Safety is as simple as ABC – Always Be Careful. – unknown
MANILA – My journalist instinct had impulsively tended to disbelieve a friend and former media colleague, now Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol, when he declared that “the Philippines is safer now than it has been” during a visit in Toronto in October 2016.
But knowing Manny as a scrupulous reporter for the state-owned Philippines News Agency from way back, I had no reason to doubt his statement even if he happens to be working for the administration, in fact, as an alter ego of President Rodrigo Duterte in the matter of taking care of the nation’s food supply.
The question of safety is on everyone’s mind due to a combination of factors, including the real and fake news of the much-abused phrase “extra-judicial killings” or (EJKs) that had been attached, quite unfairly I believe, on Mr. Duterte’s relentless drive to rid the nation of the menacing drug problem.
The EJKs so-called have put a damper on the many strides of the Duterte administration, which, at 18 months old only (from his assumption on June 30, 2016), is young by any measure. In that period, he appears to be succeeding in shaping a new Filipino long inured to graft and corruption in all levels of government.
“The Philippines is safer now than it has been. Pumasok kayo ng airport wala ng customs
. . . ” says Manny before an assembly of Filipino Canadians at Toronto’s Earl Bales Park. The second sentence in that declaration is his euphemism that the shakedown obtaining in the premier port has been obliterated to the point that entry is as smooth as it should be. (Video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wd2vyAVEGk
It’s true what Manny stated, I can personally attest to that. Upon my arrival from the long flight from Toronto to Shanghai to Manila on the second week of December, I breezed through the usual immigration and customs stops and found no signs that would belie Manny’s earlier assertions. (V ideo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=834hCQIAeM8
at the 1:55
But I still have to see what’s happening outside the antiseptically-cleaned airport which, by the way, should return to its original name as Manila International Airport (the IATA code still refers to it as MNL). Manila is the Philippines’ ancient and current capital, not the person whose misfortune was to get killed upon his return from abroad.
As a foreign correspondent, I covered the 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., the person to whom the airport is named. My question is: should the nation’s gateway be the country’s monument to him who had mouthed the slogan “the Filipino is worth dying for”? Centuries before him, the Mactan chieftain Lapu-lapu, without saying that much, had proven that already, and slaughtered the colonizer Ferdinand Magellan.
The euphoria of the mid-80s when Aquino’s widow, the housewife Corazon, fulfilled his political ambitions was infectious, greater even when his namesake son followed her to the presidency. And look where the nation is at now, as the new government untangles the web of deceit and corruption that had been disingenuously hidden from us.
From the airport to the old residence in Makati (a distance of about seven kilometers), what usually took less than 30 minutes had dragged to almost one hour as we crawled in and out of the monumental traffic jams along EDSA. I thought the earlier promise by President Duterte to solve the pestering problem was already a thing of the past.
No it is not. It’s still a work in progress. The odd-even number coding scheme might be working in other areas of the metropolis but not in these parts. The LRT/MRT combine helps ease the situation and it’s still a long way to go to satisfy commuters.
The Bonifacio Global City (BGC, formerly Fort Bonifacio) straddles the cities of Makati and Taguig, and casts a giant shadow on the old residence. Because of its proximity, I accepted a good friend’s invitation for an afternoon coffee at Tim Hortons. I was surprised Canada’s iconic coffee shop is already here.
We finished just before dusk. I thought I’d explore BGC before going home but changed my mind after seeing a long line of passengers waiting for taxis, jeepneys or private cars for pickup. I decided to join the queue, hoping the ride would come in no time at all. I stood sweating profusely at the tail end of the line, which quickly became the middle part, not because it was moving but people kept coming.
The length of time waiting for transport that did not come would have been the same amount of time reaching home by walking. So, that’s exactly what I did – walked home from BGC in the early evening. The light drizzle quickly disappeared and I could take a leisurely walk.
There were portions of BGC that are unlit, and so were some parts outside it. I thought this would be a good, or risky, way to test Manny’s claims that it is now safer than it has been, at least in this part of the metropolis, and one can really venture out of one’s home in the middle of the night without being accosted.
In my case, walking was the only reasonable option to come home. The transport system at BGC failed me and my expectations, but I did blame it on the hordes of shoppers that swamped the BGC. Going there to shop and going home soon after are two different experiences, both pleasant and un.
And so, with that mindset (of having to walk), I prepared for whatever. If worst comes to worst, I told myself, I’d give up those that can be replaced, such as my personal valuables, money, laptop, cameras, a book, everything that my backpack contains. But if the worst would rise to the level of a threat to one’s life, then that’s another issue. One just does not yield easily, one fights.
The worst did not happen, thank you. After walking for at least 30 minutes through unfamiliar roads and dark pathways, I was home sweaty and sticky. I had a good exercise, I murmured.
But the real accomplishment was not the walk I did; the walk simply proves Manny Pinol was right. It’s safe, the streets are safe. I should say it’s one of President Duterte’s unheralded accomplishments. #