Corruption and death

As of this moment some things and details are still unclear to me. But what I do know is that in death, as in life, you cannot escape corruption.

They rushed my aunt to a local, government-operated hospital on Monday. The doctors inserted a respirator tube, and asked her sister to buy medicines at the hospital pharmacy. When she got back, my aunt’s gone. She tried returning the medicines, but the pharmacy refused. She had the receipt signed by the attending physician just to prove that the medicines were unused and useless.

Then the troubles began. Both her sister and my father have memorial plans from a reputable insurance company; the deceased did not. The service provider “accredited” by the hospital approached my relatives, offering their services. Her siblings refused. So they had the remains taken by the service provider of their choice. My aunt and my father planned to assign their memorial plans to the deceased to cover for the expenses.

The service provider refused. First, they have their own memorial plans, and they only accept clients who bought their plans. Second, they don’t accept clients that hold plans from other providers. I don’t know what happened, but the relatives got a plan from someone. This plan was issued by the service provider. All’s well that ends well?

It’s the death certificate this time. We coursed the request for a death certificate through the service provider, but the hospital refused to deal with the service provider, since the provider is “not accredited.” So the relatives tried to secure the document themselves. The hospital still refused, since my aunt was “not admitted.” Later, the hospital revised its party line; this time, it claimed that my aunt was not confined for at least 24 hours.

This issue bothered us for several days; we couldn’t schedule the cremation if there’s no death certificate. I don’t know what happened, but a death certificate was issued on Wednesday. Due to this delay, the cremation was scheduled on Saturday (which is today).

We chose to have the cremation done somewhere else; the plan does not cover cremation, and this service at the service provider is expensive. We found a cheaper alternative. However, you have to get the urn from the cremation service provider. It was still cheaper; the urns being offered by the memorial service provider are way to expensive, almost equivalent to the cremation itself.

And there’s the issue of the coffin. Because the coffin’s obviously empty after a cremation, so what is to be done with it? The service provider said they would “donate” it to indigents. What if we want to donate it ourself, my relatives asked. I never got their answer, but the discussion with my relatives was so heated, I decided there and then to abstain from participation in the decision making. Basically, the family wanted to desist from further discussion and let go of the issue. But an aunt from another side, charitable as she is, volunteered the coffin to a barangay in one of the big cities in Metro Manila. So it was another round of discussion (and I happily inhibited myself); in the end, after being bothered by everyone, the coffin was released to the barangay.

That is not the end of it. The cremation service provider wanted to have dibs with the coffin. But they were reasonable, and let go of the coffin as well.

Death is not unlike life. It is a business, a lucrative one. And a lucrative business means cutthroat competition. Also, some businesses take advantage of the vulnerability of the deceased’s love ones, offering overpriced services. The worst thing of all is the legalized corruption, which I won’t expound on, since it is inefficient to restate the obvious.


A night at a jail

It was a small room at the mezzanine. Without an aircon unit, a stand fan was laboring hard to bring comfort to the occupants of that room. There were two office tables – one was facing the door, which was never closed; and the other facing a wall – typical office setup. There were two backless, low-arm rest sofa at opposite sides of the wall. A computer, turned off, was at the back of the table facing the door. There was laughter among the four men and two nuns inside the room, but the man in black had a look of apprehension and worry in his eyes.

For Jun Lozada, it was his first night in that room – for all purposes, his temporary jail cell.

This worry was just one out of 16 cases that he is facing, only that this one was the first to mature, so to speak. But it is indeed worrisome. The prospect is bleak. Tomorrow, a judge will issue a commitment order for him to be transferred to Manila City Jail. His tormentor, together with the tormentor’s family, just flew off to the United States to watch the Pacquiao-Hatton boxing match. Lozada is the defendant in this case; Mike Defensor wants to clear his name. This is the Philippine justice system at work.

Outside, there were around 20 protesters carrying signs. They were dispersed by unusual summer rains. Some of the people in the area thought it was a sign. They could not agree on what the rains imply.

Friends and supporters started coming in right after the arrest. Some brought food. Policemen were feasting on pancit while watching the news. Speaking of news, that night, a reporter got his names mixed up, mistaking a supporter for a former mayor of Pasig. The TV at the mezzanine can only show GMA 7 shows. Paging ABS-CBN.

Lozada was free to watch the news. He got the night’s headlines, and footage of his arrest was looping while newscasters drone on.

“It must be surreal seeing yourself on TV,” I quipped, without knowing that Lozada was at my back.

“It really does,” he said, laughing.

The news immediately shifted to Pacquiao and Hatton. The nuns were saying the results of the Pacquiao fight would bury all other news. That’s how it goes, I thought, the vicious cycle of our short memories.

News reporters were barred from entering the holding area, but there were those intrepid enough to go in and get comments from Lozada. One even got a video using a camera phone. Note to news reporters: get a decent camera phone.

The life of a news reporter and his crew is hard. You need to hassle a lot; cameramen need to move a lot, and in a hurry most of the time. When I got in the police headquarters, they were posted in several locations within a compound. The two big networks were set up at the flagpole facing the building. After the primetime newscasts, they moved in the lobby, waiting for news and personalities. When three of the convenors of Black and White Movement went out of the holding area, the reporters and cameramen rushed for comments. They immediately set up outside the lobby area.

After the interview, the reporters and cameramen went back to the lobby. When a leading opposition figure arrived, the newspeople rushed to the mezzanine and staked out the glass door.

At the end of the hallway of the holding area was a real holding cell – real as in steel bars instead of wood as walls for the cell. There was a man in the holding cell, looking curiously at the goings-on outside. He must be feeling lonely at the time.

I took my leave, giving Lozada a cheerful goodbye (by saying something stupid). As I start to leave the place, more people are trickling in, with food and thin mattress in tow. The peril is just about to come.


Villar’s karma

I cannot help but note the irony in Senator Manny Villar’s current situation.

Villar was a recent victim of a Senate coup, a coup never been seen in the Senate since Cory Aquino’s term. This dethronement, so to speak, was just preparatory to his current situation.

The senator is currently subject of the Senate Ethics Committee’s investigation of alleged double insertion in the budget for the extension of C-5. The insertion was allegedly made by Villar, and his real estate company allegedly benefited from the insertion. Senator Jamby Madrigal then made a privileged speech, which was then referred to the Ethics Committee for investigation. Nothing happened to it until the recent reorganization.

Too bad for Villar, it was Ping Lacson who became chair of the committee after the coup.

Now, Villar is crying foul, saying that the committee is biased against him, the committee having as its members some senators with presidential ambitions. In a privilege speech, he assailed the committee members without naming them. He is basically planting a poisonous seed that will bloom poisonous fruit – if the decision of the committee is detrimental for him, he can always say that the decision was politically motivated.

History has a nasty habit of parlaying karma.

Villar should be cautioned to go slowly and rationally. Of all people, he should know that all actions of a political body are politically-motivated. He should know.

He should remember what he did back when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives. That day, everyone was expecting a long day debating on the impeachment of then president Joseph Estrada. And what did Villar do? In lieu of the prayer, he transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate, . What he did was not against the rules, but it was a shortcut. And it was politically motivated. Well, he did lose the speaker’s chair afterwards, but for those who supported Erap’s impeachment, he was a hero. At a terrible cost, as we all know.

His pa-martir shtick won’t work. By throwing mud against some members of the committee, he is actually telling the people that he does not believe in due process, and that he does not want the facts to be brought out.

In order for his pa-martir act to succeed, what Villar should do is to submit himself to the committee’s scrutiny. If he is really innocent, he can always prove it in the proper forum. He should have said instead the following:

“Alam ko pong may bias laban sa akin ang ilang miyembro ng komite, ngunit ako ay naniniwalang wala akong ginawang mali. Ako ay naniniwala sa integridad ng komite at due process. Pumapayag ako na sumailalim sa imbestigasyon, bagamat alam kong magiging masama para sa akin ang magiging hatol ng komite, dahil alam kong isa ito sa tamang paraan upang ipaalam ang katotohanan.”

With the facts that absolves him in the open, any adverse decision against him by the ethics committee will actually win him more sympathy from the people. Saka lang siya magiging martir.

Karma is a difficult enemy, Senator Villar. Good luck.

(Photo from the Manny Villar Web site.)


What should be done with the MRT?

Previously on Byte, I discussed the application of RFID and m-code in the MRT, and their limited success and the fact that they are useless. In short, I said that this was a classic case of technology not solving anything.

Reader Jeff asked what solution can I offer? The reason my reply to his question is posted on this section is that the solution does not lie with technology. But first, a disclaimer: I am not an expert on transport technology, and on the transportation industry in general. I regularly take the MRT, and thus my opinions are based on what I experience everyday.

When the MRT began operating in 1999, the maximum fare was thirty pesos (that is, from North Avenue Station up to Taft Station). The riding public complained that the fare was too steep; then President Joseph Estrada gave in, and the maximum fare was reduced by half. Still reeling from the Asian financial crisis, the MRT Consortium balked at the price reduction, and the original build-operate-transfer (BOT) agreement was revised to become build-lease-transfer (BLT) agreement.

And thus the current state of the MRT.

As you can see, the effects of a populist decision made a decade ago is manifesting itself. Looking at the MRT ridership data, the MRT cannot cope up with the increase. The monthly revenues that the MRT earns go to maintenance and wages. And since the government guarantees monthly payment to MRT Consortium via subsidies, the MRT has no money to get new trains to keep up with the volume.

The solution is economic, political, and social in nature.

To cope up with the volume and to operate optimally (to reduce breakage), the MRT needs to augment its fleet. To do this, the MRT must have the necessary funds. To get new funds, the MRT must be allowed to set the fare price according to economic realities.

However, the weird nature of the BLT leads to more questions: who should buy new trains – the owner (MRTC) or the one leasing (the DOTC)? The MRTC will not buy new trains, since the lease payments are just enough to pay out loans taken for the construction of the MRT. The DOTC cannot buy new trains not only because it has no funds and the revenues are just enough for maintenance, it does not own the MRT itself. The goverment can opt to buy out the MRT Consortium, but that would cost us billions of pesos.

Note that the government is subsidizing the operation of the MRT, by shouldering half of the real fare per passenger. Someone said this is unfair to Filipino taxpayers who don’t take the MRT – like those from the Visayas and Mindanao. We are technically buying out MRTC, only on a monthly basis.

And then we have to factor in the displacement effect that a fare increase would cause. I submit that even increasing the fare to maximum Php30 is more economical – it would be less than what you would pay when taking a airconditioned bus from North Avenue up to Taft Avenue. At the same time, the MRT is faster; the traffic along EDSA has not improved, contrary to Bayani Fernando’s Metro Gwapo propaganda. After all, you are paying for convenience and speed when taking the MRT.

Ultimately, the solution is political. Basically, what do we want to do with the MRT? If we can’t even agree on an answer to that question, then no major improvement can be made with the MRT.

UPDATE (03/31/2009):

The government, through Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank of the Philippines, acquires 56% of MRTC, and it intends to acquire up to 76%.

News reports say that the MRT is still BOT, but I find it weird that it is the government who is operating the MRT while MRTC owns the MRT. And with the government paying an annual subsidy of Php 5.7 billion, I think it is BLT.


On the Reproductive Health Bill

I will not bother with the technicalities and provisions of the Reproductive Health Bill that is being debated in the House of Representatives. You can read the contents of the bill and decide for yourself. Just the same, let me express my support for the bill, with my main argument centering on the freedom of choice and the government’s duty to provide its citizens the widest choice possible when it comes to reproductive health.

First, the freedom of choice is not explicitly stated in the Constitution. Instead, it is divided into several freedoms as stated in the Bill of Rights (Article III), like (but not limited to) freedom of speech and of expression, freedom of religious worship, and the non-imposition of a poll tax.  Also, in Roman Catholic theology, free will is universally accepted and respected (there’s an “as long as” after that, but I leave that to theologians). When a man and a woman gets married, they do so on their own choice and free will (unless it’s an arranged or shotgun wedding). When a married couple choose to have children or not, they do so on their own choice and free will. Whatever mode of family planning that they choose, the Church and the government has no right to interfere with the said choice (as long as the choice is not incompatible with existing laws); nor does it have the right to deny the choice as long as it is not contrary to law. The Church may morally convince the couple to choose the natural method, but since it has lost the power to impose its will (come on, excommunication is just an empty threat), it can do no more.

Second, I have already stated this before (in the post The Church and the State), and I will state it again: “The Government must promote (not push) artificial family planning to those who are willing to use it. It should not be denied to those who need it most. I believe that the policy should be of promotion, not institutionalization.” Let me refine by saying that the government must promote all family planning methods. This is the Government’s duty.

Unfortunately, the current regime has chosen to act as part of the Catholic Taliban and made natural method its family planning policy. So a poor couple (and the woman has an irregular period) who wants to control the number of offspring cannot expect the government to hand them out condoms and/or pills. I think this policy violates the couple’s freedom of choice. This is a gross dereliction of duty by this regime.

I believe that the Reproductive Health Act (if enacted) will hopefully correct this abusive, short-sighted, and counterproductive policy. It makes the policy a law so that a tyrant cannot just arbitrarily impose his/her religious belief on everyone. The RH Bill is a step in the right direction.

But I am not that hopeful about the future of the bill. The delaying tactics by congressmen on both sides of the aisle (I am terribly disappointed with the opposition, to be honest) is working, and the bill might pass by a very narrow vote (or be utterly defeated). And what about the Senate version? The Senate is having one of its obligatory intramural, and most likely the counterpart bill would be shuffled in the recycled bin. And even it it passes the Senate, Gloria Arroyo can always veto it. Depending on how the votes go, both Houses of Congress would need more than just a simple majority to overturn the veto. So, yes, it is an uphill climb, and the future is bleak. But who knows? Divine intervention might choose to exercise divine irony.

The success of the bill’s local counterpart in Quezon City is an exception unless other local governments enact similar ordinances. It can be done, and it is more manageable.

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