The banality of John Bertiz
The video footage says it all: A man goes through airport security, is told to take off his shoes, but, instead of complying, gets angry, flashes his ID, snatches the security officer’s own ID, and reveals himself to be a congressman — a position which, in his view, entitles him to special privileges.
The social media backlash was swift, and the party-list representative — Aniceto “John” Bertiz III — was revealed to be the same person who, just days earlier, told the latest batch of agricultural and biosystems engineers that “those who don’t know Sec. Bong Go will not get a PRC license.”
At first, Bertiz blamed the airport officials, saying he was berating them for “Chinese-looking passengers” who were not asked to remove their shoes during inspection. But subsequently released video footage and eyewitness accounts belied his claim. Eventually, he apologized, but not without offering the lame and misogynistic excuse that “he has a monthly period once a year.”
Bertiz’s behavior has been rightfully called out as a clear case of abusive behavior, but even more lamentable is the fact that his behavior and attitude is actually not uncommon among our public officials. Emboldened by their position and the sense of entitlement that comes with it, they behave as if they’re “very important people,” and consequently, that others must be less so. “Don’t you know who I am?” they ask, expecting that their titles—or those of their connections—will give them preferential treatment.
Just two months ago, there was the similar case of Christine Villamora Estepa, a Department of Justice prosecutor who, when accosted for illegal parking, raised her voice and even allegedly hit one of the traffic enforcers. Apparently, such cases are quite frequent. As one MMDA official told me: “Congressmen, Cabinet members, judges, colonels, even their relatives and staff… not all of them act that way, but they’re usually the hardest to apprehend because they think they’re untouchable.”
If we go far back in time, we will be reminded of Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, who, after being barred from leaving through a restricted exit of Dasmariñas Village, angrily confronted the guards, and ordered the local police not just to let them have their way through the exit, but to bring the guards to the police station. Jejomar Binay, then vice president, defended his son, saying that he “deserved some courtesy.”
Meanwhile, going back to the airport, we also have the case of Sandra Cam, who last year demanded free access to a VIP lounge, boasting that “in three months, I will be a member of the Cabinet,” adding that she was speaking on the phone with Bong Go. Even imaginary power, apparently, comes with an imagined sense of entitlement.
To the credit of the government, there have been attempts to penalize haughty officials (Republic Act No. 6713, a law regulating the conduct of public officials, actually exists). But these efforts have been undermined by the government’s double standards across various administrations.
The tenacity of our “VIP culture” is also buttressed by the fact that it trickles down across the political hierarchy. In 2016, Talisay, Batangas, town councilor Florencio Pesigan arrived at the Department of Foreign Affairs office in Lipa to get his passport, and when he was asked to wait for his turn along with the other applicants, he got mad, cursing and shouting: “Konsehal ako!” “What’s your name?” he asked the security officer. “I will have you removed, you don’t know me, I will have you removed!”
Fortunately, he was suspended by the Ombudsman, but how many more like him — especially those not caught on camera — manage to get away with impunity?
“Don’t you know who I am?” ask the John Bertizes of our land, condescending on the very people they are supposed to serve, mocking the rules they are supposed to uphold.
“Don’t you know who I am?” they repeat, demanding the urgency of acknowledging their power and acquiescing to their privilege.
Yes, we know who you are.
You are public servants who act like kings and queens.
You are taxpayer-funded officials who act as if taxpayers money is yours to give or take away.
You think the country belongs to you — but it is you and your arrogant behavior that do not belong to our country.
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