It seems Filipino public servants are incapable of thinking outside the square when it comes to addressing the problems that plague the nation. Most of them rely on prayer to solve issues rather than apply science and technology — an approach that could actually yield permanent solutions. Take the case of the Chairman for Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Francis Tolentino. A recent news report said that the chairman “led two convoys in going around EDSA and blessing accident-prone sites there”. Here’s what he authorized his department to do:
In a bid to rid Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) of road accidents, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority enlisted Friday the help of Catholic priests in blessing accident-prone areas of the highway.
Shortly before 6 a.m., the convoys went around parts of EDSA accompanied by Msgr. Salvador Jose and Fr. Roderick Castro.
The convoy led by Carlos went around the Muñoz area where Jose blessed some u-turn slots and the Metro Rail Transit station, dzBB’s Allan Gatus reported.
The convoy traveled along the motorcycle lane, with MMDA personnel praying rosaries and carrying Bibles.
That piece of news may be benign to some but it is definitely a head scratcher to many rational thinking folks. It is another proof that incompetent individuals who cannot add anything new to the table are leading Filipinos down a miserable path. It is an assurance that traffic chaos in major Cities in Metro Manila and beyond can only go from bad to worse.
Some people including MMDA Chairman Tolentino himself will tell you that praying and giving blessings can’t hurt. I disagree. Of course the act of praying won’t actually harm anyone but his publicity stunt can give a false sense of security to those who believe “praying” and “blessing” the accident-prone areas of the highway can prevent another accident from happening again. The chairman it seems is giving people the impression that his department cannot do anything short of asking for assistance from “God” to prevent the accidents. It is sort of a disclaimer from his department and is tantamount to saying that “Motorists should use the highways at their own risk.”
Don’t get me wrong. I have no objection to praying and people who pray. On a personal level, it is supposed to be good for individuals because it can help them reach some level of introspection. Besides, it is every individual’s right to practice his or her religious beliefs. In the Philippines though, praying has become ritualistic especially when practiced by groups of people — like in reciting the rosary, for example. Sometimes the spiritual aspect of this activity is diminished when repetitive behavior is involved. Still, the main purpose of praying is to put people’s mind at ease like in meditative state. “In psychology, the term ritual is sometimes used in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior systematically used by a person to neutralize or prevent anxiety”.
When people pray, their thoughts are temporarily diverted from reality to the contemplative. Prayer or meditation is supposed to help people stay focused on the good stuff or clear their minds of bad thoughts. However, there is also a down side. Some say that those who engage in too much religious ritual can have their minds go dormant because the repetitive words and actions can lull people into a stupor.
At the extreme end, people can become dazed and lose touch with reality as a result. In addition, people who are in a dreamy state can also easily fall victim to the flawed reasoning of those who want to take advantage of them. A good example of this was when the Liberal Party used religion to trick people into believing that the then Presidential candidate, Noynoy Aquino was “God’s anointed one”. It worked because a lot of religious voters actually accepted the belief that to go against “God’s plan” was a no-no. But I digress…
Going back to the MMDA and the issue of chaotic traffic conditions on Philippine roads, there are obvious measures that are sensible alternatives to prayer. As mentioned earlier, scientific approaches coupled with application of the latest technologies can address the horrendous road conditions in major Philippine cities. Instead of hiring the help of Catholic priests, the MMDA Chairman should hire the services of engineers to map out the best way to unclog EDSA.
Reducing the number of cars on the road not only can reduce the congestion on the highways, it can also reduce motor vehicle accidents and reduce the pollution levels in the air. There are also other drastic measures that the MMDA can apply in order to reduce the number of cars aside from the current coding system. This includes fixing the public transport system, which includes upgrading rail systems, banning vehicles that are not road-worthy including the inefficient jeepneys; and making the cost of buying a car more prohibitive. It goes without saying that the last two suggestions can only work when the public system can already address the public’s demand.
MMDA should also consider consulting other countries’ governments to learn how they tackle their traffic challenges. Singapore is one country we can look to for guidance in building a more intelligent city. In an effort to study how cities work and how they can work better, the country has funded Singapore’s National Research Foundation, with nearly 600 researchers and “has turned itself into a laboratory, teaming with MIT to form the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) center to examine the “future of urban mobility” as well as other growth issues”. In addition, Singapore is also very proactive in addressing their growing population:
For decades, Singapore has been tackling the growing pains of a booming Asian city. Fearful that it will become overrun with vehicles, the government has damped demand by making them frightfully expensive. The price of a BMW 320i sedan, for example, is around $140,000, more than three times its average U.S. sticker price, in part because a buyer has to fork out about $55,000 for a “certificate of entitlement.
There certainly wasn’t any praying involved in Singapore’s plan to improve their already high-tech cities. Instead of engaging in ritualistic chanting, their leaders are putting their clear heads together to think of new ways to live smarter. We not only can pray our own leaders do the same, but we can also vote for leaders who will definitely do work instead of just pray.
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