At dinner a few days ago, a foreign friend whose family has had ties to our country for over 200 years, and who has reason to be in Binondo and downtown Manila fairly often, mentioned something that really made Mrs. MM and I cringe…
In effect, he said “I have never seen downtown Manila streets so clean, there isn’t a shred of garbage, there is so much repainting going on, there is so much stuff cleared away, IT LOOKS INCREDIBLY GOOD. AMAZING. FANTASTIC. But why did they do it? For a visiting WHITE GUY. Why can’t you do it for yourselves? Why aren’t Filipinos proud enough to keep their own surroundings clean and tidy? Why just this temporary show that belies the daily truth?”
Then in the days that followed, I listened with increasing incredulity at the planned holiday and transport movements in order to ensure a hassle free visit for the Vicar of Christ…
Basically, we had to declare 3 non-working holidays that cost the economy BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of pesos in productivity and increased cost to companies. We had to cancel several HUNDRED SCHEDULED FLIGHTS and inconvenience tens of thousands of passengers, and hundreds of thousands of commuters, in order to ensure that there is 5-6 hour no drive, no flight zone around the intended arrival of the pontiff. In no other civilized nation have I heard of the local officials having to bring traffic to a virtual STOP for 6 hours for any visiting dignitary or set of dignitaries. And worse, when they did they “dry run” a couple of days ago, they still had serious problems and couldn’t get the schedule down pat.
And forget transport movements, we were the butt of international press and derided by many for the PUBLICLY ANNOUNCED plan to make our police officers and traffic aides SHIT AND PEE in their pants, literally, with two adult diapers provided per person. And I listened on the radio during the Black Nazarene procession to radio commentators ask policemen how damp their diapers were. SERIOUSLY?!
But I hadn’t planned on writing about the Pope’s visit at all, until this UTTERLY UPSETTING ONLINE story found its way to my attention, and it was just the straw that broke this camel’s back…
Basically, it seems authorities have been rounding up, caging, jailing and handcuffing ragamuffins and beggars in Manila to make sure they cause no trouble, or are kept from the eyes of the visiting Pope. This is an utter EMBARRASSMENT and a SHAME to a country playing host to a man who is supposed to be the ultimately example of Christian values, humility, simplicity, charity, etc. Does the Pope know authorities are handcuffing children to poles using his visit as the excuse for the atrocious inhumane treatment?
But really, how low can we, as a nation of people go? Are we too incompetent and unable to keep our own streets clean on a daily basis? Do we only clean up our acts for visiting white people? Or visiting VIP’s of any color? Are we too stupid that we can’t manage infrastructure requirements that can handle the visit of an important dignitary that will attract millions of people to see him or her? Do we have to spend BILLIONS AND BILLIONS in pesos in opportunity cost and lost so that our roads are free of the mayhem and traffic and commuting nightmare that MILLIONS OF OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS must suffer through at least two times every single day of their working life? Are we so unable to plan a major event that we have to CANCEL HUNDREDS OF FLIGHTS AND INCOVENIENCE MILLIONS ON THE ROADS as the best solution to clearing a reasonable path for the entry of a dignitary into our midst? Do the roads really have to be EMPTY along the procession route for a total of 6 HOURS BEFORE THE PONTIFF IS EVEN SCHEDULED TO PASS? Can we not treat our policemen and women with dignity and schedule their shifts so they have time to take a bathroom break every hour or two? And are we no better than the Marcos regime that was famous for covering up sight lines to squatter colonies with plywood boards and painting them white? I just noticed the quintessential view from the bridge on Tramo street of the squatters in Pasay across a waterway that is open for all to see — but the Pope isn’t passing there on this trip.
And the billions of billions of pesos in opportunity and actual cost? Couldn’t we have built thousands and thousands of homes for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan instead?!? Why has it been over a year and so damn little has been done to spend the funds that have been set aside, offered by international donors, etc. for the benefits of those affected by the storms? And let us not sweep under the carpet the fact that the majority of Filipinos live in poverty or near poverty conditions, that we have an estimated 500,000+ ABORTIONS in this country EVERY SINGLE YEAR, that we have fairly high crime rates, and we have one of the most thriving cultures of gambling for a mostly catholic nation, one of the larger ones on the planet.
I am thrilled that the Pope chose to visit the Philippines and is traveling to Tacloban, and I am sure millions and millions of Filipinos are pleased he is coming as well. But until WE figure out that God or the gods are NOT GOING TO SOLVE OUR PROBLEMS, rather WE ARE THE ONES THAT HOLD THE KEY TO SOLVING WHAT AILS US AND OUR SOCIETY and God just observes and perhaps coaches us how to act in the face of adversity, we are probably just going to sink deeper and deeper into the appalling abyss.