‘Kapit sa patalim’ | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

‘Kapit sa patalim’

A test of leadership is the ability to rise above one’s personal interests and push forward measures for the greater good—even if it may run counter to one’s preferences or self-interest.

Such a situation now confronts P-Noy, with the Department of Justice recently supporting the signing into law, by the President, of the Graphic Health Warnings bill passed by Congress last month.

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Malacañang had asked the DOJ for an opinion on the soundness of the measure, which would replace mere written warnings on the dangers of smoking in cigarette packs with more “graphic” means, such as photographs showing the health consequences of smoking. Earlier, the Department of Health and other health groups had pushed for the passage of the bill, arguing that the toll of deaths and illnesses related to smoking—an estimated 240 deaths per day, plus the cost of health care and lost productivity for thousands more—far outweighed the gains from taxes and employment.

The “graphic warnings,” it was hoped, could discourage any increase in the number of smokers, especially among the young who could possibly be turned off by the unsightly pictures and thus never pick up the habit.

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I hope I’m wrong, but it might be too late by now for the President to suddenly develop an aversion to cigarettes because of some “yucky” pictures. After all, he has been a smoker for most of his life, as evidenced by his frequent coughing in the middle of his speeches and the days off he’s forced to take due to coughing spells and other breathing troubles. But even if he persists in this bad habit, P-Noy should be aware that it is in the country’s best interest to eliminate this growing threat to public health.

Maybe the Palace’s request for a legal opinion is the executive department’s way of finding cover in law for the passage of a measure that is sure to draw even more attention to P-Noy’s smoking and the apparent contradiction in his signing of a law that apparently he would choose to ignore.

But he could very well say: Do as the law says, and not what I do myself. Or, he could seriously give quitting smoking a try. He would not just be setting a good example, he would be saving his life.

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Saving their lives is an option that overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East are free to take up, but which many, judging from news reports, choose to ignore.

Surprising indeed is the disclosure by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration that only 515 of an estimated 13,000 OFWs in Libya have taken up the government’s offer of free voluntary repatriation in the wake of the rising tensions in that anarchical country.

Filipino workers in Israel, particularly in the beleaguered and Palestinian-controlled area of the Gaza Strip, are also being urged to partake of the free repatriation program offered by the government. Indeed, embassies in Egypt, Israel and Jordan stand ready to lend assistance to any Filipino who wants to flee the fighting and missile attacks.

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I don’t know what it is exactly our compatriots are waiting for, but judging from the testimony of those caught in other, earlier conflicts, they seem more confident of surviving a war than of surviving back home, where only uncertainty awaits them.

Some have said they prefer to stay put, hold on to their jobs and sources of income, rather than take the risk of coming home only to face joblessness and long-term insecurity. Better the bombs they know than the unsure future.

As it has done in other international crises, DOLE and other agencies entice workers in trouble spots to come home with the promise of

“re-employment” programs, offering training in alternative livelihoods or entrepreneurial skills. But if such programs had proven successful, would word not have spread among OFWs, convincing those in hot spots to take the risk and head home?

Of course, it could very well be a case of complacency among OFWs, or of desperation, with people who have lost hope in the Motherland (the reason they left the country in the first place) choosing instead a risky existence in a place where they have found gainful employment. We have a term for it: “kapit sa patalim,” holding on to a knife’s edge, fully aware of the risk of injury, but hoping all the same for a better—or tolerable—outcome.

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But still, it would not surprise me if, in the coming days or weeks, we should start seeing photos or footage of Filipinos in Libya, Iraq, Gaza and other hot spots like Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan besieging Philippine embassies and diplomatic outposts as the conflicts escalate and they start feeling the heat.

By then, the situation would have moved from alerts and warnings to desperation and calls for “action” from government representatives. It isn’t too far from the situation here when typhoons strike, and residents who had earlier ignored warnings of floods and the need to evacuate to safer areas start clamoring to be rescued, with much danger to their safety, as well as their rescuers.

A provincial official, interviewed on radio in the course of a typhoon, admitted she felt inclined not to come to these stranded residents’ rescue as they had plenty of time to flee the danger areas and had now put provincial employees, including police and other rescuers, at greater risk.

Of course, such talk is politically risky. More so if we’re talking about our new heroes abroad risking alienation, loneliness and their very lives just to be able to send home much-needed money to their families. But still, there are limits to good intentions and to patience as well.

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TAGS: cigarettes, Graphic Health Warnings bill, nation, news, smoking
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