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article imageOp-Ed: All the Philippine government needs is a lesson in gardening

By Ron de Vera     Aug 27, 2010 in World
Manila - "...use a weed knife. Slip...blade under the roots of the crabgrass. Lift with the knife as you pull on the foliage of the crabgrass. The crabgrass should slip easily from the soil - roots and all. For large clumps, use a shovel..."
- eHow: How to Remove Crabgrass From Gardens
Any gardener will tell you that when solving a backyard problem, you don’t hack away at the leaves. You get to the root and destroy the source. In other words, use the shovel and not the shears. But Monday’s hostage-taking incident magnified the Philippine government’s fondness of the scissors. I used the word “magnified” and not “revealed” as this has been an ongoing public love affair.
This week’s blame game saw several players in the hot seat. “The media should not have done a live coverage.” “Aquino should have been in the scene of the crime.” “The police should have been better-trained and better-equipped.” “The brother should not have been arrested.” “The bystanders should not have been that close to the crime scene.” This rally of who-did-what’s was utterly disappointing and entertaining at best.
True to fashion, the government has again responded the only way it knows how, the knee-jerk way. Aquino immediately declared that a protocol with the media be established and that media black outs be considered during crisis situations. This was promptly thrashed by no less than the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA). In a letter to Aquino, the HKJA stated that “President Benigno Aquino’s words were uttered hastily and without careful consideration” and that “Without a thorough investigation such conclusions cannot be taken seriously and the HKJA views the president’s hasty conclusions with grave misgivings.” The HKJA concluded the letter with “We will closely monitor the incident and any further deterioration of press freedom in the Philippines arising from this tragedy."
Aside from Aquino's "hasty words," Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay voluntarily stepped down and was replaced by OIC, Senior Superintendent Francisco Villaroman. However, according to Inquirer, acting chief Villaroman “is facing charges of abducting, ironically, two Hong Kong residents in the Philippines in 1998 and 1999.” Villaroman was replaced the very next day. What happened to him? ABSCBN reported that “Villaroman has been designated back to his old post as Directorate of Integrated Police Operations for Eastern Mindanao.” Yes, Mindanao, again. (read my previous article “The dirty trail leading to the death of Rolando Mendoza”)
Of course, there was Revilla’s “Anti-Usisero(Anti-Bystander) Bill that did not see the light of day but felt the hit of tomatoes from the audience.
Other reactions were not as impulsive. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago proposed a reorganization and suggested that the police should be under the direct control of the president. And four SWAT Team leaders were relieved of their posts. Another one was fired a few days after.
But the problem with these answers is that they are in response to the wrong questions. Faced with this situation, we don’t immediately ask who is to blame. That comes later. We ask why the situation happened in the first place. The first question that has not been answered completely is “Why did Mendoza do this?” We did find out that he wanted the Ombudsman to review his appeal. But why did he make an appeal? This is because he was fired even though charges were already dropped. This raises two questions. But before I even get to those questions, this is already a clear indication that there needs to be a review of how the Ombudsman decides on its cases. The two questions raised would then be “Why was he fired even though the charges were dropped?” and “Why were the charges dropped?” The former is not something I can answer as it requires deeper investigation. The latter would lead us to the fact that the complainant, Christopher Kalaw, did not attend any of the proceedings. Why not? Why is there no full-blown inquiry to pursue his case when this will clearly lead us to the root? Why is there nobody investigating the Ombudsman’s decision?
And by the way, Villaroman’s case has been with the Ombudsman for eight years. The Philippine Star reported that two Hong Kong families filed charges against Villaroman and two other officers. This is in addition to the testimonies of witness Mary Ong (alias Rosebud) yet to this date, Villaroman is still with the PNP. Now compare that to Mendoza’s case of extortion, (a far cry from allegations of kidnapping and torture). The charges were based on viral email, the complainant never attended the hearings, and the charges were eventually dropped. But within one year, Mendoza was still fired and stripped of retirement benefits. So today, Mendoza is in his coffin and Villaroman is somewhere in Mindanao. Why?
Another question that needs to be answered satisfactorily is “Why were the police unable to handle the situation properly?” The popular answer is they don’t have training and they don’t have the proper equipment. But why not? They don’t have the budget. So what happened to the PhP 1B that Arroyo earmarked in 2001 for her PNP Modernization project? And what happened to the additional PhP 10B for the same project in 2008? Perhaps we should be demanding a breakdown of this allocation instead of changing their structure. You can have the most efficient structure possible but if you have the same people who have the same training and equipment (or lack thereof), you’re not solving anything. Firing their leaders does not solve anything either. These SWAT Team Leaders were set up for failure. If the problem is lack of training, then the solution should be, surprise, surprise, re-training.
Of course, in Aquino’s first two months, this is not the first time that we’ve seen this happen. Recall from an ABSCBN report that weatherman Prisco Nilo was fired because “he lacked 16 hours of training for Career Executive Service Officer (CESO) eligibility.” So why not have him go through those 16 hours of training? More importantly, how did he get through the selection process? If he lacked training, then he should not have been chief of the weather bureau to begin with.
And speaking of weather, the response of Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to prevent floods similar to the Ondoy tragedy is its anti-littering law, according to Inquirer. The same report states that “(MMDA) is eyeing the reimplementation of its drive against litterbugs who indiscriminately dump their trash that eventually clog the waterways and result in massive floods during the rainy season.” I am not suggesting that this will not help. But my gardener will tell you that this is not the root. In a GMA report one year ago, Professor Meliton Juanico of the Department of Geography of the University of the Philippines said that “in urban areas, the required easement under the Water Code is three meters on either side of the river bank, where there should be no building or establishment.” Juanico further states “Pero hindi naman na-iimplement yan - ang mga law sa atin, very lax. Magaganda ang batas pero hindi na-iimplement, hindi rin nai-evaluate (But these are not implemented; the laws that we have are very lax. These laws are good but they are not being implemented, and also not being evaluated)." There’s your root cause, right there. But this would involve a bigger issue, that of the urban poor. In the same report, Jon Vincent Marin, spokesman of the urban-poor group Kadamay, said “We should all remember that the poor communities living along the riverbanks and waterways are only there because of poverty, lack of job opportunities, livelihoods, and social services." Marin further added “They are not dust that the government can sweep under the rug."
Clearly, we have not been digging enough to get to the roots. And in the rare instances that the roots are exposed, we don’t use the shovel. So why hasn’t anyone made their way to the closet to reach for that shovel? Too many skeletons there, I’m afraid.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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