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Tone-deaf and out of touch

/ 04:15 AM October 11, 2019

It’s surreal to hear what our top public officials have said and done in recent weeks. Surreal in their level of detachment from the real-world situation of the public they are supposed to serve. Surreal in their effrontery, their confidence that they can be blatantly uncaring and get away with it. They are what Merriam-Webster describes as “tone-deaf”: “having or showing an obtuse insensitivity or lack of perception particularly in matters of public sentiment, opinion, or taste.”

A striking example would be presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s hot take on Metro Manila’s transport situation. After the Light Rail Transit 2 had to shut down this week, commuters have spoken up about
taking hours just to get to nearby destinations. The usual pitfalls of public transportation in the metro—overcrowding, traffic and pollution—were compounded to incredible new heights.

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But there is no transportation crisis, Panelo said, “because people can still reach their destination.” He advised that if you want to “arrive early in your destination, then you go there earlier.”

This statement just drips of insensitivity to what the average Manila commuter goes through on a daily basis. It is not uncommon for them to have to wake up at 4 or 3 a.m. to reach their workplaces on time. By 8 a.m., they will have been exposed to unhealthy levels of stress and pollution. Then, at the end of the day, they will have to face several more hours of the grueling journey, arriving at their homes exhausted and with barely enough time for a solid shut-eye. This happens every single day. This cannot be normal.

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In other news, the Palace has just purchased a P2-billion presidential jet, which it justifies as a necessary purchase for “times of crisis.” The timing of this news couldn’t have been more callous, as Filipino nurses are calling for the increase of their basic pay to P30,000, and Filipino farmers are still grappling with the drop in rice prices following the rice tariffication law.

We must view this in light of what Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said last year: that a Filipino family of five would need a monthly income of P42,000 to survive (though he later said this was not an official National Economic and Development Authority figure). The fact that our nurses are pleading to receive P30,000 per month—not even close to the Neda minimum—should shame our nation’s officials into giving them more priority. We are seeing quite the opposite.

The same can be said about our farmers. People took note when Sen. Cynthia Villar, who authored the tariffication bill, commented that farmers were asking too much when they sought to sell at P21 per kilo. But various computations from farmer groups, most notably Bantay Bigas South Cotabato, show that a palay price of P21 wouldn’t even graze the P42,000 income line. According to Bantay Bigas’ estimate, farmers would earn only P5,564 monthly from this palay price—an impossibly scant budget for the common farming family.

How is it that government officials have become so shameless with their insensitivity? Sure, when you have lived in the Philippines for so long, accounts of self-serving politicians barely surprise you anymore. But for them to shift the burden to the people (“Go earlier,” “You’re asking for too much”), when it is the government’s incompetence and disservice that put these very people in the quagmire, and then be unapologetic about it—that is a whole new low.

We cannot afford to stop reminding them of their roles. They are—or are supposed to be—public servants. They must be one with the public, able to understand the real needs of the people and committed to finding ways to prioritize these. However, the lure of power and position may cause them to be out of touch with reality, and so, as disappointing as this may be, it is imperative for us, the people, to keep pressuring them to wake up from their ivory-tower delusions and finally listen.

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TAGS: Filipino nurses, National Economic and Development Authority, out of touch, P2-billion presidential jet, Palace, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Tone-deaf
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