AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
Sunday, July 13, 2008
One newspaper coined the word “sulpicious” to refer to the highly questionable and uncanny developments surrounding the circumstances that followed the sinking of the Sulpicio Lines Inc. (SLI) flagship — Princess of the Stars — in Romblon waters.
While general public opinion weighed so heavily against SLI’s insensitive treatment of victims’ families and the shipping firm’s temerity to blame everyone else, the SLI backers have started to crawl from out of the woodwork.
Flouting its P200,000 ‘financial assistance’ to the families of victims (to whom this amount was due anyway from their insurance), SLI then proceeded to focus its money and resources in trying to salvage a heavily besmirched image and prevent imminent closure by going on a suing spree.
They have sued the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) and even one of their regular cargo customers — Del Monte.
Why SLI’s lawyers wanted the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) to take over the hearings on the sea disaster from the BMI and why the House of Representatives have so eagerly entered the scene simultaneous to ongoing inquiries are questions that have only reinforced public suspicion.
In the light of the credible BMI investigation — so credible that SLI sought to change the venue — Congress should have allowed the BMI to finish its task before seeking to get into the act.
As Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon aptly pointed out during the July 7 House hearing, the Princess of the Orient (also owned by SLI) sea disaster inquiry already provided in 1999 the recommendations on how to avert these sea tragedies. In effect, Ruffy Biazon suggested that the July 7 House hearing could well be redundant in the light of what have already been discovered almost 10 years ago and have been given the proper prescriptions.
Rep. Biazon, along with Reps. Risa Hontiveros and Roilo Golez, were the redeeming members of that House probe.
On television, we witnessed how SLI so strangely got kid-glove treatment at the start of the House inquiry. Administration congressmen like Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman had directed the heat on Pagasa for its alleged inefficiency.
It is impossible to miss the uncanny pattern. At the height of highly controversial issues, some members of either houses of Congress would suddenly call for an inquiry.
Coffee shops have long been buzzing with horror tales of local companies who have been approached and propositioned on how they can avoid being lynched or eaten alive in the course of these inquiries which have been referred to as “inquiries in aid of fund-raising.”
When they are not trying to win votes, the same familiar faces in Congress somehow manage to show up to defend a controversial issue or entity. In other times, they will try to stall for time and prevent a controversial bill from taking off.
If Congress demons can prey on the dead bodies of the sea disaster, they can also prey on the living dead. Such is the case on the issue about tobacco when they vented their fury on staunch anti-smoking advocate and crusader Dr. Maricar Limpin, Executive Director of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance-Philippines (FCAP).
Since December 19, 2007, FCAP has been keenly watching the progress of House Bill 3368, authored by Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza, which “requires the package of all cigarette and other tobacco products to bear highly visible full-color ‘picture-based health warnings’ accompanied by a textual warning that is related to the picture.”
The bill has been delayed many times, thanks to a well-known tactic used by congressmen when they want to prevent the progress of a bill — question the lack of quorum.
Everyone knows that the House hardly ever gets a quorum attendance, thus, making it a favorite scapegoat for tobacco-loving congressmen who obviously cannot argue in defense of the tobacco industry. Dr. Soe Nyunt-U, World Health Organization representative to the
I was not surprised when the full might of the tobacco industry swooped down on Dr. Limpin a month before the total ban on tobacco advertising took effect last July 1. They maligned her and pictured her as an endorser of anti-smoking drugs. Her activism has obviously become highly destructive to the tobacco industry.
I could not help notice the similarity with the tactics used to also attempt to demonize doctors when some congressmen tried to push the controversial House version of the Cheaper Medicines Bill. I was alarmed by the possible passing of the House version and I wrote several columns to expose the anomalies and conflict of interest (a leading proponent is a major generic drugs importer).
By diverting public attention to the real issues, the demons in Congress will keep trying to confuse us. Despite poverty, 34 percent of Filipinos smoke and most smokers happen to belong to the lower income bracket. These are the people who hardly make ends meet and who will not have the money to pay for hospital and medicine bills by the time smoking takes a toll on their health.
As consistently reflected in surveys, Congress as an institution has become the country’s most abominable, most appalling breeding ground for the new generation of underworld. They are so powerful that businessmen who are victims of inquiries in aid of legislative fund-raising will not want to speak up. This is how the bad guys get away with murder.
“Exposing” a non-existent lobby fund is also a favorite ploy. This turns the enemy, the focus of their demolition strategy, into something others will not want to be involved with, lest they be accused of “receiving money from the lobby fund.”
We are so trapped in our rotten system that most Filipinos have preferred to become numb to it all. And this makes the problem even worse because evil thrives when good men do nothing. The question is: do we still have a few good men? Or have the remaining few been effectively muffled by the noise and confusion wrought by the demons in Congress?