At another time and another place, the newspaperman Teddyboy Locsin would have skewered with the choicest words any government official letting loose in one breath about, say, “pissed-off” parties stealing passport holders’ personal data on a grand scale and, in the next breath, doubling back and saying, no need to panic, data “not runaway-able,” just “made inaccessible.”
In a column or an editorial, he would have made mincemeat of any such official; he would have, one imagines in the manner of Bruce Lee, elegantly disemboweled the subject and, perversely, presented the same with his/her steaming innards.
But no. To the bewildered observer, the shoe was now on the other foot, and Locsin, now chief of the Department of Foreign Affairs, was doing the inconceivable: shooting his mouth off on a past DFA contractor supposedly committing data theft and, as a consequence, passport holders needing to present a birth certificate for renewal, then quickly contradicting himself, and at one point claiming a smear campaign in progress against him… All these on Twitter, as though he were merely posting droll comments on the human condition. But in fact, unlike the members of the Commission on Appointments who were so charmed by his language as to quickly confirm his being named foreign secretary, the public was gripped with high anxiety over a possible massive breach of privacy, the seemingly sorry state of the government’s data network—and, of course, the bureaucratic nightmare that would necessarily result from simultaneous and, in many cases, expectedly unmet, demands for birth certificates from Filipinos needing to renew old passports.
“Why,” Dolores Balladares Pelaez, chair of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, wanted to know, “should we pay for the DFA’s ineptitude?”
Indeed, why? We have more than enough chronic problems as it is; we do not need to add this kerfuffle to the list. Data breach looms large as a clear and present danger particularly because a national ID system is being ardently pushed, as this newspaper recently pointed out in an editorial. The National Privacy Commission, which is investigating the passport data mess, was correct to cite the urgency of the issue in giving the DFA only 5 of the 10 days it was seeking to postpone a fact-finding meeting. There is not a moment to lose, after all. As the days wear on, people are compelled to turn their attention to other pressing matters. We cannot lose focus on stolen or “corrupted” passport data. The recent one-two oil price increases—horrific from any angle—are making us punch-drunk.
At the risk of having too many cooks stirring the broth, the Senate should also make good on the call of at least two of its members for an official probe.
These inquiries must result in swift answers, and not just peter out into oblivion. What level of official incompetence was reached, how much of data security was breached, possibly who made a pile from taxpayer money? With that information shored up by evidence, a loud clamor must be mustered, not only for a swift solution but also for just restitution.
Meanwhile, can it be that certain quarters are running rings around the redoubtable DFA chief? Unthinkably, he presented a predecessor, Perfecto Yasay Jr., an opportunity to set him aright, and to say a mouthful while at it: that the supposed “pissed-off” contractor, Oberthur of France, could not have “made off” with the data; that it simply withdrew upon completion of its contract; that it was “preposterous and malicious and completely false” for anyone to make such an accusation.
Words are inordinately cheap in this era of information (true or false) hurtling at the speed of light. US President Donald Trump continues to raise the hackles of many Americans for discussing weighty state matters on Twitter, in language as cheap and as classist as the fast food he served the college football champions, the Clemson Tigers, at the White House State Dining Room. Speaking live, President Duterte regularly regales his audiences with quips of rape (“it comes with the territory” for OFWs) and murder (“kill the bishops”), so that these crimes lose the element of the vile and the extraordinary and become part of the norm.
On Twitter, Locsin toys with Filipinos by dispensing information on passport data and processes like so much gossip, and makes a mess that he still has to mop up. “Own it,” the comedian Ethel Booba tweeted wisely. “Fix it.”
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