8/20/2014
It gets to their heads

It does get depressing every morning, turning on the TV and seeing a reporter stationed in one of thirteen MRT stations along EDSA, saying the same thing that we've been told before: it's not yet six in the morning, and the lines are getting long.

Two hours later, I'm already settled into work - I do not have to take the MRT, mostly because it's not where I live anyway - and I see the same lines I saw earlier, only longer. And it goes on and on, for the next two hours, and even if you don't use those trains you feel a bit hopeless anyway. I don't know if it's just me and my infrastructure-centered mindset of late, though. But you do feel a bit hopeless. Are things just this screwed up here?

A few more hours later, you see reactions from exasperated commuters, partly, but mostly from advocacy groups (however you define it) calling for an immediate government response. But they all acknowledge that nothing will be solved if those in power do not experience what us mere paupers experience, so, inevitably, they call on concerned government officials to take the MRT during rush hour. In one case, I saw them call on Noynoy Aquino to take the MRT during rush hour. "Just so he knows what we feel," they argue.

Well, okay, that could work. But it wouldn't. It wouldn't at all. I mean, Noynoy is the president of the Philippines, and that means advance parties and security details and endless debriefings. Say, he'll start his journey at the Quezon Avenue station - conveniently near the television networks covering the blocks-long queues - and end it at Magallanes station. Weeks before, his staff will meet with the MRT's folks, arranging where he walks and where he waits and whether he gets to ride the women-only wagon or not. The morning of his trip, his security will start cordoning places off so no frustrated commuter could attempt to stab the president; there will be more checkpoints and stricter frisking. (Or, let's be honest, they will actually start frisking.)

And then the president arrived, driven to the MRT station via his usual convoy, with his staff and his security folk and whoever else feels the need to be there in tow. He will walk up the stairs, get frisked, buy a ticket, wait for the train to arrive - maybe it will be new and sparkly, with flowers in front, a la grand opening? - and when it does, he will board it, everybody else in tow. He will sit down, as the hoards of media folk take photos and video. He will wait until he reaches Magallanes. No stops will be made.

Outside, the lines will grow longer, and the passengers will grow more exasperated.

Let me go all idealistic political science-y for a bit here. The Philippines is a democracy. "A government of the people, by the people and for the people," to probably mangle Abraham Lincoln. That means the power ultimately rests with us, the people who live here; the government serves at our pleasure - with limits, of course; we can't always have revolutions - and they ought to do what is in our interests. In our case, well, we haven't gotten past the intermediary stage. Our problems are still irritatingly basic: we need more hospitals, we need more schools, we need better airports, we need smoother traffic, we need to know where our money goes, that sort of thing.

But then we have a government, or at least we have government officials, who demand respect, if not benevolence. They get to power because they're popular (or they're that intimidating, and rich) and thus start acting like they deserve to be served at their every whim, to be bowed down to whenever they walk by, to be praised at every turn. They talk of being one with the people, of serving the people, but then they're in a different place than the people who supposedly hold power. They're standing on a pedestal - and we put them there.

How exactly do you expect our government to serve the people properly if they don't even class themselves as one with the people? They don't even lie that well.

It's been eight years since I made that observation about how a BBC interview with then senator Dick Gordon was conducted - about how he was referred to as "Richard" and not "mister Senator" or some other honorific. Sure, this is a journalist from London on one end, and a senator from a disaster-struck counter in another. The rules are a little bit different when it's the prime minister who's on the other end. But the whole "Richard" thing suggests a leveling of the playing field. If I call him "sir", it's me yielding the power I actually have over him, and it's him grabbing that power, and heavens knows what happens next. If I call him "Richard", then we're equals, and we can actually work together.

So how about we do the same for our government officials? Sure, include honorifics when needed - we don't want to sound rude - but we don't want the people who we picked to make sure the country is working feeling like they are king of the world. That's the idea. We picked those people. We picked those people from our ranks. Well, not exactly our ranks, unfortunately, but you get the idea.

So, Mar Roxas, for example. "Secretary Mar" is fine in the beginning, but why not just "Mr. Mar", or just "Mar"? You might say that it feels like we're being too cuddly with him, but then again, we put him in a popular enough position to be chosen as DILG secretary. And he, supposedly, is working to make our lives better. But our insistence on putting him in a pedestal - again, out of respect, or maybe out of intimidation - is making him drunk with power, whether he already has it or he still wants to have it. All that deference gets to his head. All that deference gets to their heads, and they end up being all aloof and special and stuff.

The moment we treat our government officials as one with us, and not some higher power sent to make our lives better, is the moment they will finally feel that they have a job to do. You know, a single word makes a huge difference, the way "PNoy" sounds supreme and "Noynoy" sounds like anybody else you know. Well, you can hope it actually works...

And your responses...

I think we have the same observations as the ones you've pointed out in your post; and this is why I call officials either as "Mr." or "Miss" or even just their first names.By the way, I already updated my long-dormant Affliates page and added your blog there! Thank you once again for the link-up. Just one more term (hopefully) starting September 8! :)

Anonymous Candice8/25/2014     

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