Go west, and raise the bar!


    ‘Why rub salt on the wound of Filipinos already complaining, every day, of slow connections or, worse, lack of them?’

    THIS week, two members of the Cabinet of President Rodrigo Duterte gave me reasons to laugh. There was a third, but he was a senator of the republic. This last one was Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who declared in an interview that he was open to being appointed chair of the Commission on Human Rights come 2022.

    That gave me a good laugh, besting the one I had after the “sarap ng buhay” comment the same good senator made once right after a virtual session of the Senate.

    But back to the members of the Cabinet.

    The first was the Presidential spokesman, Atty. Harry Roque, a contemporary in UP during our days as political science students before the demands of law school made me see far less of him. After UP, I saw Harry emerge as a human rights advocate, a fearless one at that, handling major controversial cases that others would shy away from because of the risks. One of them, of course, was the Maguindanao Massacre that happened on November 23, 2009. The other involved a transgen, Jennifer Laude, who was murdered by a US serviceman on October 11, 2014 after a night out on the town.

    I am not surprised that Harry became one of my contemporaries who entered public service; during our years as students he was a student leader who dared run against the “establishment,” the “ruling” left-of-center student parties, of course, to no avail because it was a Quixotic task. That was the Harry that I knew and respected.

    He is now Presidential spokesman, his second run at it actually, and it is in this present position that I find Harry giving me reasons to laugh once in a while. Maybe it’s intentional, because his job is perhaps one of the toughest one can accept in any administration, much more this one. And I can only imagine how much tougher it is on someone like Harry, he who had always been very open and vocal about his principles, especially during those times that he was standing firm on the side of the “small” people, the disadvantaged, the oppressed even.

    When he claimed that the Philippines has one of the best testing programs “in Asia, if not the world,” I found myself laughing so hard in a way I haven’t done so since we first went on lockdown (the longest in the world!) in March of this year. Leave it to Harry to send a message only a few will understand. I didn’t get to see the video clip where he made that statement, but I suspect only one hand would be visible; the other, you see, would have his index and middle finger crossed. On the other hand, if he had said this at the rostrum in Malacanang and both hands and all fingers would be visible, then it must have been his toes that were crossed.

    The statement, you see, was so blatantly false that saying it aloud could only have been meant to deliver a message in another way.

    Or at least that’s how I would have done it.

    The other Cabinet member who gave me much needed comic relief was former JPE aide-turned-RAM leader-turned-senator- turned-DICT-Secretary Gregorio Honasan. At a budget hearing for his department, the Secretary is reported to have admitted that internet speed in the Philippines was nothing close to those of other countries, still, our speed meant we are not doing too badly. To be precise, he has been quoted as saying “Sila pumapalo ng 55 Mbps, tayo naglalaro pa rin sa 3-5 Mbps pero hindi na po ito masama.”

    This was my second welcome belly laugh of the week. To be fair (don’t you just love this phrase?), his “Hindi na po ito masama” is true if you compare today’s internet speed to the dial-up speed that the good secretary and I grew up with in the 1980s. But then again that was 40 years ago, Mr. Secretary – so long ago that the kids today who suffer from poor internet connection at a time when classes are online will have to Google what we mean when we refer to “dial up” connections.

    I first met then Col. Honasan when he was still with the Defense department and I was working as a legislative assistant to Rene Cayetano, law partner of JPE. I didn’t meet him much after that (I had more frequent interactions with the late Capt. Rex Robles) but I made sure that when Alvin and Heidi Toffler were in Manila to deliver a lecture in August of 1994 that Col. Honasan and his RAM leaders would have a private moment with the Toffler, and so they met at the Presidential Suite of the Edsa Shangrila Hotel on August 8 or maybe 9 of that year. When he ran for the Senate I voted for him each time, but I must admit I was surprised that he was the one named to the DICT, a very crucial department in what the Tofflers would describe as the “Age of Information,” or the Third Wave.

    I would like to think that when Secretary Honasan described our internet speed as “hindi na masama,” he was trying to be gentle or kind – just like Donald Trump saying things like the Americans need not worry about the virus even after being told how deadly and how virulent it was. Why rub salt on the wound of Filipinos already complaining, every day, of slow connections or, worse, lack of them? When he compares our internet speed to our neighbors and notes that ours is at 10% of theirs, maybe he doesn’t feel the need to stress the obvious – that ours is embarrassingly poor. Anyway, the President himself has so many times called our telcos on the carpet for precisely this very issue. Maybe Secretary Honasan just chose to spare their already raw feelings.

    But he could also have chosen the path of raising the bar, saying something like “our neighbors have internet speeds up to 55Mbps while ours averages at 3-5 Mbps, an average we intend to raise in the months ahead.” This would have been much more hope-inspiring among everyone, even the dial-up diehards, than to excuse the current conditon as “hindi na masama.” Because it IS masama. Or maybe say “hindi na masama. Masamang-masama.”

    Forgive me for picking on Sec Harry and Sec Gringo when I should be grateful to them for the laugh they extracted from me. I suppose my sentiments are just a result of my LSS; driving to work yesterday I heard the song “King of Wishful Thinking” of Go West.

    Which left me (wishfully) thinking: shouldn’t we be striving to make sure we raise the bar in everything that the government is doing? Until we really become the “best in Asia, if not in the World?”