More equal than others

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - November 19, 2015 - 9:00am

After six years in office, the appalling inability of President Aquino to feel ordinary people’s pain has infected his entire administration.

The country’s second hosting of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit will be remembered by Pinoys not for anything of significant substance. APEC summits rarely are; the spadework for the grouping’s goals for freer trade and economic cooperation are done by the worker ants and finalized by mid-level bureaucrats before the leaders arrive for their annual costume party.

Instead the 2015 APEC in Manila will be remembered by Pinoys as a showcase of gross incompetence in traffic management and the insensitivity of the Aquino administration to the welfare of ordinary people.

Other than the simmering US-China rivalry and the promise of two more hand-me-downs from the US Navy, what Pinoys will remember of this summit will be the “TRAPEC” and the lockdowns, the long walks in the scorching sun, and the sorry fact that in this land, four decades after Imeldific reportedly quoted George Orwell and bragged that some animals are more equal than others, it still holds true for Filipinos.

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Everyone agrees with the need to keep world leaders and APEC delegates safe, comfortable and with fond memories of their Philippine visit. Pinoys are used to suffering and are willing to make sacrifices in the name of hospitality. But things must be done within reasonable bounds.

The APEC lockdown was anything but reasonable. It was insane. Whoever cooked up the complete lockdown of entire stretches of roads should be publicly hanged by his cojones – if he has any – and then locked up, and they must throw away the key. 

The “APECted” are ranting that P-Noy has tossed out all pretenses of caring for anyone outside his class, just so he can shine on the world stage. P-Noy must dispel APEC-generated perceptions that the haciendero with a fondness for Porsches will never comprehend the grief of being on the road for six to eight hours (from the usual hour-long commute) just to reach one’s workplace.

The callous ignoramuses who move around Metro Manila with a phalanx of security escorts to part the traffic for them obviously thought immobility would be confined only to the lockdown areas.

On Wednesday at past 11 p.m., traffic along the northbound lane of the SLEX was paralyzed from the Magallanes interchange all the way to Laguna. So was traffic along EDSA.

Why? Because EDSA from Ayala Avenue all the way to the Mall of Asia had been turned, like the entire Roxas Boulevard, into a no-travel, no-walk, no-breathing zone for all but the VIPs attending APEC night at the MOA Arena. The VIPs had to finish their feast first and watch the cultural show before anyone could be allowed to move in that gridlock. As dinner was served quite late, the poor motorists had a long night ahead.

Pinoys understand why the area around the MOA Arena had to be cordoned off. But any reasonable person will ask why EDSA beyond Taft Avenue had to be locked down, and why northbound vehicles could not even be allowed to cross the avenue that’s associated with freedom.

Such state abuses are supposed to happen only in North Korea, not the land of people power. Or in Myanmar before democratization, but at least the junta built a new capital far from Yangon to keep out troublemakers.

Even in a global spotlight, a Philippine president should never lose sight of the welfare of his own people. But in fact on APEC night, P-Noy was with “his own people” – the “KKK,” the political allies and their financiers, the sycophants who reassure him of his greatness and nurture the myth of tuwid na daan – never mind if all the roads are locked down.

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Why was even the Skyway closed to traffic? If anyone would shoot down a plane, he would be suicidal to do it in plain sight on the Skyway. He’d look for a tall structure overlooking the NAIA, from where he has a good chance of escaping. For that matter, I don’t think any group has surface-to-air missiles in this country.

Why was the entire Intramuros locked down from Wednesday night until yesterday? Because eight APEC leaders’ spouses and P-Noy’s sisters were having lunch.

I must commend Japan’s first lady, Akie Abe, for breaking out of the VIP cocoon and visiting the impoverished of the host country the other day, going to the former city dump in Payatas, Quezon City where residents gave her a personalized towel. Mrs. Abe survived the encounter without a scratch.

Before the summit, the public was constantly reassured that there was no credible security threat for APEC. So why the lockdown?

Reflecting the insensitivity of their boss, PNP officials even blamed the people for ignoring the order to just stay home for a week. But orders are followed when they are reasonable. When deemed silly or unnecessary, they are ignored. Unjust orders have triggered revolutions.

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A mega-city like Metro Manila can never completely shut down. Daily wage earners must work or they don’t eat. Some people can’t avoid travel even during APEC week. Because there were no flights and Manila Bay was shut down, people traveling north to Manila from southern Luzon had no other choice but to go by land, and the SLEX was the only road open – the reason there was that horrendous northbound traffic jam from Laguna to Magallanes on APEC night.

Cops, mostly “imported” from the provinces for APEC duty, and traffic aides of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority were completely useless in advising motorists who ran into closed roads about alternate routes.

The attitude of daang sarado toward ordinary Pinoys during APEC week was best summed up by Mar Roxas when he was the interior secretary and talking to the dazed officials of Yolanda-ravaged Tacloban: Bahala na kayo sa buhay n’yo. (You’re on your own.)

For whatever it’s worth, people should register their protest. Otherwise, daang sarado would think all is well with the world and the lockdown would be repeated each time there is a visiting dignitary or a VIP wants to have lunch in Intramuros.

The “APECted” say their complaints will only fall on the deaf ears of a president with sub-zero empathy quotient. If anyone bothers to complain to P-Noy about TRAPEC, he might just repeat another famous line from the killer typhoon: You’re still alive, aren’t you?


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