POSTSCRIPT / November 28, 2004 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Fuel discounts didn't solve transport strikes

CAPITULATION: The Arroyo administration is sadly mistaken if it thinks it had solved the transport strike last Wednesday by working out a small discount on the diesel that jeepneys and other passenger conveyances use.

On the contrary, Malacanang just poured more fuel to the transport fire by showing that it pays to threaten an administration suffering from a guilty conscience.

The government’s capitulation only emboldened the leaders of protesting transport organizations who are now reportedly planning a bigger nationwide strike to extract more concessions from the guilt-stricken administration.

The strikers are behaving as expected — that having been given a helping hand, they would demand that they be given the entire arm.

This early, I dare predict that the escalation of demands will never end — given (1) the elusive point of satiation of overworked and underpaid public utility workers and (2) a weak-kneed administration.

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OIL FIRMS SPARED: The striking drivers of jeepneys and other passenger vehicles have a valid grievance about the exorbitant price of diesel and other oil products that are crucial to their daily grind.

But if the main issue was cost of fuel and such, why did they wield their weapon against innocent commuters, who have nothing to do with prices and who are like them also victims of corruption and profiteering?

It is odd that the strike leaders spared the oil companies looming large in the background. The oil giants are after all the price manipulators, the profiteers, in the deregulated oil industry.

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THE REAL VICTIMS: The oil companies remained unscathed while commuters, workers and their families suffered, and with them the various businesses that employed them.

The drivers were victims themselves. Those who refused, or failed, to ply their routes that day also missed a day’s earnings. Eking out a hand-to-mouth existence, they will never be able be able to recover that loss.

The government did not help clear up the confusion when it acted like it was responsible for the overpricing. It may be co-responsible in a way, but the main culprits are the profit-guzzling oil firms that the strikers spared last Wednesday.

Why are self-proclaimed transport leaders seemingly beholden to the oil companies?

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MORE AND BIGGER: With strikes and such mass action having been found to be “effective,” expect more strikes in the future not only from transport workers but from other marginalized groups.

The street has become the court of last resort. Our laws written by a compromised legislature have been found to be ineffective and unworthy of respect, so everybody with a grievance is now taking to the street, weapon in hand.

Future mass action will not be confined to the transport sector, but will spread to other areas where exploited workers are never satisfied — and that means everywhere there are enough restive workers to form a bargaining unit.

With its corrupt core, it is doubtful if the government could withstand such actions, in the event radicals — interspersed with anarchists — set their mind to increasing the pressure.

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EXPECT THE WORSE: With the sudden drop to a floor-hugging 7-percent in the approval rating of President Arroyo and Malacanang’s failure to respond immediately and effectively, the situation could worsen toward yearend.

Way back on Aug. 19, I pointed out in POSTSCRIPT that at the rate the quality of life of the Filipino has been deteriorating, “(President Arroyo) has to show something really dramatic before the year ends, mainly by scoring a marked improvement in the economy.”

“If she fails to perform at least a psychological ‘parting of the Red Sea’ by Christmas to lead us to the Promised Land, the goodwill she has earned with her election last May is likely to dissipate and be replaced by the usual defeatism.”

Well, Christmas is just several cold mornings away and the situation has not improved despite Malacanang’s “good news” press releases. There are no indications that the administration can arrest the downtrend.

“The frightening part is that once the slide starts,” I said then, “there will hardly be anything that President Arroyo or anybody can do to stop it. We might spend the rest of her six-year term frantically improvising from one crisis to another.”

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SHABBY TREATMENT: Without meaning to depress you further, I share these items from the Internet that resonate in many people’s minds.

Businessman Edwin Moran says in a posting: “I am writing here for the first time to share my embarrassing incident in HSBC Hong Kong as a Filipino citizen.

“It was sometime in July of this year when two of my American friends invited me to invest in a business venture abroad. We met in Hong Kong Aug. 2, 2004, to finalize our incorporation. On Aug. 4, we went to an HSBC branch office in the Wanchi, to open a bank account of which I would be one of the signatories.

“We were all welcomed warmly and proceeded to fill out the forms to open the account. We were asked to submit our passports. I was the last to present mine. The bank officers looked at each other as if they saw a ghost and disappeared into an adjoining room.

“When they reappeared they told me that they could not proceed with the opening of the bank account as they did not accept Philippine nationals or nationals coming from a High Risk country.

“They continued to ask if I was a politician, a government official, and where the money would come from. I have never been so humiliated in my life!

“I now regret my having given up my US immigrant visa for being so nationalistic. This is just a sign that our country has gone from the frying pan straight to the fire. When will this all end?

“It is so difficult to do business when we belong to the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) here in the Philippines and even more difficult when outside with such a notorious reputation as a nation.

“It is because of a few powerful politicians and power-hungry politicians who are the culprit of our woes and reputation. Money laundering is now synonymous to politicians, government officials! Woe to all of us.

“What can we the SME do to survive?”

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A REJOINDER: Reacting to Edwin, Alex Kho of Alabang says:

“It is not necessarily because of a few powerful hungry government politicians. And it is definitely not a recent event.

“In 1992, I was enroute to Toronto via San Francisco on a business trip. At the SFO airport, my companion along with other Filipinos who did not have US transit visas, were escorted to a room.

“I could not understand why Filipinos were not allowed to roam inside the immigration area, unlike other nationals. So I asked the immigration agents who were all Orientals why. I was told that there were occasions when Filipinos enroute to Canada via the US suddenly disappeared in the airports and ended up staying illegally in the US.

“During the 70s and 80s, I saw Filipinos going to Sydney being asked to go inside a room for special inspection. I was told that a number of Filipinos got into Australia with forged passports and visas.

“I’ve heard from friends in the 70s of a hotel in Mejugorie with signs that say they did not accept Filipino customers because the hotel had been losing their towels in rooms occupied by Filipino guests.

“Christian E., the known fashion designer, related to me the story of a fashion model who checked out from her European hotel and was on her way to the airport when she was chased by the hotel security car. They recovered the painting that was missing from the hotel room in the luggage of the model.

“I once checked into a hotel in Wanchai, HK, in the 80s. My room was reserved by Fujitsu HK. The hotel clerk, when she saw my Philippine passport, called in the hotel manager and inquired in Mandarin whether to ask for my credit card or a cash deposit, all because I have a Philippine passport. Courtesy dictated that since I was sponsored by Fujitsu they should have foregone asking me.

“I looked into the eyes of the manager and he looked into my eyes. Then he looked at my passport and noted that my surname was ‘Kho.’ He knew that I could understand Mandarin, then he said it was not needed.

“Here’s what we can do. Whenever we go out, we must remember that we cease to be the Edwin Moran and Alex Kho from the Philippines. You and I are the Filipinos that the foreigners see, just like any Juan or Maria de la Cruz, whether as DH, Japayuki, businessmen, seamen, etc.

“Let us all learn to project a good image of ourselves as Filipinos abroad. Perhaps our Immigration can insert a reminder for all outgoing Filipinos traveling abroad?

“We will overcome this stigma. We will survive, Edwin.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 28, 2004)

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