Missing secretaries

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Last Dec. 22, 2023, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin checked into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland to undergo treatment for prostate cancer. What became an issue was not him having prostate cancer, but that President Joe Biden had not been informed about Austin’s condition and whereabouts for four days.  

Given Secretary Austin’s extremely important position, a number of US lawmakers quickly made an issue of the incident. Here in the Philippines, a Cabinet secretary with an equally sensitive responsibility can disappear for longer than four days, even several weeks to a month and it turns into a guessing game, fuel for the rumor mill and, for friends, a serious cause for concern. 

Without naming the official involved, people in media have been hearing rumors about a seriously sick Cabinet member who, just like Secretary Lloyd Austin, is allegedly suffering from stage 4 cancer of an unspecified type. Because of Filipino culture and values, we do not openly talk about it or question the matter, partly out of respect for privacy as well as compassion for people falling ill.  

The problem is a Cabinet secretary is accountable, not only to the President of the Philippines but also to the Filipinos at large, especially if his position affects day-to-day life. There is also the issue of properly executing the duties and responsibilities of the office the Cabinet secretary has sworn to perform. That requires continuity of service or, at worse, the transfer to someone able to perform the duties and chosen by the President.  

At the very least, if such a situation exists, there should be a protocol or law that requires or forces the official to file or go on “official leave” and have a caretaker manage the office. This is vital to preserve the validity and integrity of documents and transactions entered into by government officials who end up “Missing In Action” due to illness. 

As for the allegedly ill official, my most sincere prayers for your health and, if so, your healing. 

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News reports say that Metro Manila has the slowest vehicle movement per kilometer in comparison to other cities in the region. Authorities love to pin the blame on the exceedingly high volume of vehicles in Metro Manila as well as record sales of cars annually.  

What’s interesting is that even Grab and taxi drivers have often pointed out that there is simply too much concentration of people, offices and malls or commercial districts in limited areas. This led me to wonder: if Boracay Island is required to observe or enforce a fixed number of people allowed to be on the island under the “carrying capacity” rule, what about places such as Makati, BGC, Manila, Ortigas or EDSA? Zoning used to be the buzz word 10 to 15 years ago but all that seems to have become a lie. 

If the DENR and Malacañang can compute the carrying capacity of an island, someone probably knows what the carrying capacities of EDSA and the various business districts are. At the rate that developers and property owners are getting into high rise buildings and condominiums, the possibility of multiplying the ground level capacity of Metro Manila by 50 to 75 times normal has probably been achieved.  

 We are not talking about Metro Manila-wide concentration of population but merely districts that now bring in more people and more cars than their roads can handle, too many pedestrians and users of water and electricity. Their collective environmental impact is what we call TRAFFIC of EDSA.  

 What’s worse is that authorities can only come up with half-baked solutions such as number coding or vehicle volume reduction program that was by-passed by the rich who simply bought more cars. The truck ban was introduced to free up road space for office workers, but businesses bought and still buy smaller delivery vehicles just to meet deliveries. What complicates the problem is that every year we add new graduates, new drivers and new entrepreneurs, many of whom buy new vehicles now made affordable by banks that have too much cash on reserve.  

 In the meantime, no one is thinking of urban planning and depopulating Metro Manila and directing investment outside Metro Manila and the nearby areas. Government and business insist on maintaining the MIAA and NAIA terminals where they are in spite of their age and serious limitations. Some LGUs are trying to keep businesses in their backyard by getting into reclamation projects. They say it’s cheaper to do reclamation than purchase land at current commercial values.  

The problem with that thinking is as new reclamation sites go up followed by modern developments, the older, less developed areas will surely suffer property depreciation or sell out.  

I’m no expert, I’m not an economist but sooner or later, we may wake up with problems on water supply, pollution, garbage and pest control and not just traffic, as more and more high rises pop up side by side. The government has to rein things in and work out a plan to create new business centers and townships outside Metro Manila.  

Why let so much traffic coming in and going out of Metro Manila if we can incentivize businesses to locate in Laguna, Batangas, Bulacan and Pampanga? Given all the planned projects of the PNR, it may be time for Malacañang to develop a parallel urban planning and incentivized relocation program alongside strategic areas where the Clark-to-Calamba tracks will go up. Start now or miss the train. 

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