INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2019 - 12:00am

We’ve all had those days where we felt like the hits just kept on coming. Whether it was at work or at home, punch after punch came one after the other and eventually knocked us right off our feet. Well, that is how it has been feeling in the Philippines lately and, from what I have been reading, this is set to last pretty much all summer long. While I know that we Filipinos are known to be resilient, it’s quite sad that this keeps getting tested time and time again.

Awhile back we had a pretty bad water crisis hit the metro. In fact – it became so bad that President Duterte resorted to getting mad at the water companies in the same way a parent might scold misbehaving children. Netizens complained online and made jokes about who had (or more importantly had not) taken a bath yet. That’s what most Filipinos tend to do when the going gets tough – find solace through laughter. It’s our way of dealing with hardships. And while it’s good to find humor in any situation, it doesn’t really solve the problem.

The water crisis was bad and was already indicative of a bigger problem – but that had barely been addressed when other problems came. One of the biggest banks in the country scheduled a system upgrade last week and did not anticipate how unstable their new system/app/online banking program was going to be. They claimed the upgrade would only last for roughly three days, but sadly that was not true and internet banking came to a grinding halt for well over a week. For some, transactions are still quite iffy. And while that might not seem like a huge problem in the grand scheme of survival (like water and electricity), it was a big deal to everyone who relied on the bank for work and even for money for daily expenses.

It was no joke and as some people finally gained access to their accounts and some others finally got water back, many thought that we’d get a bit of a reprieve. But that wasn’t, and isn’t going to be the case for a while. Last week a major telecommunications company had issues with their data service and people were once again taking to the internet to air their grievances – at least those who could get online. This was resolved relatively quickly (half a day as compared to the other issues), but still it just seemed like another blip on an already aggravating list of problems.

And then while all that was happening, Meralco decided to join the party and deliver the knockout punch. While people were still reeling from lack of water, and banking, and internet, the rotational brownouts from 1990s decided to come back to haunt us. Who can forget power outages from back in the day that lasted for up to 8 hours at a time? It was horrible and it looks like these planned brownouts are set to happen again. Thankfully, it looks like they will only be roughly 2-3 hours this time around, but still – have we not made enough improvements to our power/energy sector in the last 19 years that these could be avoided? I guess not.

What’s more, these electricity outages are happening during the hottest summer on record. The heat index is going through the roof and here we are without power (and some still without water) struggling to make it through the day without getting heat stroke. Headaches and even nausea are becoming the norm for many and taking away the capacity for even a simple electric fan of cold glass or water or even a simple shower to cool off, is only going to make things worse.

Fortunately, there were no rotating brownouts over the weekend, but that might not be the case this week. The electric company has already stated that Monday-Wednesday could potentially see more electrical outages as power reserves go dangerously low. We should be ready (charge everything!) just in case. Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga promised that for Holy Week we should have ample supply of electricity. I guess that’s one silver lining.

In the end, I’m not blaming these companies outright. Sure, things get complicated I understand that. Sometimes systems bog down and sometimes it takes a couple of days to make things work again. I just feel that, in the Philippines, the companies that provide our basic services are not very good at planning ahead even when they have ample time to address the situation. We always seem much more reactionary here than proactive and that is not a good thing. While businesses in the Philippines strive to give their consumers the best service possible (like in the case of the bank – the down time was to pave the way for a system upgrade), they don’t really make good contingency plans for if (or when) things go awry.

In most business, a good business continuity plan is a must. This means that when emergencies arise and things don’t go as planned there is another plan in place. Multinational companies providing services to global clients can’t simply say “Oh, sorry!” when things go wrong. That is unacceptable. They have to ensure that during a natural disaster, manpower issues, the loss of electricity, or unstable internet connections that they can still deliver their services. This is a promise they make to their clients. As consumers and technically clients ourselves of these major companies providing our basic services we don’t seem to get the same guarantees.

In the Philippines “pasenya na po” is the common answer frontliners give to aggrieved consumers. This should not be the case. Even if it’s just a matter of changing the script we should address the fact that no, it’s not just okay when services can’t be delivered and we should do something to fully address the situation. We all know how hard it is to earn money and we do our best to pay our bills on time and regularly – the least we can expect is some urgency and, dare I say it, even empathy from our providers.

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