Case studies of irrelevance: Drug mules and Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Fact Sheet for the Philippines published in 2006, 16,000 Filipinos died violently in 2002. This means that in the five hours it took for a Philippine Government delegate to travel from Manila to Beijing to plead for the life of three Filipino drug mules sentenced to death there, ten innocent Filipinos may have died prematurely under violent circumstances. That is the violence-related death toll for just the flight going there. Count the number of days spent schmoozing with Beijing officials plus the flight going back, failure report in hand, and we get a good picture of the immense scale of the failure in prioritisation that this sorry exercise represented.

But before we dismiss this latest demonstration of Filipino politicians’ renowned lack of perspective as just another instance of the banal nonsense that pervades Philippine society, lets apply a bit of empathy in dissecting this matter, shall we? Try to understand the mind of the average politician and what really spells the difference between failure and success in the politician’s chosen career. Politicians’ careers are made or broken by public perception. As such, politicians need to be seen to be doing good — not just seen by a handful of people, but seen by a large enough number in the scheme of elections.

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So pity the average politician. On one hand there are matters of bigger relevance to the ordinary Filipino schmoe that are well within a politician’s sphere of influence. However, spending time on such initiatives does not build as much political capital for a politician as, say, being involved in an issue that Big Media had made into a “trending topic”. If I were Senator Joe Bloggs, of course I’d go to wherever the cameras are pointed. It makes sense. To me.

Not all about me

Trouble is, the hypothetical “me” being the hypothetical politician, it certainly is not all about me. It is about the people we serve and the “greater good” that is at stake when we prioritise what we allocate our time and effort to.

With the effort in man-hours it took to, say, impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, a detailed analysis, a coherent strategy, and a tight implementation plan could have been formulated and a crack execution team (in whatever form or entity that would take) deployed to fix government frameworks, systems, and processes at a systemic level. Instead what we get is the removal of one bozo and an almost certain persistence of the system that created said bozo to begin with (and which, in most likelihood, will create more like her in the future).

Blogger Ben Kritz could not have made this point in a more succinct way:

By focusing on the personality instead of the systemic flaw that created the problem, the Administration has limited the potential outcome to, at best, punitive measures against a single person whose misdeeds, if any, have already occurred.

Wonder no more why, in a country where so much politics happens, there are hardly any results found. Look for a society that is fixated on form and popularity and inherently incapable of attending to stuff that requires serious and well-considered quiet achievement, and you get the Philippines.

3 Replies to “Case studies of irrelevance: Drug mules and Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez”

  1. Although I agree with the substance of your point, I think the hours spent on the impeachment is rather like a big advertising splash that seeks to get a simple point across, stop the corruption. It may have a proper payback, or it may not. One never knows until after the money is spent. But considering the alternative of doing nothing, it seems to me to be an effort well taken.

    1. That’s kind of like what Edsa 1986 supposedly pitched to Filipinos — that tyranny was the cause of the failure of prosperity to take root in the Philippines. Turns out it wasn’t. Filipinos were “freed” but we remained utterly clueless as to how to turn that “freedom” into an asset.

      Was Edsa an “effort well taken” too? Perhaps. It’s fun to be free after all — free to watch Wowowee buy cheap apples and grapes, and dance the ocho ocho on Manila’s streets in the guise of “activism”.

      Same thing with the impeachment of Gutierrez. In Tiglao’s words, everyone will get a brief high beating their chests in triumph. Then everything falls silent when the inevitable question gets asked: Then what?

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