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Top Gear Philippines

I have no interest in politics, so you can throw away any suspicion you might have that this piece is politically motivated--or, as in the case of so many "opinion makers," paid. The only time I become marginally political is when I cast my vote for someone running for public office. Other than that, politics does not appeal to me.

But there are those rare times I find myself feeling strongly about social issues that are inevitably political by way of the people involved in them. This issue is one of those.

Just before the break of dawn on December 16, 2013, a bus operated by Don Mariano Transit Corporation fell off the Skyway and crushed a van on level ground. Some 20 people perished in a tragedy that could have been prevented had the government agency in charge of granting permit to public-transport providers been doing its job. Ensuing media scrutiny revealed that most of the buses owned by the above-mentioned company had failed roadworthiness tests and yet had been allowed to ply our roads.

Hence, the question: What kind of country allows things that shouldn't be allowed? What kind of society makes the illegal legal?

The answer came to me three days later, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer published the story of Makati Mayor Junjun Binay getting into an altercation with Dasmariñas Village security guards after the former's convoy had been denied passage through an exit that had a 10pm curfew. The mayor, according to the report, had the security guards arrested, which his office would later deny, insisting the guards had simply been "invited."

Whatever.

Although the incident had taken place three weeks prior to the report, the story wasn't entirely hearsay--a CCTV video accompanied it, ensuring that the Binay family wouldn't be able to controvert the account, and guaranteeing that the comical image of a grown man with an umbrella servant (on a clear evening) was forever seared in our consciousness.

Now, let me say here and now I am not interested in smearing Mayor Binay. In fact, I am convinced the story was fed to the Inquirer by the Binays' political rivals, whom you can expect to multiply in number now that the elder Binay has made known his intent to go after the presidency in 2016. And let's not be naive here: What Mayor Binay did was not extraordinarily unique. (Okay, the umbrella thing was out-of-this-world unique; he will need a brilliant image consultant to fix that.) Most public officials would have acted the same way, and that's what I want to discuss here.

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These are the basic facts:

* The Dasmariñas Village security guards did what they were supposed to do--block the exit after 10pm and direct everyone to the nearest available exit just 150m away. What they did was the RIGHT THING.

* The city's highest-ranking public official was incensed that the guards were doing the RIGHT THING. "Do you know me?" he was quoted as having asked them. He obviously felt that the rules shouldn't apply to him.

* The guards were then arrested (or invited) by the responding cops...for doing the RIGHT THING.

* The security agency that employed the guards issued an apology to the office of the mayor, because its guards had done the RIGHT THING.

And that, my countrymen, is why no one has the balls to do the right thing in government.

It's why righteous employees at the BOC can't stop car smugglers. Nakatimbre na yan sa taas. "Make life difficult for me and I'll make sure you're unemployed tomorrow."

It's why straight traffic officers eventually get swallowed by the system. They'll flag down an erring vehicle only to be handed the crisp calling card of a congressman, whose secretary is the wife of the brother of the officemate of the golf buddy of the driver.

It's why honest LTO staffers can't push for reforms in the issuance of driver's licenses. There's huge money to be made from license applicants who do not wish to go through a proper driving examination, and the big bosses will never allow that kind of money to stop flowing.

It's why good people at the DPWH just turn a blind eye to all the spurious deals that are happening around them. Don't cooperate and you'll get fired faster than a Metro Manila road develops potholes.

And yes, it's why principled assessors at the LTFRB can't do anything about unsafe public-utility buses. The operators of these buses pay handsome fees to the higher-ups, who will give their stamp of approval regardless of your expert evaluation.

You see, we live in a society where the senators, the mayors, the VIPs have the final say in all our affairs. Do the right thing only if it doesn't inconvenience them or their friends. Do the right thing only if it doesn't take away from their earnings. Do the right thing only if it doesn't threaten their position.

This is what's killing this otherwise great country. "Walang kumpa-kumpare" and "kayo ang boss ko" are two of the funniest jokes ever told by Filipino stand-up comedians.

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Vernon B. Sarne
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