Take time to ponder | Inquirer Opinion
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Take time to ponder

/ 12:26 AM September 24, 2015

One of the lovely things about Filipinos is their strong emotional sense. It binds people and cements friendships. But sometimes, it clouds a more thoughtful response.

Let me give you two examples currently in the news.


The first concerns balikbayan boxes. The immediate overreaction—and it was truly an overreaction—was based on the cruelty of imposing constraints on our overseas Filipino workers. And certainly, we shouldn’t, but are all these balikbayan boxes really the gifts and household bits and pieces sent to help the family? The answer, as I’m sure you all well know, is: No.

Unscrupulous people take advantage of the government’s liberal treatment of smuggling. It wouldn’t be too bad if it concerned only a few TV sets and cell phones, but former customs commissioner Ruffy Biazon confirmed in a Senate hearing that guns had been found in a balikbayan box sent from the United States and in another seized in Cebu. That’s far more serious and must be stopped.


Guns are even sent in parts so X-rays won’t recognize them. Should we just let that happen? It’s like security/X-ray checks at airports, even in hotels. I hate them, they’re an inconvenience, and they infringe on my freedom, but I recognize that there are a few dangerous souls out there that are determined to blow us all up. So we accept these security checks.

The fact is that smugglers are using balikbayan boxes. We need to accept some inconvenience to stop them.

The Customs Commissioner was quite right to want to inspect the boxes. The thing is how to do it without hurting or inconveniencing the innocent too much. Some 13,000 boxes enter the Philippines DAILY, so finding a way to catch the cheats is no easy task. Some imaginative solutions are needed. What aren’t needed are knee-jerk reactions and attacks on the Commissioner. So let’s think beyond emotion and look for a way to keep it easy and hassle-free for the innocent while capturing the unscrupulous.

At present the boxes are X-rayed, but from outside the container in which some 440 boxes sit, I’d suspect that’s not very effective. A possibility might be to have an X-ray inspection of the boxes as they are unloaded at their destination, but logistics and supply of personnel could be a problem. Unloading and reloading at port would be highly inefficient and time-consuming. An intel review of senders and recipients might work, but clever criminals would soon counter that. So, what? Instead of just criticizing, let’s look for solutions.

The other thing in the news is the Torre de Manila disrupting the visual purity of the Jose Rizal shrine. In a purist sense maybe it does, but the modern world is building skyscrapers, and shrines all over the world are being encompassed by these buildings. It’s a modern-world reality. Do you go to see the shrine, a shrine that Rizal said he didn’t want, or do you go to see the background? I suggest the shrine.

In a modern city you can’t get away from the intrusion of buildings. And surely, if there’s to be opposition, it should have been made when the Torre was started, not when it’s almost finished. If the Supreme Court did order its destruction, who pays for that? DMCI? Why? It did nothing wrong; it asked if it could build the structure and was told by the mayor and Manila’s city planning and development officer that it could. It got permits from the city government, and no one objected. On what grounds then can you force it to suffer a P2.7-billion loss?

Should the government of Manila pay? Why? It didn’t violate any known law. Aesthetic appreciation, important as I certainly think it is, is not part of the bureaucratic mind, or system. I agree with the oppositionists that there should be a law to protect a monument’s sight line, but there isn’t yet. It’s something the next Congress should certainly consider. It should prioritize a law that takes into account the environment around a shrine.


I’m dismayed and horrified at the wanton destruction of historic buildings to give way to modern monstrosities, but here it happens. Yet it’s an easy one to fix. Do what Sydney does: Ban the destruction of historic buildings, but allow redesign inside.

Sight lines, though, are far more complex. Upon whose judgment will a building be considered an eyesore, or not? Over what distance—100 meters, one kilometer, 10 kilometers? And from what vantage point—only from directly in front, or also if you walk around the back?

I went to have a look, and I studied the shrine. I didn’t take much notice of the background. The reverence everyone feels for Rizal was there. So there’s a building in the background if I take a picture. So what? The shrine still dominates the photo, and the purpose of going there is to reflect on Rizal’s heroism, not take pictures of oneself.

It will be interesting to see how a Supreme Court that makes some very strange decisions will decide on this matter. What it must be very careful about is that if it decides that the Torre must come down, it should state who will pay for the demolition and who will recompense DMCI. If the city government erred in issuing permits, then it should probably be the city government. It should not be DMCI, unless it can be conclusively proven that it broke an existing law. That’s something the Solicitor General is saying, but I can’t find how he justifies it. And why is he in opposition to a local government who approved it? Aren’t they in the same Philippine government?

The Supreme Court should consider in its deliberations what is business to think if government-approved projects can be canceled and ordered destroyed on the petition of anybody for reasons of doubtful legitimacy.

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Comments at [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: Balikbayan box, Customs, DMCI, Supreme Court, Torre de Manila
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