President Benigno S. Aquino III on Christmas Eve vowed to work for a “brighter, merrier, and more prosperous Christmas for Filipinos” in 2012 and beyond as he and his sisters spent the day spreading cheer to 150 less fortunate children at the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Makati City. We shall have to add this promise to the growing list of promises he has made since he campaigned and eventually assumed office.

The big stories in 2011 were, unfortunately, about tragedies. The number of casualties created by the flash flooding that happened in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and Dumaguete City in the runup to the Christmas season continued to rise even as disaster management officials have stopped the count allegedly due to a faulty reporting system. Barely two months ago, flooding also happened in Bulacan and Pampanga, leaving many towns submerged for weeks. The massacre of Filipino soldiers in Mindanao and the many road accidents that happened during the year likewise produced body count that caused many of us to hyperventilate.

As in the past, we continue to talk about the need to put in place programs that would ensure that the recurring tragedies would not happen again. But in this country talk is cheap, very cheap. Sadly, the political will to really pursue the programs remains wanting regardless of the much-vaunted commitment to serve the Filipino people and to trudge along the path of the righteous and the moral. In 2011, most of us were content to live in a yellow submarine.

The flooding in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan was already foreseen as early as two years ago, but nothing was done to avert the disaster. As I write, some quarters have raised the alarm regarding the possibility of similar flooding in Mindanao on account of another typhoon hovering in an island that is usually not along the path of typhoons. I am not sure what officials are currently doing to avert another major tragedy. It must be noted though that the problems require long-term and comprehensive solutions; it will take more than giving people warnings and evacuating people from disaster-prone areas.

And so we are starting another year with a heavy baggage of unfinished business that threatens to make 2012 a year of strife, or at least a year of further divisiveness although hopefully, less tragedies.

The first two—perhaps even three—months of the year will be spent on the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. We expect the trial to be explosive given our legislators’ penchant for grandstanding and theatrics. Since the trial will most likely be televised live, it will eclipse all other teleseryes in terms of entertainment value. Sadly, I think that most have already prejudged the case. Some people have made sure that the minds of ordinary people are conditioned to think that Corona is guilty and I don't think any evidence or logical acrobatics can convince them otherwise. We can all try to convince ourselves that the trial will be impartial and that everything will be judged based on evidence and logic but we all know the impeachment is what the President of this Republic wants—he has made this clear on many occasions. This is a President that is uncompromising on matters that he considers an affront to his legitimate and moral authority. And impeachment, regardless of what our senators want to project to the thinking class, is a political exercise.

Currently relegated to the back burner owing to the tragedy in Mindanao is the fate of former President and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She is currently on hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City, but we expect the legal fireworks around her case to explode soon. Similarly, there is the case involving former Commission on Elections chair Benjamin Abalos.

The list of unfinished business is long, long one. There’s the long-delayed passage of the reproductive health bill, the freedom of information bill, the fair competition or anti-trust law, the Whistleblowers Protective Act, the Data Privacy Act, etc. One wishes our legislators have been as swift to act on these critical measures as they were on the impeachment of Corona.

Also part of the unfinished business is the confirmation of Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman. People are second-guessing whether she would be re-appointed (a likely scenario) or replaced as a result of her non-confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. Although the conditional cash transfer program of the government is an institutional program of the department and will most likely continue even without Soliman at the helm of the agency, it must be noted that the program requires the stewardship of someone like Soliman who is immersed in development issues.

A two-year-old unfinished business is the Maguindanao massacre. Secretary Leila de Lima can huff and puff all she wants in an effort to get a slate in the Senate lineup of the administration in 2013—but the slow pace of the Maguindanao trial is reflection of the real state of justice in this country.

I will end this piece by reminding everyone of an unfinished business that is deeply personal to me—the murder of Renato Victor Ebarle Jr. two years ago. Although the suspect is behind bars, justice for the Ebarles remains elusive.

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