Wednesday, February 4, 2009

So who protects the people?

If you listened to the hearings of the Senate Committee on Trade and Commerce on the pre-need plans industry, you would surely feel the rage well up inside you. The committee chairman, Sen. Mar Roxas, could not help but wonder at the unbelievable negligence, nay, rank incompetence, of the people who man the agencies that are supposed to protect the people from the irresponsible, even criminal maneuvers of corporate buccaneers who like vultures, feast upon the misplaced trust or the gullibility of the saving public.

“Non-feasance, misfeasance, malfeasance” were the sophisticated jargon used to describe the fault of regulatory agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission vis-à-vis the failure to properly oversee the purveying of pre-need plans to a trusting public. Actually it looks like all of the above. And it’s not confined to the malfeasance or misfeasance of the SEC, but the outright corruption of the justice system likewise, with judges and justices who conveniently delayed the day of reckoning, if we are to take the BSP’s word at face value. The operative attitude when serving the so-called public interest is --- “bahala na kayo sa buhay ninyo”. It’s not only a case of caveat emptor, or buyer beware; it’s also a case of caveat justitiae, or beware of the law. This country, as we described it last week, is truly falling apart.

In 2005, when Senator Roxas made noises about the hollowing out of College Assurance Plan’s trust fund for open-ended educational plans, this space cautioned him against fanning public panic, which I reasoned then, could trigger full collapse. At the time, I was quite apprehensive because a daughter still had a few semesters to collect on a Pacific Plan we bought when she was still in elementary school. A CAP plan of another kid was practically fully collected. Of course we know what happened to Pacific Plans right after. I never did get to collect the balance of the tuition fees due my kids, but do not feel as dispossessed as those whose kids never got anything for their savings. Fortunately, I had means to send them through school, but I could imagine the catastrophe the bankruptcies of these firms wrought upon the rest of parenthood.

And now, several years after, we hear about this abomination called Legacy Plans, and the myriad shell corporations used to suck the blood out of plan holders. It really makes your blood boil. And bravo, Mar, for showing the country what bunch of criminal idiots run the SEC. As La Miriam would propose --- “lobotomize” them.

Never mind the greedy politicians who claim to have lost a pile in the shell game that Celso de los Angeles played on them. For all we know, they have gotten their “investments” several times over. Or, for all we know, the “investments” were a compendium of “tong-pats” from wheeling and dealing, and “kickbacks” from pork barrel. If these weren’t monies of the suffering people, how nice it would be to say it serves these blood-suckers right. Parenthetically, it would be interesting to check whether they included these gigantic interest incomes, paid through post-dated checks of “Boy Seseng”, in their individual income tax statements. Pustahan tayo --- wala.

Look --- now that the heat is on the crooks in government once again, from collusion in huge government contracts involving the country’s most powerful, to the outright lying of Joc-joc and his gang of “commissioners”, the insolvency of a string of banks leaving the speaker’s brother wondering how and with what he will pay the claims of depositors with less than 250,000 pesos in deposit trapped with the schemes of his older brother’s best friend, the spin masters in Malacanang with their allies in Congress decide that this is the most opportune time to throw in a cold and wet towel --- by way of the cha-cha revival.

I told you so. The motto of crooks all over the world is the same: Never say die. If ordinary mortals like you and I are chastised by shame for regretful acts we have done (and who among us all hasn’t sinned?) and try to learn lessons from past mistakes, these guys and a girl with hides as thick as an armadillo, only find fleeting crisis as opportunity to do better next time. “Better” they define as more and greedily more.

As I write this, we just got a dose of yesterdays’ news, ordinarily shocking to citizens of a civilized country, but here in this benighted land of a gazillion miseries, all these are par for the course: (1) another kidnapping in Sulu, this time a Chinese merchant who probably can pay up for what the Red Cross volunteers cannot; (2) teachers in Zamboanga and Basilan have stopped reporting for work, afraid that they might be kidnapped next to the their fellows, still under “custody” of God knows who, the Abu’s or whatever else; (3) Albader Parad, heir to Abu Sabaya it would seem, is keen on capturing his group’s “old glory”, which is why he ordered the abduction of the Red Cross workers, which in turn makes you understand why he now haughtily lists down his preferred negotiators, to be headed by, why --- el Vice-Presidente, Senor Noli de Castro; and you recall that last week, no less than the Vice-Governor of the hapless province of Sulu went into Albader Parad’s lair, and merrily posed for photographs with the Red Cross victims. Hah! It’s a wonderful world!

Now picture yourself as a foreign observer of events happening in this surreal landscape we call our benighted land of the morning, what would you think of these events happening in these isles of terror? The government, represented by the vice-governor, Lady Anne Sahidullah, in cozy pose inside kidnap haven, followed by their new spokesman, this guy Parad, choosing the government’s negotiators. What a country! Or is it yet a country?

While all these grim happenings occur in almost daily succession, you have the little woman who calls herself president of the land, traipsing from Davos where she talks like a fool, to Milan for whatever purpose, to Bahrain for even more unknown purpose, and whaddaya know, to Washington D.C., last-minute, to pray over breakfast. And hope to shake the hands of Obama, to be beamed to her “pobrecito paisanos” back home. “O, tingnan ninyo --- magkaibigan na kami”.

And to top it all, as I write this piece, I hear the house help complaining that we are down to our reserve LPG tank, and that when she called the supplier, she was told they had no stocks. And true enough, you hear Angelo Reyes on radio mouthing a thousand and one excuses, but all it means is --- government is helpless against the hoarders, or did not anticipate the workings of the law of supply and demand. God help this useless bureaucracy, working under a most corrupt leadership.

Who will protect the people? Who even cares? As Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile described the SEC, and you could substitute any other government agency for the SEC --- “you are inutile”.

We end, again with a sad, even desperate note. This country is falling apart; these people are on the brink, not of despair which has filled their beings for years of sufferance, but of rage. When the simplest needs and services you should be taking for granted cannot be available or affordable, and when you hear such scandals as the World Bank condemning us for corruption most gross, and the Department of Justice protecting drug pushers and their ilk, then underneath the despair, there is a strong undercurrent of building rage.

Let me end by quoting Jun Lozada, who on the day this article sees print, will be commemorating his first year as some kind of resurrected Paul of Tarsus, except that the conversion was brought about by the abusive arms and minions of this wretchedly amoral regime. One year ago, he was torn between telling the truth and being part of the wagons of the lie, just like his friend Romulo Neri. Understandably, he was overcome by fear and foreboding. But the evil doers pushed the envelope far too much. And made an honest man of Jun Lozada.

Looking back at one year of mental, emotional and material anguish, consoled only by a drift into the spiritual, “into the light”, Jun rues: “What pains me the most right now is to see the evil doers practically getting everything they want. It pains me to see many leaders of practically all institutions succumbing to the lure of power, money, prestige, turning our so-called moral leaders to subservient supporters propping up an immoral government. It pains me to see how our age-old societal values such as public decency or kahihiyan, patriotism or makabayan, etc., are being attacked with brazen impunity by these purveyors of deceit. It pains me to see the Filipino people never before reduced to such state of hopelessness and helplessness. Nasasaktan akong makita na linugom na sa walang katumbas na kawalan ng pag-asa at kakayahan ang ating mga kababayan ng gobyernong ito ni Gloria at ng kanyang mga kampon. Lalong higit sa lahat, it pains me to see Filipino children eating out of garbage heaps. Maybe it revolts me the most because I know for a fact that all of these families and children need not reduce themselves into an animal-like existence only if the money of the people was not being stolen by those in power. Nakakaiyak sa sakit --- na alam mong pwede namang hindi sila magkaganoon kung hindi lang sana nanakawin ang pera ng mga nasa poder.”

Amen. And amen.