Saturday, March 7, 2015

Comic relief

I think my friend Sonny Coloma is succumbing to the stresses of the job. He is beginning to confuse the role of presidential spokesman with that of court jester.
The other day, he elaborated on his theory about why the MRT has become so decrepit. I nearly choked on my breakfast reading the report about what he said.
The thrust of the earthshaking Coloma General Theory on Why the MRT is Falling Apart is a fairly familiar one: it is all the fault of the previous administration.
The previous administration, according to Coloma, failed to raise fares to the point of oppressiveness. Because fares were so cheap, too many people wanted to use the facility. Because passenger load was so high, the facility deteriorated.
Therefore, the present state of the MRT is not just the fault of the past administration. It is also the fault of all the 600,000 commuters who insist on using the facility everyday – simply because, by Coloma’s logic, the fares were so cheap.
The solution, it appears, is to raise fares to such an extent that commuters will be discouraged from using (and overloading) the MRT. Fares must be punitive. The commuters should be pushed out to the streets, onto buses that will hardly move along Edsa’s infernal traffic.
By implication, the arbitrary hike in fares is a heroic feat. If it were so, why did it take the DOTC four years to finally do it? When fares were raised late last year, Secretary Jun Abaya used an order signed by Ping de Jesus four years before. Notwithstanding, he went to town praising his own “political will.”
If I recall correctly, the MRT was built to offer commuters a convenient alternative to using the crowded road system below. The rail, being the most economical means of mass transport, was supposed to displace the buses.  
This is not so, says the Coloma Doctrine. Rail must be priced beyond the means of the poorest, the better to conserve the facility.
By the categorical imperative of the Coloma Doctrine, the rail service should be merely ornamental. Let the masses stuff the buses so that the trains remain pristine. Keep mass transit beyond the reach of the masses.
Also, the old fare schedule produced enough revenues to cover operational costs. The new Abaya fares will produce revenues not intended to cover capital expenditure but merely to conform with the terms of the concession agreement with private investors.
The previous administration was ready to procure new trains, funded by the government banks. But, as a matter of courtesy, the procurement was left to the incoming Aquino administration. Agents of Tuwid na Daan eventually tried to shake down Inekon, the train supplier. The Czech ambassador was so outraged he discarded diplomatic restraint and complained loudly.
Then the contract of the old reliable maintenance provider was trashed. New and incompetent service providers were awarded fat contracts. What happened after we now know only too well.
There are too many inconvenient facts the Coloma Doctrine glosses over. But we must hand it to the man. He is entertaining – if that was his intent.
Mark Cojuangco, chairman of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), virtually endorsed Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s presidential bid during the latter’s Pangasinan tour earlier this week.
In doing so, the NPC chairman joins other relatives of the incumbent president who earlier endorsed Binay. Presidential uncles Butch Aquino and Peping Cojuangco earlier declared their support for Binay, as have Aquino’s irrepressible sisters.
Over the next weeks and months, as we move inexorably closer to the actual campaign period, the list of Binay endorsers is likely to lengthen. These are not wide-eyed, romantic expressions of support. They are very pragmatic options taken.
The most pragmatic reason people are now lining up behind the Binay candidacy is this: the VP continues to lead the pack.
After months of a handsomely funded demolition campaign against Binay, including 13 public hearings by that runaway Senate subcommittee, the VP maintains an impressive lead in the voter preference surveys. To paraphrase that ancient Greek aphorism, what did not destroy him makes him stronger.
Unless someone unexpected blindsides all of us, marching in and sweeping our voters off their feet, Binay is well entrenched for the coming battle. It seems he wakes up every morning reaching out for new supporters and touching base with every demographic segment. He is simply working harder than anyone else to make himself inevitable.
In a two-candidate race, where the rival is LP favorite Mar Roxas, the odds favor Binay. In a multi-candidate race, where the popular vote is distributed widely, Binay’s nationwide organization anchored on the local governments will likely prevail.
To the chagrin of his critics, Binay resonates well with the mass of voters who see him as a steady hand, an experienced administrator and a tireless worker. Contrast that with the growing perception of the LP politicians as a lazy, volatile and incompetent bunch. Recent events have sharpened the differentiation all the more.
How to stop Binay? His rivals could think of no other way but to sling enough mud at him. That has not dramatically changed the survey numbers so far. If there is a tipping point, we do not seem anywhere near it.
 The Aquino administration has many failings. Not the least of these is the failure to evolve a cadre of competent political leaders who might inherit the yellow political mantle.
Binay might strike some as an imperfect choice. But who else is there on the horizon capable of assuring an uncertain nation of effective leadership after years of waffling at the top?
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