ONE of the most infuriating aspects of the Aquino administration was its pathological inability to behave sensitively in the face of public hardship, made worse by displays of haughty arrogance.
We still remember clearly how President Benigno Aquino III sarcastically said, “You’re still alive, aren’t you?” to a Tacloban businessman, who expressed fears for his safety following incidents of looting in the wake of the destructive Typhoon ‘‘Yolanda’’ in 2013.
Mr. Aquino’s Transport secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya—now a respondent in several graft cases—famously said that the traffic that had all but paralyzed Metro Manila was “not fatal.”
Weighing in on the same problem, Mr. Aquino said, “When you come home and you’re caught in traffic, just remember that people are running errands, not just loitering around. That is a sign of economic growth,” Aquino said.
In 2016, we welcomed the promise of change by President Rodrigo Duterte, who seemed to grasp the everyday problems of ordinary Filipinos and vowed to do something about them. Mr. Duterte did not mock us by belittling our problems—in fact, he seemed sensitive to them.
But two years later, some of his people have forgotten that they are public servants and, in good Orwellian fashion, are starting to go down the same road that Mr. Aquino and his cohorts took.
Reacting to public anger over rising fuel prices in May, which were aggravated by a government-imposed excise taxes on fuel, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said we shouldn’t be such crybabies, since we had weathered worse.
In the face of a severe shortage of rice in Zamboanga, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol suggested that this was caused by a successful crackdown on smuggling, and that we should perhaps consider legalizing the illicit trade in the grain in those areas. As prices for the grain continued to climb, on National Food Authority official cleverly declared there was “no rice crisis, but maybe a price crisis.”
Then, as the rate of inflation hit a nine-year high at 6.4 percent in August, the President’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said it was “historically high, but not ridiculously high.”
As Filipino families struggled under the yoke of rising food and fuel prices, Roque attributed the August inflation rates to the “limited supply of essential goods that could not keep up with the strong demand due to a robust economy.”
And there it was. That perverted Aquino twist that suggested our problems were mere side effects of economic growth, and that we should actually be grateful for bad traffic or high prices.
Before it is too late, Duterte’s lieutenants need to learn the lesson that the Aquino administration never did: To fix a problem, you must first admit—with some humility—that it exists.