Sep 27, 2008

May pulis sa ilalim ng tulay and a photojournalist

Much have been said about the case of a photojournalist who had a run in with a taxi driver. According to media accounts, what was simply a fender-bender case got blown out of proportion when other cab drivers came to the rescue of the taxi driver whose cab was accidentally hit by the photojournalist as he tried to maneuver out of his parking spot. The photojournalist drew his gun, and some 80 hours of jail time later, the crap hit the fan. While media attention has been focused on the legality of the media person's incarceration, and the alleged conspiracy involving the arresting officers, let's not forget another major issue in this brouhaha: the mafia composed of two-way radio-toting cab drivers. At this point I'd like to narrate a quite similar incident that happened to us:

It was during the flower fest several years ago, it was nighttime and getting a cab was quite an ordeal. And not just because there were lots of passengers and not enough taxis to go around, but also because a lot of the taxi drivers wouldn't take in passengers if they didn't like the destination. While waiting for a cab, we bumped into a couple of friends who have also been waiting for a ride home for hours already. Finally, at the corner of Gov. Pack and Harrison, we were able to flag one down. We lived in Quezon Hill then, and our friends lived in Irisan, so we decided to just share the cab. When we told the driver our itinerary, he refused, saying that he won't take the short detour through 1st Road before going to Irisan. We offered to pay for the flag down to Quezon Hill, and then he can reset his meter for the trip to Irisan, and yet he still refused. I asked him then to drop us off instead at the Baguio City Police Office for two reasons: to subtly remind him that what he's doing is illegal and also I thought we had a better chance of flagging down another cab in front of a police station. After a threatening "A, ganon?!?," he pulled out his radio and called for back-up. Not knowing exactly what was happening, I told him to just let us out and we'll just try to hail another cab. He refused to let us out, he kept going. He finally stopped at the corner where Baguio Patriotic School is and in a matter of seconds, three other cabs surrounded us. We immediately got out of the cab but we were practically held hostage by the four cab drivers, hurling threats and provocations while preventing us from leaving. We had just finished shooting the Dial 117 infomercial at the time and luckily, we still had the mobile phone number of a policeman who helped coordinate the production. I called the number and when they heard that I was talking to the police, they rushed back to their cabs and drove away.

I recognize the pros of having cab drivers equipped with communication equipment - they can easily call for help during an emergency, they can update each other on road traffic situations, report criminal activity that they chance upon, etc. But, as in most of us who are given even just a hint of power, like those abusive police interns who think that their uniforms entitle them to lord it over private citizens, we abuse that power. That's what those two-way radios have become for taxi drivers: power, power that they abuse. That piece of communication equipment have turned local cab drivers, once known for being among the most courteous and honest in the country, into thugs, some kind of a mafia no one should dare go against. And it's not even a case of a few bad apples ruining the whole lot in the basket - on the road, they fill up the whole side of lower Abanao Street or Session Road, to wait for passengers, unmindful of the traffic mess they create in doing so. They drive like maniacs on busy roads endangering both themselves and pedestrians. Going to Loakan, or San Luis, or Tam-awan, or Tip-top at night? Good luck finding a cab that will take you there, and if they do, more often than not, they'll charge you double for "backload."

See, at the end of the day, remember that ditty, "May Pulis Sa Ilalim Ng Tulay?" In that song, beginning with seeing a policeman with a rotten bag of pancit under a bridge, depending on which version you know, it goes on to say that, "namatay ang aso na kumain sa patay na pusa na kumain sa patay na daga na kumain sa panis na pancit ng pulis sa ilalim ng tulay." While it is necessary to investigate the death of the dog, let's not forget to look into that rotten bag of pancit and what that cop was doing under the bridge in the first place. While we do need to look into the alleged violation of the journalist's basic rights in this case, and perhaps even the alleged conspiracy between the cab driver involved and the arresting officers to file trumped-up charges against the journalist, let's not forget to look into how it all began - cab drivers who illegally take up half of Session Road at night and abusing the power they get from those two-way radios.

Sep 20, 2008

Halfway

So, here you are.

Yup, here I am.

So, here is… where?

Here.

Here…?

(Blackout).

If I were to write a play on how I feel now that I have reached what may be my life's halfway mark (that would be nice, if that's the way this year turns out to be: the halfway mark), it would be a very short performance. Every week when I set myself in front of the computer to write my article for this column, I stare into space for a few moments listening to myself, trying to figure out what's affecting me the most at the moment and if that would be worth a couple of minutes of the reader's life. Well, today I know that the following is what's been eating me up lately, and it's worth all the world to me.

So I am here. Next to me, sleeping on the mattresses on the floor are a good woman and three wonderful children. Somewhere not too far from here are two equally wonderful children and in my mind all of them are together right here with me right now, as they always have been since they came into my life. Hundreds of stories and thousands of photographs and a million triumphs and regrets and 35 years later, they're all I have that truly matters to me. They will be right here tomorrow when I take that long drive home, they will be right here the next time I take a bow in front of an audience and the next time I curl up in a corner in shame. Nothing can take them away from me, as there is nothing that can take me away from them.

They say that a man's life is divided into 7-year phases – the first 7 years I was introduced to the world I live in; the next 7 I tried to fit in, 14-21 I looked for my own specific spot in this universe, all of the 4th phase I questioned my choices as much as I believed them, and the last 7 years I tried to realize what the point of it all is.

Today I begin the 6th phase knowing what truly matters to me and the rest of my life: that beautiful woman who has shared my life since I began believing and questioning my choices and all through out the years when I was trying to figure out what this is all about. And the 5 wonderful children who are at different 7-year phases themselves: two of them just woke up and game me a hug and a kiss and said, "Happy birthday, Papa," while the same message just came in on my mobile phone from the eldest of the five.

(Lights on)

Yes, right here.

But really, where's that?

(Freeze.)

Thirty five years seem to have passed all too quickly, and I know the rest of my life will be over in the blink of the universal eye. But that's ok, everything's gonna be alright. Because now I know that this is what it's all about: The people I love with all my heart and the people who have loved all of me with all of theirs. And nothing else. I will hold their hands and face the rest of our lives together, no matter what.

Sep 5, 2008

And adding to Baguio's current woes... Police Interns

We heard that there's a new guy on top of the Baguio City Police Office, I just hope he can do something about these clowns:

You can't miss these guys, they've been all over town lately which makes one think that Criminology is the new Nursing. Though I never had to deal with them directly, I have always wondered what kind of education or training these young men are getting, what sort of advice they get from those who've been on the force for a long time already. They swagger their way through the crowds on the sidewalks of  Session Road, though still without a real badge and firearms, you can feel their bloated egos through those crisp uniforms and shiny shoes... and if your eyes happen to meet theirs, you know it's not saying "we're here to serve and protect you,"  instead, you can almost hear them say, "I've got power, you don't, I can make your life miserable."

That they did on Baguio Day at the University of Baguio-Gym. 

We were called to help stage the morning program in celebration of Bagiuo's 99th Charter Day. The call came just a week before the event and we were only supposed to handle the segment wherein this year's Outstanding Citizens of Baguio will be awarded. But as the day drew nearer, the more apparent that we were gonna do the whole event - creative direction, production and stage management and all. We called on our artist friends and asked if they would be kind enough to make themselves available for the program on such short notice and luckily they all said yes, even on such short notice. It's all for Baguio, so why not. 

The morning of the day came and it's as if having to fend off the efforts by some sectors to sabotage the event (for what reason other than more bloated and misplaced egos I don't know), this particular police intern added to our woes.

Our musical director arrived an hour and a half before the event and stopped at the gate nearest to the gym to unload sound equipment (which he was lending to the event free of charge), and a police intern approached. I don't know if arrogance and ignorance is S.O.P. in our police force, but he screamed into our musical director's face, in full view and within earshot of everybody in the area, to get his car out of there, because it's a no parking zone. Our guy explained that he wasn't parking his car, he was just unloading equipment (again, equipment that he was lending for free on short notice). No, the intern insisted, it's a no parking zone, so move it. To have a better picture of how arrogant the police intern was, our musical director came in as traumatized as someone who had just  been in one of those rooms in some military camp with an overhead lamp and interrogated by the military. I thought he was gonna have a heart attack. 

I went out to talk to the police intern. I found him easily, he had this smirk on his ugly face. I asked him if the arrogance was really necessary, considering that the guy he was screaming at practically saved the day for the City Government by lending his equipment for free. His reply:

"Bakit, libre rin naman naming ginagawa 'to a."

No, dumbass, you weren't doing it for free, by being on duty you were earning credits that you need to get that diploma in the hope that when you graduate, you will finally be given a real badge and, God forbid, a firearm, so that you can, though I can't seem to see you ever doing this, serve and protect civilians. See, I've seen your kind at the police stations when I was given the run around a couple of months ago when I asked for protection because the matter would have entailed a lot of paper work. I've seen your kind at the corner where Skyworld used to be turning a blind eye to the watch-your-car-men who lead motorists to no-parking zones creating a traffic mess right in the middle of the central business district. I've seen your kind driving those police cars around town going through red lights and against the flow on one-way streets because you think that being a law enforcer entitles you to break the law, no matter how simple those laws may be.

As if it's not enough that Baguio's pine forests are fast disappearing, that gone are the days when we were famous for having the most courteous taxi drivers because now they're no different from their Manila counterparts who overcharge passengers and deny them service if the passenger happened to be going somewhere they don't feel like going to, it's not enough that we have a garbage crisis... if these arrogant police interns is the future of our police force, then we're in for more woes. 

And to those in charge of these clowns' education, what are you teaching them? Because if there's one thing that these interns, and maybe even a lot of those who are already full-fledged policemen, and maybe even our elected officials, should learn, it's that being a law enforcer is not about power, it is a responsibility. If you're in there for the money and the power, don't add anymore to the already rotten government system, this country can do without you. 

Be a politician instead, at least we'll have the choice not to vote for you.