CHILD OF THE SUN: Public service and official stupidity. By Ting Tiongco

I have been travelling  Surigao del Sur’s coastal road for years, and for years, I have seen road gangs peering through their survey instruments and heavy machineries parked along the euphemistically called ‘roads’; but the primordial mud has stuck. The roads have retained their rich potential to become rice fields and indeed very often revert to such status when the rains come. You can plant anything on those roads. Especially pechay. But I suggest the Department of Public Works and Highways in Surigao del Sur plants cabbage instead.  Even if it still does not contain a brain, at least it has a head.

It is good that the long suffering inhabitants of Surigao del Sur have a patience and a sense of humor that are as endless as the stupidity of their elected officials and the engineers and workers of the

I was to attend a very important meeting in the morning of April 19 in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur and since April 18th caught me in a birthday party in Tagaytay City, I woke up early to board a five o’clock flight from Manila to Butuan, and planned to travel by car from Butuan to Tandag through San Francisco, Agusan del sur. I had trepidations about travelling that notorious coastal road of Surigao del Sur again especially after a night of celebration; for years, people have joked that the Department of Health has been investigating incidences of abortions in pregnant women who traveled this road, and that the Philippine Population Commission was also looking into number of women who subsequently got pregnant after losing their IUDs along the way.

Everything was nice and dandy from Butuan City to San Francisco, Agusan del Sur. This stretch of road is now was as smooth as any road in Davao, thanks to the fact that the president was forced to travel this road at the height of its abomination, due to technical difficulties with her helicopter a couple of years ago.

It was in the 100 kilometer stretch between Barobo and Tandag that one’s agonies began. There was small comfort in seeing road gangs and heavy equipment along the road. I had seen them before. The small wooden bridges that spanned small rivers and rivulets looked just as dilapidated and doubtful as before. It always helped to close your eyes every time you traversed one. The driver remarked that these bridges were accidents waiting to happen for the last 25 years. I nodded my head through my closed eyes.

It was in Marihatag that it happened; and ooh, the preternatural timing of it all! I had travelled one hour and fifty five minutes by plane from Manila to Butuan and driven five hours from Butuan to Marihatag; and the wooden bridge that broke separated me from my last hour of travel along the remaining 30 kilometers to Tandag!

Cars and buses were lined on either side of the small bridge. People were milling around like ants that lost their way, looking at each other from their sides of the bridge. There was a small crane with a group of self-important looking DPWH workers, busy dismantling the bridge. There was no way across.

Until some enterprising local young men planked down a narrow wooden board across the small stream on which people teeter-tottered over from either side, carrying their baggage across.  I blessed their thoughtful hearts, until I was charged a peso for the crossing.

So I stormed over to the DPWH people and asked why there were no signs that warned of the bridge’s condition before we got to it so we could have looked for alternative routes to Tandag. The simian from the group who answered me stated that the DPWH had announced the bridge’s closure twice over the local radio. If the local radio broadcasts didn’t reach Tagaytay, that was not their problem. Neither were signs. They had already done their job.

I suggested that they busy themselves first constructing a temporary detour around the bridge for vehicles that needed to reach Tandag and vice versa. He suggested we take the alternative route that required going back to Butuan and over the Surigao peninsula to Tandag, a route that would take at least 12 hours. Or, he said we wait at our side of the bridge until the next day when they hope to have bolstered the bridges foundations enough to be able to accommodate vehicles.

I asked what would happen if a patient with a life threatening condition needed to be transported to Davao. He volunteered to carry the patient across the teeter-totter board to another vehicle on the other side. But in the meantime, the cars and buses on either side had piled up in such a catastrophic manner that kilometers away, on both sides, people were pushing in to find out what was happening farther up; and at both ends of the bridge, amidst the crush of people and cars and buses, vehicles were maneuvering in vain to back up or turn around. So passengers on either side had to walk beyond the congestion of buses and people, with their baggage on their heads under the heat of the noonday sun to find further transportation to Tandag or to San Francisco. Habalhabal drivers were making a killing.

It was horrifying to watch the DPWH crew work mindlessly on, oblivious of the inconvenience and danger to the crowd that passed under the heavy steel girders hanging from their crane tower- mothers carefully carrying infants, excited scurrying children and old people who hurriedly hobbled through.

My heart bled at the helplessness of our people in the face of the resounding emptiness in the heads of the public officials of Surigao del sur and the dark apathy in their hearts. Must it be that people in charge of public service are so calloused?

I asked for the simian’s name, but he would not identify himself. Perhaps scientists had not named their species yet. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ting – Dr. Jose M. Tiongco – is a graduate of the UP College of Medicine Class 1971 and is chief executive officer of the Medical Mission Group Hospitals and Health Services Cooperative-Philippines Federation. He wrote about the early years of the cooperative hospitals and cooperative health fund in the book, “Child of the Sun Returning” and last month launched his book “Surgeons Do Not Cry,” published by the University of the Philippines Press and now available at UP Press, MindaNews and National bookstores).