Sunday, August 12, 2007

Candidate for Best Government Employee 2007

I had a surreal experience during the trip going to my girlfriend's workplace yesterday.

I entered a jeepney and the lady immediately beside me was not considerate enough to straighten up and make room for others who were to board the vehicle. Happens frequently; there must be a gene that hardwires this behavior in some people.

As I had no intention of engaging the lady in a silent war of wits and maneuvering for butt real estate, I sat there and closed my eyes in order to relax.

A few minutes has passed and I heard some boys shouting as the vehicle approached a turn. When I opened my eyes, I saw about seven boys in almost-identical sweat-filled dirty T-shirts, shorts and slippers. They were not an immediate threat as I was seated in the middle of the jeepney, but they were an annoyance to some of the passengers as they jostled to hang on the railings at the end of the jeepney.

Almost immediately, my seatmate began shouting at the driver: "Stop the children from hanging on the railings." Then, turning to the children, she said: "Get off the jeepney!"

The driver, oblivious to what is happening or (most probably) ignorant of the situation by choice, went on and maintained his speed for another 200 meters. Frustrated by the cold shoulder given her, my seatmate then declared: "Driver, I advise you to do as I say. Don't you realize that you have a passenger here that is working for the LTO (Land Transportation Office)?"

With lightning-quick reflexes practiced by her long stint in a well-esteemed government office, she took out her LTO ID and showed it to the driver. Or at least I believed that it really was an LTO ID, because I kept my previous mien of deliberately ignoring the unfolding events.

She then shouted at the boys: "If you're not going to get off, I will be forced to arrest you!" Inching forward to get to the boys, who seemed to be oblivious to the lady's threats, she reached for her back pocket and voila! pulled out a pair of handcuffs.

The boys then took notice, albeit one by one, and got off the jeepney. The driver took notice too; I saw his eyes widen at the sight of the handcuffs. I bet he thought, "Damn, this is for real!" He slowed down to allow the formerly boisterous youngsters to get off, then dutifully followed all traffic regulations to the letter even after the LTO person had gotten off.

But before she got off, she lectured at length at how poor people kept on making babies without taking care of them; how irresponsible parents should see their children in cuffs; the expense and hassle of being arrested for driving without a license and overloading; and her commitment to serving the public interest. A real public spectacle - I was already ready to award her with a trophy before she decided to get off.

I wonder who should get the award for most bizaare behavior. The driver is one candidate. He did not know (or refused to consider) that he would be liable if any of those boys fell off his vehicle, and regardless of the danger to them and other passengers he still went up the same speed as if there were no people hanging on the back of his vehicle.

The boys are eligible as a group. Aside from just being annoyingly undisciplined, they had some sort of emptiness in their smiles, that would lead some to say that they were unloved, uncared, and for the LTO lady, on inhaled solvents.

The winner in this story is the valiant LTO person. She should be awarded the Civil Service Commission's highest honors. Her frustration on the lack of attention made her lash out at the driver, those boys, and me indirectly - because I received a fair amount of ear pain from her shrill, unmoderated voice. She was emboldened to enforce the law because, in her own words, she was the law.

The best sequence was when she boasted about being the law:
"If they didn't get off, I will really arrest one of them, put him in cuffs, and show him to his mother. 'Here, take care of your children, don't be a wayward parent.' I bet she's gambling; she really has no business having children if she can't take care of them. I have four boys and they know how to cook, clean the house, and work for a living. No one should allow their children to roam the streets like that."

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