FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 8, 2015 - 12:00am

We are now about a week before Pope Francis arrives. The preparations are understandably frantic.

Those involved in the preparations, both government and the Church, must be having nightmares. This Pope is known to deviate from the plan, step down from his vehicle and mingle with the crowds. He hates riding in an enclosed vehicle. He loves people.

Which is every security detail’s nightmare.

Tens of thousands of religious tourists could be flying in the next few days for the visit. Six million are expected to gather for the main papal mass at the Luneta. The streets will be filled. Movement will be largely by foot.

This visit will truly put our deficient infrastructure through its toughest test.

Acknowledging that things could be unmanageable, government declared the days of the visit a non-working holiday in the National Capital Region. On the hours the Pope uses the airport, coming in and flying to Tacloban and then back, dozens of regular flights were cancelled.

Tens of thousands of troops will be mobilize to reinforce the police forces. The Philippine National Red Cross speaks of about 50,000 trained volunteers to be deployed for the Papal mass. Water stations, portalets and about a million disposable raincoats are readied. This visit will consume the nation.

On any ordinary day, Metro Manila’s decrepit infrastructure is unable to support its population. Last Christmas, riots nearly broke out at the airport when airline services basically broke down under the crush of passengers. Overland transport fell woefully short. Even the much touted expressways were overburdened, forcing travellers to Baguio, for instance, to endure a harrowing 12-hour road trip.

Last Tuesday, after meeting with port operators, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras boasted that the problem with congestion at the piers has been solved. He deludes himself. Only the construction of an entirely new and modern facility will cure that problem.

Expect hundreds of thousands of weary pilgrims sleeping in the streets while the Pope is here. We simply do not have the facilities to house and feed the hordes. The DSWD, which has made a carnival out of packing relief goods in plastic bags, should now mobilize for a potential large-scale humanitarian crisis: feeding stranded pilgrims.

If for anything, the papal visit will highlight what has not been done the past few years in rapidly upgrading utilities and infra to serve a rapidly growing urban population. The resulting infra crisis will come home to roost next week.

The airports will be clogged. The roads in the metropolis will be clogged more than they were during the Christmas break. We are not sure about the adequacy of food supplies and clean water.

As begin the year of the poor, the Pope must address the brutality with which our citizens have been treated by a government that seems disinterested in protecting them. Power rates, rail fares and water rates have gone up the past few days. Every utility seems out to screw the consumer rather than properly service them — from inadequate and unsafe transport to insufficient bandwidth.

Government must be a caring entity. Our people do not feel that.


I have ventured into another medium starting this week. With two other columnists, golfing buddies actually, we accepted an invitation from DWIZ to cohost the program Karambola. The program airs Mondays to Fridays from 8 to 10 in the morning.

I have done television hosting apart from print. Radio is a very different medium. The disciplines are different in broadcast. The show’s format, arguing public affairs among ourselves, is different too.

Actually, I was invited into the original cast of this program ten years ago. My toxic schedules and multiple responsibilities at that time forced me to back out, however.

The first three days have been exhilarating. The two hours seem too short with the fired-up discussion that always happens among us, even off the air.

From the feedback, thus far, it seems this program (and the station that carries it) has impressive nationwide reach. The program is also aired via live feed to Filipinos overseas. This enterprise has begun to consume us.

We agreed, before we started this show, to simplify things and reach down to a nationwide AM radio audience. As we realized, however, there is no need to dumb down things. Listeners respond with surprising ability to grasp the issues and understand the repercussions. That gives us a satisfying feeling.

We are actually obliged to do background research on every topic that figures in national discussion each day. We have to be on our toes. The audience is discerning. Our citizens want things discussed in depth.

Doing public affairs radio is much like writing an editorial column, except that it happens in real time. We have to phrase things just right without the benefit of a re-read.

I am confident this show will thrive. There is enough of an audience out there that is sick and tired of shallow moralism and stupidity passing off as policy. The beauty of this format is that every idea, every espousal and every claim are immediately challenged by well-informed cohorts.

It is bad enough there is a dearth of real policy debate in our politics. Talk radio, anchored precisely on arguing out every statement made, should be a potent antidote.

This program is not really about muckraking. It is about crap-busting. Because so much is dished out to our citizens daily, we are not about to run out of things to argue about.

The quality of our golf might suffer because of this. But it is a consolation we just might make a contribution to building a critical public.


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