SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

When one pitches continuity, the inevitable question is, what exactly do you want to continue?

Offhand, under the current dispensation, what quickly comes to mind are more killings from the drug war (nearly 7,900 as of last May, as officially counted by the police), more COVID deaths thanks to a disastrous pandemic response (25,650 as of yesterday) and more cussing on national TV.

It’s the height of conceit for a public official to believe that he alone can do the job he’s doing, and that he’s indispensable for the continuity of his excellent (in his dreams) service.

Officially, there are now more than 109 million Filipinos. Surely there is one who is capable of leading the country and even outperforming the incumbent.

To be fair, any administration will want an ally to be installed in a change of leadership. Inevitably, the messaging will have to focus on continuity, no matter how bad the programs sought to be continued might be.

The difference only lies in the level of conceit that goes into the hope for continuity. Some presidents, like the Aquino mother and son, were content to push for their endorsed successors. Others wanted it for themselves – a longer stay in power, by amending the Constitution to lift the single-term limit. Or in the case of the current one, to become vice president and serve as the puppet master, in case his endorsed successor wins.

Continuity was the buzzword at that PDP-Laban get-together the other day with their chairman, covered on government TV and snubbed by the group of Senators Manny Pacquiao and Koko Pimentel. Pacquiao should pray for more such coverage of all the unctuous sycophancy by his estranged party mates and moro-moro coyness about running in 2022.

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Apart from keeping themselves in power, what else do they want to continue?

For sure, more kill, kill, kill. Only the well-connected drug trafficking suspects such as Cebu campaign supporter Peter Lim are assured of business continuity.

The country will become a Chinese satellite.

Definitely, there will be continued public cussing even by Duterte supporters. I also cuss a lot. But there are things you don’t do in public simply because you think you can, and especially not while on national TV: picking your nose, for example, or scratching your scrotum.

After six years, Filipinos should be tired of telling their children that public cussing and cracking misogynistic jokes are not OK. And the kids must be told that they must not settle for academic mediocrity, with the belief that this is rewarded with the presidency of the republic while the class valedictorian and other achievers become the mere “trabahante.”

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Sen. Richard Gordon, who is considering a presidential run, says that in choosing who should next lead the country, we should start with the administration’s pandemic response, and who can do the job better.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, the chairman himself of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, told us on One News’ “The Chiefs” Wednesday night that the pandemic response has been “far from excellent” – even as he stressed that other countries are also groping for the proper response.

After what is considered the world’s longest and toughest lockdown (enforced by state security teams no less), and with the country now buried in P11 trillion debt, without corresponding significant improvements in contact tracing and with an incoherent quarantine policy, all analysts are predicting that the Philippines will once again become the sick man and basket case of Asia.

Continuity means more government projects and sweetheart deals awarded to the well-connected and their family businesses. (Hmm… OK, this is a weather-weather lang issue.) And now the public can no longer have easy access to the official statements – supposed to be public records – of the top government officials in all three branches.

There are new roads especially in Metro Manila, but these are mostly toll roads, with private companies collecting fees so steep they deter regular use even by middle class families particularly during this financially crippling pandemic. Where do our taxes go? When will they be used to build a road network that taxpayers can use for free?

The administration approved several ambitious, populist programs such as universal health care and expanded free education all the way to university. But even before we became mired in pandemic debt for the next four generations, funding for the programs was already a problem, forcing only the limited, gradual rollout of the UHC.

As for free education, free is starting to be equated with substandard quality. As I have written in previous articles, I know people who didn’t get past high school and who are going through life unable to grasp even the concept of fractions.

Also, as parents of some of the 1.1 million basic education students who failed to enroll this year would tell you, the miscellaneous expenses for education, especially under distance learning, can amount to double or triple the free tuition.

If the rollout of populist programs is found wanting, the government will be seen to have overpromised. It’s like the rosy statements on “a flood” of COVID vaccines arriving. Yet it’s now the second half of the year, and first-dose vaccination has stopped in nearly all of Metro Manila because the supply has run out. The capital region would have to compete with scores of provinces and cities now facing a COVID surge for those 1.1 million AstraZeneca doses donated by Japan, which arrived last night.

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After six years, when a government talks of continuity, politicians, their relatives and cronies who have reaped huge benefits will remember mainly the good times. What people tend to remember are the bad times and the misery.

In the case of Noynoy Aquino, it was the lack of empathy that was seen in Mamasapano and the initial response to Super Tyhpoon Yolanda; the milking dry of the Metro Rail Transit III; the Disbursement Acceleration Program. For his landslide win in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte should thank that elitist image and lack of empathy attributed to PNoy and his BFF.

This time, ironically with PNoy’s death, the current dispensation is being compared with the good of the past: at the very least, the good manners and indifference to power, and the effort to show that truly, we the people are the president’s boss and not the other way around.

What will linger most, of course, is the acute suffering from the raging pandemic. Unfairly or not, all blame for the lives and livelihoods lost will be heaped on those in charge.

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