The people are not her bosses
The line was excruciatingly long and moved at a snail’s pace. And this wasn’t the check-in counters yet. This was the entrance to Terminal 3 of the Naia. On the morning of Oct. 1, a Saturday, the PAL Employees Association (Palea) strike was at its peak. Booked PAL passengers were being turned down passage at the airline’s Terminal 2 and were told to transit through Terminal 3.
Thus the longer-than-usual lines at the entrance of Terminal 3. At Terminal 3 was the airline’s subsidiary budget airline Air Philippines which was not on strike. There, its ground crew serviced whatever flights the mother airline was able to fly.
Aggravating the already chaotic situation, only two entrance gates of Terminal 3 were opened to departing passengers that morning. Everybody just had to catch their flights. “Everybody” included one latecomer, arriving in an SUV, who was right away allowed entry into the terminal in full view of everyone in that long, long line. It was my turn next to go through the baggage scanner, except that I had to stop and give way to this favored one.
Who was this favored one, I asked the guards. A Cabinet secretary, one of them replied. Just that, a “Cabinet secretary.” No name was given. But it reminded everybody in the line of somebody else’s description of the so-called “wang-wang” mentality. If she was indeed a Cabinet secretary, then her boss must be President Aquino. And the President has repeatedly said the Filipino people are his bosses.
When I insisted on knowing the identity of favored Cabinet secretary, I was told that she was the Honorable Imelda M. Nicolas, the chairperson of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, a Cabinet-rank position. Obviously, she too was catching a flight. But so was everyone in that line, except that they were not Cabinet secretaries. They were just ordinary people.
In this country where rules are, more often than not, mere fantasia, circumventions by the high and the mighty are commonplace. But wait, we were promised that we were now in the “daang matuwid.” Under that daang matuwid, the car of another Cabinet secretary, Ronald Llamas, figured in a road mishap just last week. A firearm was found inside his car. Are President Aquino’s alter egos now flaunting their positions without him knowing it?
Reminded that what she was doing was a clear manifestation of the wang-wang mentality, the mindset of entitlement that the Aquino administration has promised to eradicate—and that she had to fall in line just like everyone else, the Cabinet secretary nevertheless nonchalantly proceeded to go inside the terminal, totally unmindful of the inconvenience she had caused.
She had a traveling companion, a man who told me that this was only a privilege “for a sickly 61-year-old.” But the 61-year-old, whoever it was among the two of them, was fit enough to travel and even to serve government.
Inside the plane, seated next to me, was a 74-year-old lady who was on crutches. It was her first flight back home after spending some years in the United States. She demanded no entitlements, but a fellow passenger saw to it that she would be provided with a wheelchair upon landing. Secretary Nicolas was certainly more demanding than this much older balikbayan senior citizen.
Secretary Nicolas is described in her department’s official bio as “a lifelong advocate for women’s rights and for good governance.” But more importantly, let us not forget that she was one of the so-called “Hyatt 10” that made headlines in 2005 precisely after denouncing the abuses and corruption that they claimed they personally witnessed under the Arroyo administration. The perception then was that they were clean. The perception then was that they were part of the solution.
If Secretary Nicolas could step on people in broad daylight because she felt she was “more entitled” than all of them, what can she do behind our backs? The possibilities are limitless and tempting.
“Over the years, the wang-wang had come to symbolize abuse of authority. It was routinely used by public officials . . . as if only the time of the powerful few, and no one else’s, mattered. Instead of behaving like public servants, they acted like kings. This privilege was extended to their cronies and patrons, who moved along the streets as if they were aristocracy, indifferent to those who were forced to give way and were left behind. Abusing privilege despite promising to serve—this is the wang-wang mindset; this is the mindset of entitlement.
“They had no right to do this. Yet the flagrant abuse we bore witness to prompts us to ask: if they felt it their privilege to flout the simplest traffic laws, how could we expect them not to help themselves to a share of projects funded by the Filipino people?
“Do you want the corrupt held accountable? So do I. Do you want to see the end of wang-wang, both on the streets and in the sense of entitlement that has led to the abuse that we have lived with for so long? So do I.”
So do we.
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