Thursday, November 5, 2009

Completing The Job

Despite the negative tone of this and many of the previous posts in this blog, I'm really not out to do a hatchet job on Philippine society. After all if I were so unhappy about life here, why would I have stayed for 4 years and still plan to remain indefinitely? However, when I read unfavorable but important news features and stories about the national character here, I believe that they should be brought to light and discussed especially for those who may not have access to these news journals.

One such item titled "Licensed To Kill" appeared in the Nov. 4 edition of the "Philippine Star" newspaper. It reports that for many years, there has been gossip circulating that some transit companies issue certain instructions to their drivers whose buses are in accidents involving pedestrians: If the victim is seriously injured but still alive, run him or her over again and finish the job.

It turns out this rumor may not be just an urban legend but may have a basis in fact. The rationale behind this sadistic practice is that it's cheaper for a transit company to pay off a death claim than a hospital bill for injuries. An uncontested minimum payment for the former is set by law at P50,000 and can be even less for a child. On the other hand a living victim's mounting medical bills could obviously wind up being much more expensive for the bus companies to have to contend with. And since most of the dead casualties' families are too poor to afford the legal fees involved in a protracted lawsuit, they usually settle for the minimum. (Attorneys in the Philippines usually do not accept cases on a contingency fee basis). Hence the incentive for transit operators to take the low road (no pun intended).

The article emphasizesand rightly so the need for bus operators to prevent such accidents in the first place by treating their drivers humanely with decent pay, elimination of unreasonable hours that lead to driver fatigue and cause accidents, and the installation of equipment on the vehicles to monitor and ensure drivers' adherence to safe road practices.

Yet this still begs the question how an employer, no matter the amount of money at stake, could so unconscionably consider trying to turn their workers into murderers and why drivers would in turn oblige. After all, no matter how bad the working conditions, how could this ever be an excuse for employees to consent to kill innocent victims? Such a pact speaks volumes about Philippine culture itself. Incidentally, in this regard I do not mean to single out this country. Such low regard for human life (except for one's family) is common in many countries both on and off the road, especially Latin America, which due to their mutual Spanish heritage shares many traditions and customs with the Philippines.

President Gloria Arroyo stated a few years ago that this country could progress to first-world status by 2020. She must be joking. No third-world country can expect to make that kind of a leap when violence is so deeply rooted in its social structure. The Philippines is no exception.

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