Impunity and Incompetence
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
How did we get here?
Flooding of Biblical scale drowned any excuse for national government inaction.
Recurrent violent weather trashed already-crumbly illusions of stability.
The absent national government addresses catastrophe by accelerating trolling. Its presence is most palpable in ops firing slingshots at citizens and their local governments on rescue missions.
But it remains that Filipinos — chat-mates and family, just folks —responded quickly, imaginatively, and with stout hearts to the pandemic, Taal Volcano’s eruption, terrible typhoons in quick sequence, and flooding of such magnitude, no one can appeal to any memory to figure out what to do.
Through 2020, the President has only appeared post disaster. He is either too ill or too indifferent or too inept to be of much good in command centers. During and immediately post Typhoon Ulysses, there was no sign of a command center.
How we got here is the nauseating question to Filipinos limping angry and exhausted into the end of 2020.
No cultural explanation beats a focus on impunity.
The replacement of governance with jokes, is unappreciated by the virus and torrential waters. The President schleps nonsense comedy to laugh away dereliction of duty. But Filipinos do know exactly what this is: a virulent form of impunity, a slap in the face with I-can-do-anything swagger.
The 70 Congressmen shut down ABS-CBN out of the sheer exhilaration of the thought that they, too, can do anything. Impunity as culture is a madness that can’t think of consequences.
But when ABS-CBN reportage was no longer available, and news about drowning people in Cagayan did not get to national authorities quickly enough, the limits of impunity are drawn.
The environment officialdom prioritizes prettifying Manila Bay with fake white sand, while the Marikina Watershed and the Sierra Madre mountains continue being pillaged for logs. Swagger, again, officially boasts of the retention of dolomite-not-sand, while Marikina and Cagayan become lakes.
Impunity is impunity because it does not count the costs.
Project NOAH is defunded —while intelligence funds are bloated like a flea becoming bloody garapata —and the scientific community is sidelined in a country in impact zone of typhoons (on a yearly program), volcanic eruptions (intermittently), and climate change (forever).
The health authorities lost doctors, nurses, and medical technicians —and thousands of Filipinos —by the time they got the protocols of treatment and the necessary statistical modeling right. One after another composition of a central command paraded on TV through most of the year, performing governance while the private sector raised millions, crafted plans, executed coordinated action.
During the pandemic, the Anti-Tyranny Law is passed, Senator Leila de Lima is kept in jail beyond all reason, and activists and sundry artists are red-tagged and exposed to mortal danger. Some were killed, ginawang sampol.
Such impunity (with a Cold War vintage in this case) turbo-charges fear in a nation already anguished by joblessness and hunger.
Meanwhile, Philippine corporations brought together several billions nearly immediately upon seeing the size of the pandemic in March. It quietly supplied the technical bench in fields that government has not seen fit to strengthen. Private sector provided the volunteer work, not only in health services, but in information technology, community organizing, cartography, planning, and so forth.
Artists raised more than 100 million pesos and, as early as April, delivered food relief to the poor. The poor, with this assistance, have in turn managed to do what seemed impossible: to control on their own the spread of the disease in their own communities.
Individuals have allowed people into their homes. Local government units have been immediate in their assistance to other LGU’s. And in fairness, career officials in the government bureaucracy faced—with heroic focus in some cases —both the challenges of natural catastrophe and those deliberately produced by political appointees unfit for their offices.
Some efforts are small but nonetheless mighty. Team Pilipinas, a relatively small activist group, has for months been making weekly food deliveries to hungry (some already homeless) jeepney drivers amputated from their routes. One meal at a time, one day at a time. It matters.
And as the Philippines’ veteran people’s organizations and corporate social responsibility institutions clicked into action, the blockages caused by politicized government channels were de-clogged.
This is not even to account for the non-stop work of the Office of the Vice President — about which, whole books have to be written.
But at this juncture, before the year is over, it is fair for Filipinos to say to the Duterte Administration: Enough! Incompetence costs lives.
Incompetence masked by programmatic lies and sustained by institutionalized violence is what populism really is: hell on earth.
Incompetence (absurdly) at the helm of government, as the nation faces Apocalyptic natural forces, can only be the manifestation of an impunity so gross, it rivals typhoons and volcanic eruptions in destructive power.
But unlike typhoons and volcanic eruptions, such impunity means to stay./MPR