POSTSCRIPT / October 30, 2001 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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'Huwag pong gumitna at nang di masagasaan'

MAKING HAY IN GLORIOUS SUN: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is out delivering speeches somewhere. Some of her boys, meanwhile, are busy making hay while the glorious sun shines on them.

We’re counting somber days leading to All Souls Day, although it feels like Lent is upon us already. Harassed workers are scraping whatever cash they can lay their hands on and packing off for the provinces for the long weekend. Many businessmen are whining about dropping sales, some of them making the hard decision to stop the bleeding by closing shop.

If it’s any indication, my mailbox is clogged with email from readers here and abroad with depressing thoughts that the country appears to be falling apart. It’s amazing how far and wide bad news travels.

Having seen it all, we think we’ve grown tough and impervious to such depressing talk. But we have to confess that the depression (a psychological, not an economic, term) is beginning to affect us.

What’s happening to our country, Mrs. President? Can we still hack it till 2004?

* * *

HIGH-LEVEL HIJINKS: To us, an informal indicator that we might be headed for the cliff is the widespread talk (some of it credible) of high officials who came in with the supposedly reformist team of President Arroyo making big bucks like time is running out on them.

We don’t know if the reported fund-raising is for personal profit or for the party’s campaign chest for the 2004 presidential elections, or both.

Whether the reports are true or not, somebody should tell President Arroyo that most people are disposed to believing them. There lies the danger of letting the nation drift. When people are left to their own devices, they usually improvise and allow their imagination to run wild.

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MISLEADING HEADLINE: We agree with presidential spokesman Bobi Tiglao that a newspaper headline the other day saying “GMA told to ditch Mike” was grossly misleading. To most casual readers, Gloria appeared being urged to drop her husband. It conjures up images of her driving him out of the conjugal home, a highly improbable scenario.

What’s worse is that, as pointed out by Tiglao, the body of the story under the blaring headline does not support the head.

All the nine paragraphs of the story on Page One did not say a word about GMA being told to ditch, junk, discard, drop, send away, give up, or divorce the husband. It was only when the reader reaches the continuation on an inside page — assuming he gets that far — that the First Gentleman is mentioned and the story’s body begins to connect to the head.

But a misleading headline is not the key point in a serious discussion of the issues raised in the story about how the government is being run. The offending news head is just a case of bad editing — which is nothing compared to really bad governance.

* * *

SYMPTOM OF SOME CANCER: If there is any indication that the Arroyo administration may just fall apart before the 2004 elections, it is the blatant attempts of some of ranking officials to use their power and discretion to raise megabucks from parties dealing with their offices.

The same symptom presaged the eventual fall of the Estrada administration. When relatives, cronies, mistresses and the rest of the cast threw caution to the wind and began in earnest the plunder of the nation, that was the beginning of the end for Asiong Salonga.

With people close to the Arroyo administration perceived as amassing millions with brazen confidence, the only conclusion we can draw is that they have sensed the tremors leading a major eruption that could blow them out of power — and are now hurrying things up.

* * *

‘HUWAG PONG GUMITNA’: It is in this political context that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo must appreciate suggestions that he better lie low, or even fade away from the scene while his wife attends to the difficult business of being a good president.

As early as last Sept. 11, we said in the opening paragraph of Postscript that day: “Someone has to say this sooner or later, and it now happens to be our unpleasant task to volunteer the observation that the Achilles heel of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is beginning to look like her husband Mike Arroyo.”

In the vernacular, so we would be better understood, we advise Mr. Arroyo: Huwag po kayong gumitna kung ayaw ninyong masagasaan. (Roughly, for foreign readers: Don’t stand in the middle of the road if you don’t want to get run over.)

And GMA should not get mad when she hears such a statement. It is unpresidential and counter-productive to flare up in front of media, especially the TV cameras, when asked about her husband’s drawing fire like a red-hot lightning rod.

Temper is no substitute for truth. All the President has to do is answer questions as truthfully as possible, preferably in good humor, instead of brushing them aside with angry, sometimes curt, retorts.

* * *

WEEDING OUT DRUG ADDICTS: A current hot topic is the decision of the Land Transportation Office to finally carry out the law requiring all applicants for driver’s licenses — first-time or renewals — to first pass a drugs test.

With three millions holders of licenses and the motoring public caught unprepared for the sudden implementation of the rule, there is widespread confusion, gnashing of teeth and a variety of vitriol thrown at the LTO.

The protests range from the supposed stupidity of the law, the impossibility of its proper implementation, the monopoly by favored testing clinics, and charges that some officials are just out to make indecent haste, if not money.

* * *

TEST DRIVERS IN STAGES: Retired Gen. Edgardo Abenina, LTO chief, hardly gets any sleep answering the complaints and media questions that are being repeated and recast in media forums and beyond.

In summary, Abenina’s responses are that the testing procedure is required by law, that there has been an information campaign on it, that it is needed to weed out drug-dependent drivers who pose a risk to themselves and others, that there is no monopoly since all clinics with drug-testing capabilities and licenses from the Dangerous Drugs Board may apply for accreditation and help carry out the law.

Since the LTO itself is apparently not ready for the deluge of applicants for testing and since the motoring public is also not prepared for the sudden implementation of the law, we suggest the following:

Carry out the testing in stages — (1) starting with all public utility or professional drivers (buses, taxicabs, jeepneys, etc.), followed by (2) non-professional drivers who had been found responsible for major accidents, and finally (3) the rest. First-time applicants will be tested as they come.

The reasons for this testing by groups or in stages are obvious. The LTO itself has cited findings that some utility drivers take drugs to keep awake over the long haul. The safe, careful, law-abiding non-professional driver should not be treated like an addicted utility driver.

The spreading out of the testing schedule over time and area will give the LTO a chance to accredit enough competent testing clinics and thereby answer charges that a monopoly has captured the contract for the nationwide testing.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 30, 2001)

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