Following the accident involving a private jet carrying top-ranking Philippine government officials that skidded off a runway at Tacloban City airport, Filipinos are now asking what those officials were doing there to begin with.
Heading the team reportedly tasked “to ensure that the activities of Pope Francis in that city and Palo town would go as planned” was Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa. And…
Aside from Ochoa, also on the 19-seater Bombadier Global Express were Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Undersecretary Emmanuel Bautista, his aide, a Lt. Rafael, Undersecretary Felizardo Serapio Jr., Science Secretary Mario Montejo, lawyer Carlos Serapio, Katherine Andraneda, Col. Oliver Veslino, Major Darwin Sacramed, Chino Romero, Joseph Juico, Gamaliel Cordoba and Lt. Manny Bautista.
The private jet is owned by Philippine conglomerate San Miguel Corporation and was chartered exclusively to ferry the above officials to Tacloban where Pope Francis was to celebrate a mass in honour of the victims of powerful typhoons that had struck the city in the last two years.
The Philippine government has been under the gun explaining the vast resources and the over-the-top pomp, ceremony, and disruptions to daily life it had mounted to receive Pope Francis despite the pontiff’s clear instructions that all this was about the poor. Indeed many of the approaches taken by the Philippine government supposedly to make the occasion a “memorable” one for the pontiff involved some questionable measures. Earlier, outrage erupted over allegations that street children all over Manila had been rounded up and thrown into cages as part of a general cleanup of the otherwise squalid megalopolis to prepare for the papal visit. Despite desperate denials coming from Malacanang, the issue has since gone mainstream with no less than TIME magazine publishing a full report on the controversy.
It is hardly surprising that Filipino politicians are clambering all over themselves for a piece of the papal action. Religion has long proven to be an extremely effective tool for herding huge numbers of Filipinos towards political ends. The Economist in a recent report on Pope Francis’s visit to the Philippines notes how the Philippines is beset by “a national penchant for the mass demonstration of faith” and observes the way “Filipinos of all stripes seem to be especially given to turning out in ecstatic hordes, for occasions both sacred and secular.” Furthermore…
What makes Filipinos stand out among Christian-majority populations is their ardent expectation that piety and morality will be rewarded on earth, not just in heaven. Conspicuous among the crowds awaiting Pope Francis were people with various infirmities, expressing hopes that a glimpse of him, or a blessing vaguely waved in their direction, would bring relief. This comes with the popular belief that the pope himself wields divine power. Before Pope Francis arrived, the head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, exhorted the faithful: “Watch the pope passing by. Christ is passing by. Be blessed as he passes by.” The church does not, in fact, say that the pope is Jesus Christ. Pope Francis himself, on learning that roadsides were decked with posters bearing his image, asked that they be replaced with posters bearing Christ’s image.
As with most momentous occasions that visit the Philippines, what happens next remains to be seen. Filipinos are moved to exorbitant displays of emotional fervour whether such events are good or bad — whether they are visits by “super” typhoons or holy men like Pope Francis. The country also has a history of squandering all sorts of windfalls — political, cultural, financial, and diplomatic — and coming out of these pretty much in the same circumstance as it was before these windfalls.
Unless some sort of different way of doing things comes evident following the papal visit, it is difficult to expect outcomes that will put Filipinos on a trajectory different from the traditional one the Philippines has been on for the last six decades.