The exempted gods | Inquirer Opinion
FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

The exempted gods

/ 12:07 AM November 16, 2015

CALLS FOR government officials to take public transportation at least once a month have been making the rounds of online sites for several months now.

One online petition (by change.org) declares: “[Eighty] percent of Metro Manila residents—including children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities—take public transportation. The government puts all its efforts in trying to solve traffic [problems] but not in solving public transportation [problems]. The only way government officials will understand the plight of commuters is if they themselves take public transport regularly.”

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Another campaigner (Legitimate Philippines) cites the purported examples of foreign leaders: “David Cameron (prime minister, United Kingdom) frequently takes the Tube (the London underground). He has also told government ministers to forget the limo and take the Tube. François Hollande (president, France) use[s] the train to official journeys within France, and to European summits in Brussels. Raim Emanuel (mayor, Chicago) takes the train to his city hall office about twice a week. Boris Johnson (mayor, London) is regularly seen biking through London and also uses the Tube. China’s new leadership has asked government officials to travel simply and, in normal circumstances, not to close roads to ease their journeys. [Ninety-one] percent of the delegates to the Swiss Parliament take the tram to work. In Jakarta, city officials are banned from using their cars on the first Friday of every month.”

Doubtless, these calls are made because despite the horrendously long lines of commuters and the jampacked trains, there is widespread public perception that the government remains unconcerned about the extreme urgency of the need to ease the suffering of commuters.

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These campaigns spring from overwhelming public resentment that so-called “public servants” are detached from reality and must be made to experience the suffering caused by their action or inaction. The pervasive conclusion that government officials are insensitive is rooted in the many ways they unfairly insulate themselves from the daily struggle endured by the people.

There are many examples illustrating how officials flaunt their status as exempted gods. Despite the avowed “no wang-wang” campaign of the Aquino administration, commuters and motorists see daily incidents of “public servants” escorted by motorcycle-riding policemen who employ a single “wang” for every reckless swerve they make as they pompously weave through bumper-to-bumper traffic. “Public servants” are assigned chauffeur-driven and red-plate cars which spare them from packed public vehicles and immune them from number-coding restrictions. “Public servants” exempt themselves from the long lines and dilapidated amenities in our airports by means of escorts, priority lanes and VIP lounges. “Public servants” are provided “courtesy lanes” which are disguised exemptions from the hoops and hurdles to which ordinary citizens are subjected in trying to obtain a driver’s license, passport, social-security benefits, and the like.

Government officials build cocoons for themselves which insulate them from the harsh conditions endured by their “bosses.” As a result, they are either completely clueless of the suffering, belated in realizing the suffering, or fail to comprehend the gravity of the suffering experienced by the people.

This must be one of the reasons many government policies are formulated only in reaction to long-festering problems instead of being anticipatory of future problems. A problem must first arise before the government is prompted to react with a remedial action, instead of the government formulating policies that anticipate problems before they darken the horizon.

Think of the inadequacies of our trains, airports, roads, and public services in general, and imagine how fast these inadequacies would have been fixed if government officials were part of the masses of people made to suffer from these inadequacies.

Many government leaders are content to insulate themselves from societal problems instead of working on solutions that will prevent these problems from bedeviling the entirety of society.

Even in the matter of peace and order, too many government officials—undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, directors, vice mayors, city councilors, etc.—surround themselves with personnel who are solely focused on the singular security of their wards. If this army of security personnel were instead assigned to ensure the security of the entire communities where these officials live side by side with the electorate (who are equally entitled to security), then public welfare will be rightfully served. Contrast this to the existing reality where security bubbles are created only for privileged officials, while leaving the rest of the community to fend for themselves in obtaining security against criminal elements.

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In other countries, campaigns to make government officials experience the hardship endured by ordinary folk resound with this battle cry: “Put politicians on minimum wage, and watch how fast things change.”

Filipinos should mount similar campaigns requiring government officials to experience the hardship and suffering that we endure daily. And let the May 2016 elections be a day of reckoning for the gods who exempt themselves from hardship and leave the rest of us mired in suffering.

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