Thursday, January 31, 2013

Weeding Out an Anachronism

With social media demigod-cum-tour guide Carlos Celdran having been convicted for violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines titled "offending religious feelings," and having been sentenced to a jail term ranging from two months to a year, there has been a lot of talk on the social media-sphere, talk about what horrible people the local clergy are, talk about whether or not Celdran deserved it, and talk about how ridiculous and antiquated the law is.

I'm particularly interested in the last bit, because it reflects an overall trend in criminal law nowadays, what with discussions on the de-criminalization of libel also making waves lately. People can post diatribe after diatribe against the church for pursuing its case against Celdran (whatever their pretensions to the contrary) but at the end of the day, the law was there for them to invoke.

For me the bottom line is this: the RPC is in dire need of a thorough overhaul. The reasons why could cover an entire series of blog posts, or even a book, but I'm nowhere near scholarly enough to devote the energy needed for that sort of enterprise.

Now, the option is definitely on the table to have the provision of the law declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and there seems to be every indication that this is the tack Celdran's lawyer, Marlon Manuel, intends to take.

My idea, which may be a little more radical (though I know I'm not alone), is that Celdran should do the time.

My theory is that there are few things that could more effectively hit home the absurdity of the notion of doing prison time for an offense that 1) can easily be settled by mediation and 2) may well have been overtaken by no less than the Constitution, than the image of someone actually doing the time. Celdran's picture in a Manila jail cell, wearing his Jose Rizal outfit and a wry smile, is virtually iconic in social media circles and one could argue it stirred up so much outrage that it helped the Reproductive Health Bill become the Reproductive Health Law. If such an image could help create a law, then it's reasonable to believe that a whole string of such images could help tear a provision of law out of the statute books to which it no longer belongs. If Celdran dropped his appeal and served his prison sentence it would be legally correct (as the law is valid until found unconstitutional), but morally abhorrent.

The media coverage of Celdran's trip to New Bilibid alone would be a circus, and in the age of social media and the internet he would probably be the first celebrity since Robin Padilla to have protracted media exposure while in prison. Padilla shot a movie during his abbreviated sentence in Bilibid (for illegal possession of firearms) back in the 1990s; Celdran's supporters would probably hold both an actual and online vigil and a social-media based countdown of his term. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if Celdran got his own year-long reality show while on the inside. He could share Filipino culture with the prisoners and be one of the boys, assuming he doesn't become anyone's "wife" while he's there.

But then, if he suffered while in our notoriously hellish, septic prison system, the effect on the public psyche would be all the more profound. All the time he'd be in there, without even opening his mouth he would be declaring to the world: "I'm in here because someone insisted on implementing an archaic law that punishes hurting people's feeling with a prison sentence." That's the kind of imagery that would stick to the public consciousness for a long time. What better way, after all, to show the excess of the penalty than by actually enduring it?

If that doesn't get this batch of legislators scrambling to revisit the RPC and all of its forgotten antiquities (e.g. "dueling") then at least it will be on the minds of the next batch of legislators after this year's elections. If absolutely nothing else, Celdran could most likely get a presidential pardon.

Maybe, if the attempts to invalidate portions of the Cybercrime Law don't pan out, indignant citizens whose internet posts fall within the purview of the law can march to prison for "cyberlibel" as well, as prisoners of conscience. Just a thought.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


This blog has remained inactive for months, despite the fact that on numerous occasions I have sat down to draft numerous posts about issues burning the headlines. Still, I could not think of anything to say that had not been said quite exhaustively elsewhere and so, discouraged, I would abandon the posts and do other things. I no longer review movies here, whether it's to heap praise or scorn upon them; for that I now have Jim's Film Ramblings. I no longer review comic books or ruminate on TV shows here; I have Jim's Pop Culture Window for that.

To what, then, should I devote this blog?

Well, this blog is called "The Tantrum" and as it so happens, there are a lot of things wrong with society today, and a lot of tantrums waiting to be thrown.

I'd rather not write about things like the RH law or the Cybercrime law because that's pretty much being done to death elsewhere, by people whose actual job it is to write about these things.

No, my little diatribe will be about something with which many residents of Quezon City are no doubt familiar: the flyover on Commonwealth Avenue across Tandang Sora.

By way of a little background, Commonwealth Road is a major traffic artery which connects Novaliches, Fairview and several other communities in between to the rest of Quezon City. It starts at the Quezon City Elliptical Road and ends somewhere in Novaliches. At its very widest, Commonwealth Road is eighteen lanes wide, with each side having nine full-sized car lanes. It is reportedly the widest road in the Philippines. The flyover that traverses Tandang Sora is four lanes wide, in contrast, with two lanes on either side.

Every morning throughout the working days of the week I drive along Commonwealth on my way to work and on my way to take my son to school, and whenever I am about a kilometer or so away from the flyover crossing Tandang Sora, I see the two innermost lanes of the road backed up with cars. As I draw closer to Tandang Sora, I see a much larger swarm of cars veering left from the next two innermost lanes of Commonwealth and converging on the two innermost lanes, many of them cutting or trying their hardest to cut in front of the line of cars already positioned in the two innermost lanes. By the time I am a few dozen meters away from the foot of the flyover, the number of lanes containing cars trying to cut into the innermost lanes has doubled, with four lanes full of cars trying their very damnedest to bulldoze their way into the two innermost lanes, and with many of them succeeding at the expense of the people way in the back who actually opted to use the innermost lanes in the first place, as they should be doing. There are traffic aides near the foot of the flyover who attempt to control the chaos, and indeed there are even concrete barriers a few meters away to prevent the most abrupt possible cutting into the flyover lanes, but there is precious little any of these people or physical obstacles can do against such an overwhelming tide of selfishness and stupidity.

Every morning I see this spectacle. I see a less extreme, but similarly annoying version of it at night, but in the morning it is simply atrocious.

Every time I see it, I think to myself that if everyone simply used the innermost lanes to begin with, traffic along that flyover would proceed quite smoothly. The problem arises when one, then two, then dozens of motorists feel they can't be bothered to wait in line and decide to cut in front. Sure, there is an issue with the flyover being a bit of an anachronism; at the time it was constructed, Commonwealth Avenue was probably roughly half its current width, and it was a huge convenience.

Now, however, it is patently absurd to see cars from five or six lanes jostling for position on two lanes. This happens every day. The worst part is that many of the rude drivers prevail at the expense of the ones who actually followed the rules. The cars that actually make it to the flyover actually travel rather quickly, even though the struggle to get there can take anywhere from five to fifteen extra minutes compared to waiting for the ninety-second stoplight below it. The drivers of the cars on the bottom are apparently too important to be held up by the stoplight, so they cut in front of the people who bothered to get in line. Every morning, it's the same thing, without fail.

This traffic situation is a microcosm of what is truly wrong with the people in this country.

This is the attitude that permeates the psyches of everyone from manual laborers to white-collar workers to so-called public servants. What is well and truly wrong with our society doesn't have anything to do with who's in public office at any given time.

"I'm more important than you are, so it's my divine right to cut in front of you."

"I'm more important than you are, so I'm going to cheat on my exams."

"I'm more important than you are, so I will screw you at work for my own convenience."

"I'm more important than you are, so it's my right to steal millions of pesos from your taxes."

"I'm more important than you are, so it's my right to have you gunned down like an animal in the streets, or shot and buried in a jungle, or abducted by the military, never to be seen again."

So many evil acts stem from the same impulse that prompts motorists to cut in front of their fellow motorists; pure and simple selfishness. The only difference is that unlike the thieves and murderers, the motorists on Commonwealth flaunt their acute sense of self-importance in broad daylight.

The solution is simple, really; punish selfishness, at least on Commonwealth Avenue.

If history is any indication, in a few years' time, nobody will really give a damn about Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo going to jail or Renato Corona being kicked out of the Supreme Court; given our ridiculously short memories probably the only thing that will really remain in people's consciousness will be the politics of it all. I'm fairly sure none of the errant motorists on Commonwealth think that what happened to Corona or GMA could ever happen to them, because they're just motorists, after all.

Bringing the law and its enforcement down to the ground level, however, will be another story altogether. By punishing the rude "Commonwealth choppers," whether through fines or the inconvenience of having to recover their driver's licenses from City Hall, one could leave a lasting impression on motorists. Punish lawbreakers even with minor penalties, and people will start obeying laws. If implemented consistently and diligently, such punishment could really change things in the long run.

A good example of this can likewise be found on Commonwealth Avenue itself. When the government imposed a 60 kilometer-per-hour speed limit on Commonwealth a few years back, owing to the frequent occurrence of fatal road accidents, things actually changed for the better. Even before I moved to the area, I had been consistently driving up and down Commonwealth in the years since the speed limit was imposed, and I have observed that things have gotten genuinely better. The vast majority of motorists actually manage to keep their speed below 60kph, and not just because of the traffic. I think it's because people are actually afraid of being caught (which leads me to assume that violators have been apprehended).

Traffic rules are not a bad idea. They can save lives. Also, if people can only divorce themselves from the mindsets that push them to violate traffic in the first place, they can save souls as well.

(By the way, it would probably also help if they widened the flyover, though I'm no engineer and don't know how they would do that).