Monday, May 11, 2009

The problem: Ikaw mismo

A massively-funded campaign with huge ads emerged the past week called, Ako mismo. It is challenging the youth to “take a stand and take action for the causes that (they themselves) can pursue to make real.” It has, among many fancy gimmicks, a red dog tag to identify joining members, as well as, big-named celebrities as endorsers. But behind this so-called “movement” is one of RP’s richest CEOs, who also just recently bought into other privatized public utilities. Naturally, my reaction was: What moral standing does this guy have? He, for one, lobbied for the removal of the “no pass-on provision” on the additional rVAT that was slapped onto hapless consumers, which isn’t a mark of a good leader. 

Such maneuver, despite the fact that the then contemplated tax measure was originally intended for cellphone service providers is the least of this CEO’s many financial legerdemain. As former NEDA chief Romulo Neri revealed in the course of the ZTE hearings, this CEO is part of the local cartel that charges one of the highest cellphone service rates in the world. Anyone who has a bit of corporate intelligence knows that behind this CEO is an Asean transnational family, acting as ventriloquist, that flourished through crony capitalism in Indonesia . Then, of course, we should note that this CEO also joined the conspiracy in 2001 against the will of the Filipino electorate. 

Everything he did has only increased the burden upon the people. From supporting the Edsa II installation of Gloria Arroyo, he and his less prominent fellow corporate backers have dirtied their hands with the crimes of this regime, benefitting immensely from all the lopsided laws designed for more profits for their companies and with all their new “acquisitions” that seem to have no end. 

How has this CEO managed to get all the laws passed in favor of his conglomerate? The same manner as the rest of the corporate behemoths: Enticing those in authority to approve laws favorable to them even at the expense of public welfare. In most countries, for instance, cellphone texting costs are subsidized by cellphone call rates, which is what’s being done in Venezuela . Thus, with exorbitant text and voice call charges and the planned spreading out of the rVAT to include cellphone use, Mr. CEO and his foreign masters are sure to rake in unimaginable profits. Such windfall so far has, in effect, allowed them to venture into the power company that charges the highest power prices in Asia —which, upon their entry, immediately got from Arroyo the “performance-based rate” system that ensures unregulated rate increases till kingdom come. 

Because of these, we should instead tell him straight to his face that the problem in Philippine society is Ikaw mismo (you, yourself). But then, the “icons” that Mr. CEO’s movement is setting for the youth to emulate are also, Sila mismo (themselves), part of the problem that is the Philippines ’ damaged culture. 

Let us start with that Arroyo-appointed anti-piracy czar, who has been known for nothing other than being a playboy, who’s had several failed attempts at becoming a talk show host a la Letterman, as well as, a local politician. Sure, he’s been very aggressive in demolishing small pirated DVD vendors, but in this impoverished country where vending illegal wares constitutes the only source of income, this doesn’t seem to be a very creative and helpful stereotype for this society. 

Some others, although having outstanding talent, are unfortunately used for little substance. Some allow themselves to convey the wrong message that girls and women should rush to buy skin whiteners and Glutathione, while others only sing splendidly of mushy, sentimental songs to no avail. Even if these celebrities came out to say that they did not receive any pay for their appearances, perhaps betraying a little sense of guilt, certainly, they can look forward to the next paid appearances for one of this CEO’s many subsidiaries. Thus, Mr. CEO’s choice of mascots sets the tone: It’s entertainment. 

The dominance of entertainment is, in and of itself, a major problem in Philippine society. It’s designed for mass consumption of frivolous stuff; not for the production of goods which our economy needs. This then shrinks the real incomes of families, and sinks them deeper and deeper into hunger. Entertainment only distracts the people from the real problems and their growling stomachs. 

This is why producer-writer Ferdinand Dimadura, Berlin Film Festival top prize winner for Chicken ala Carte, which vividly depicts a family eating out of fast food trash cans, can never be Mr. CEO’s choice of endorser. Mr. CEO only chooses among those whom philosopher Michael K. Hooker worries about: “…people who don’t dwell on the meaninglessness of their lives, or the meaningfulness of it--(those) who just pursue mindless entertainment.” 

So can a project of a dyed-in-the-wool corporate “Gordon Gecko” (from the movie Wall Street) be altruistic? I wouldn’t bet on it. And just as I write this, I see in one of the front pages that Mr. CEO may actually be preparing to support Mr. Noli de Castro. So as I observe Mr. CEO and his Ako mismo campaign, the more I realize that he most probably hasn’t looked into the mirror for sometime, because then he would see that the problem would really be staring him in the face.