POSTSCRIPT / February 7, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why were stampede victims mostly women?

SURE LURE: How come almost all of the more than 70 crushed to death in the stampede last Saturday in the TV variety show “Wowowee” were women, and mostly housewives from less fortunate households?

We still do not know the answers to that. But, if we look closer, we are likely to find reason for us menfolk to hang our heads in shame.

Most of the housewives who had flocked to the ill-fated ABS-CBN show went there brimming with hopes of bringing home, for the family, any of the prizes ranging from a house and lot to a few dollar bills.

The easy-to-win prizes were a sure lure to those who have less in life, male or female, but it was mostly the women who swarmed to the Ultra sports complex for the show’s first anniversary program that had promised gifts galore.

By their sheer disproportionate number, the women in the crowd suffered the most.

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SHAME ON US MEN: But where were the menfolk? Were the husbands of the women trampled in the stampede busy at work that weekend? (Assuming they had jobs.) Were they home tending to the children or were they batting the breeze with the barkada?

Were the men merely acting true to form — meaning almost always sending their wives, or the women in the family, on delicate errands that they themselves are hesitant to run?

Or is it possible that the women, without waiting for the consent of their husbands, or family elders, just took it upon themselves to hurry to Ultra to win a little something for the family — since the menfolk were not willing to be seen fighting for prizes?

Sometimes a mother’s instinct for survival, mainly of her children, prompts her to throw caution to the wind and do things that the men in the family cannot imagine doing.

If not survival, sometimes family honor moves the women — wives, mothers or daughters — to sally forth Mulan-like, into a hostile field dominated by men in a hunting, foraging mode.

I do not mean to generalize, but there is the widespread practice in many Filipino households for the mothers and wives to embark on delicate errands that their men would rather delegate.

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MOURNED AND HONORED: This heroic willingness of Filipino women to take on unusual risks for their families has manifested itself in various scenarios.

We see employable but jobless men letting their women leave hearth and home to try earning — per promises of salivating recruiters — dollars in strange, inhospitable places abroad.

We see fathers allowing their uninitiated daughters to step into uncharted worlds beyond the seas to earn some money in the dark corners of entertainment joints abroad.

We see politicians, shrinking at the thought of a mission impossible, sending their gregarious wives instead to convince a powerful somebody to agree to a make-or-break proposal. Never mind if she has to journey into the desert to pin down the quarry.

Either from their own initiative, maternal instincts, or forced by circumstances, our women sometimes dare to step out into a hostile world just to supplement the meager (sometimes zero) earnings of the male breadwinner. It is embarrassing, but true.

Seen in this light, the women trampled to death at the Ultra complex pursuing a dream for their family should be honored, aside from their death being mourned.

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SHUT UP, SIR!: Will somebody, maybe his boss the President, please tell Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez to stop yakking on the Ultra stampede case?

Just yesterday, he said more than a mouthful on the possible liabilities of ABS-CBN, among other legal issues, as he tried exposing to media his knowledge of the law — as well as his prejudices.

The politician-turned-justice secretary should be told that he is prematurely discussing questions that may reach him on appeal as state prosecutors investigate the Ultra case and recommend legal steps for government to take.

How can Secretary Gonzalez hear fairly the pleadings of all parties later on, after he has already spoken and made known his legal views and personal bias?

I pine for those days when respected secretaries of justice occupied that revered post. They were real men of the law who knew how to hold their tongues despite the temptation to wade into the raging legal and social debates of the day.

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GOODBYE NOTES: In Malacanang, with all the troubles plaguing President Gloria Arroyo, one would expect her management team to be a bit more sensitive about “rationalizing” executive offices as mandated by Executive Order 366.

Her wrecking crew lopping off civil servants from various agencies in the Executive branch is winning her more negative points than she probably imagined, winning her more enemies than friends.

If the President would stoop to listen, she would hear the grumbling and cries of discontent among the thousands of civil servants facing unemployment as their positions are haphazardly classified as redundant, abolished, or affected in the name of “rationalization.”

For instance, employees of the Malacanang clinic under the Office of the President have received “love letters” from the Senior Deputy Executive Secretary informing them that after a “strategic review” made by a Change Management Team (CMT), their positions have been found redundant or affected by the proposed reorganization.

Just like that. After many of them had spent the best years of their lives in the service of the Palace and the community around it.

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CLINIC A MISTAKE?: The targeted workers are advised to fill up a form to indicate their preferences. Either they retire under the early retirement program voluntarily or transfer to other offices of their choice or be simply written off the payroll.

There is a bit of trickery here as the letters were dated Jan. 16, but were received Feb. 1 only, telling the employees there will be a consultation to be held Jan. 18. What kind of consultation was that when the decisions have already been made by the wrecking team on what to do with the agency? What calendar are they using?

Consultations could have been done on a more humane basis, academic and performance records examined, quality cost audits made, compensation studies undertaken — and a general job satisfaction survey utilized.

These are tools normally used in strategic management reviews to diagnose what is wrong with the agency.

But no, the team simply declared that the policy of opening up and expanding Malacanang clinic’s services to the health indigent masses by Presidents Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal, Marcos, Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo, these past three years, was wrong!

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UNUSUAL BEHAVIOR: The message is that the clinic should now be trimmed, the number of doctors and nurses to be retained kept at a bare minimum, enough for them to take care of the medical/nursing needs of Malacanang employees.

This is a clear variance from the announced policy of focusing or expanding services that will help achieve the millennium development goals of President Arroyo, herself a daughter of a medical doctor.

Affected personnel complained about the officiousness, capriciousness and attitudes of the members of the management team, who they said do not seem to communicate and connect with the employees.

That is unusual behavior for people who presume to have a say over the professional life of others. Are they not deputies of the executive secretary, or assistant executive secretaries, and therefore supposed to know better?

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GMA UNAWARE?: This is happening not only at the Malacanang clinic, but also in all Executive offices that have been “rationalized” or are now facing rationalization.

Reports have it that employees of the Department of Labor will be airing protests during lunch breaks. At the DLR, a manifesto is being circulated denouncing the rationalization program.

At the Department of Health, workers are up in arms against the privatization of government hospitals and rationalization of various health agencies. Department of Education employees are also complaining about retrenchment moves in their office.

It will not be surprising if these employees form the bulk of future protesters against the high-handedness, deviousness and insensitivity of those bungling programs of the Arroyo administration.

But then, busy as she is holding on to her unsteady perch, President Arroyo may not be aware of the growing dissatisfaction in her own backyard.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 7, 2006)

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