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Reform inertia

The essence of why reform is so difficult for leaders is captured in this European statesman’s lament: “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we’ve done it.”

Swallowing bitter medicine for future relief. We are supposed to be immune to this curse. The “one time only” six-year term of Philippine Presidents is meant as a disincentive to politics. This frees the office holder to take necessary action, however unpopular. After all, he/she need not face the electorate afterwards. But, then again, this is double-edged. The same insulation from voter remorse may compel you to do your worst.

In these situations, the only bellwether for an incumbent is public approval and satisfaction. As for President Rodrigo R. Duterte, clearly he is still feeling the love. His satisfaction rating (SWS) continues to remain high despite the recent tumbles. A +58 net public satisfaction rating in late September. Down from +64 net in June and from a high +66 net in March. All in all, though, these still fall  squarely in the very good column.

With political capital to spare, the President continues to have no qualms in investing in needed reform even if his feeding hand gets bitten. In the news lately are two such reform areas where he has taken his ratings out for a spin. The campaign against illegal drugs and the modernization of public utility vehicles (PUV).

Who wouldn’t?  I still can’t understand what the survey companies intended in testing the public sense re: support for the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign. Is this a trick question?

Senator Ping Lacson supposes that we have become inured. The high 88 percent (gross, Pulse Asia) support for the drug war comes with 73 percent believing in extra judicial killings (EJKs) attendant. The survey took pains to define EJKs as killings at the hands of police and military. The question could have been: do you support EJK as a method in the anti drugs campaign?

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Satisfaction and approval means the show will go on. Principles of democratic governance may argue that the interest of the many should prevail. However, for the will of the majority to be rightful, it must be reasonable.  An equally sacred truth in democracy is the protection of the rights of the minority.

Sabotage vs. Sabotage. PUV modernization is an idea whose time has come, again … and again. Traffic, safety of passengers, safety of motorists and of the drivers, themselves. The timeliness of the program need not be belabored. Yet this is the project that led to the cancellation of classes and government work this Monday and Tuesday, causing untold losses to business and, again, wreaking havoc on academic calendars.

PRRD may be biting the bullet too hard.  He is mad at these interest groups and has even threatened arrest for those who defy the franchising guidelines to modernize. But to accuse them of rebellion is a different matter altogether.

What is rebellion? We had this discussion previously when trying to justify the imposition of Martial Law in Mindanao. In its elemental sense, it means a refusal to obey. Academically, under Article 134 of our Revised Penal Code, “rising and taking arms against the Government for the purpose of removing from the allegiance to said Government or its laws, the territory of the Republic of the Philippines or any part thereof, of any body of land, naval or other armed forces, or depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives.”

The real rebellion. Freedom to express themselves and petition the government for redress of grievances. Freedom of assembly. Peaceful collective action. These fundamental human rights are the only weapons taken up by these bold but vocal few, their voices and arms (literally) the only uprising seen or heard. Nothing happened or could have happened at the transport strikes to warrant the conclusion that there was rebellious conduct to suppress. Governmental power is being threatened on citizens and legitimate organizations for exercising the very liberties which allowed our Constitution to exist. This is clearly a refusal to obey what the Constitution guarantees.

Again, majority rule does not mean majority, right or wrong. The Constitution’s foremost purpose is precisely to serve as a limitation on majority power, recognizing the vulnerability of the minority’s interest to open abuse.

Desperate moves. A few days ago, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) announced that driving alone on EDSA may soon be banned. It caused a ruckus in both traditional and new media with car owners and TNVs (like Uber and Grab) protesting the plan. Seventy-eight percent of vehicular traffic in Metro Manila are single occupant cars.

With the November ASEAN events and the holidays coming up, traffic conditions are sure to get progressively monstrous. We will surely see a boom in daily epiphanies of inner rage. Goodbye to passive aggressive behavior. Can a carpool proposal ease the pain? It’s a common feature in multi lane avenues abroad. Certainly, the remedy has been floated several times in past administrations. Again, it is only now that we are brave enough to try.

The adoption of carpooling and, for that matter, the rest of the EDSA menu items like one-way; two-day coding and charging tolls is sure to raise questions. But its nothing that thoughtful implementation can’t address. At this point, who isn’t open to trying anything and everything?

Several measures in the past have been attempted with varying degrees of inconvenience to the public. Absolute or partial bans on trucks, motorcycles, caretelas and calesas, among others. Aside from rationalizing traffic flow, there were also other stated purposes of the limitations, e.g. saving gasoline during an oil shortage. In the end, all were vindicated by the inherent power of the State to make laws that may interfere with personal liberty or property if it would benefit the common good.


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