Numbers Don’t Lie

Public outrage filled all social media platforms last week as footage of party-list Congressman, John Bertiz, went viral showing him belligerently refusing to follow airport security protocols and berating a member of the security staff in the process.
Bertiz’ arrogant behavior was more than it appears at face value — it was, in fact, a lethal blow to the reputations of both the legislature and the Duterte administration. For the former, it was an acerbic reminder of how lawmakers carry themselves with a sense of entitlement. For the latter, it suggests that cronyism is slowly finding its way back in Malacañang.
Let’s talk about our lawmakers first. Bertiz is not the only congressman or senator guilty of demanding special treatment. He is, however, the only one silly enough to be caught on CCTV in the act of indiscretion.
Let’s be honest, many of us have personally witnessed lawmakers demanding special privileges and/or acting as if they are the preferred children of the land. We quietly resent them for their gall and thick faces, yet are unable to do anything about it. Unfortunately, the very institutions meant to guard against abuse are headed by the same cabal of lawmakers who are wont to protect their own. In one fell swoop, Bertiz unearthed our repressed feelings of resentment and scraped the wounds wide open.
Juan de la Cruz is a helpless victim of lawmakers’ abuses every day. On our roads, for example, congressmen and senators have highway patrols pave the way for their passage, demanding that everyone move aside, as if their journeys are more important than ours. They assume that traffic rules do not apply to them and berate traffic enforcers when they are accosted. They refuse to line up in government offices and insist that their needs be attended to first. They demand that airlines wait for them if they are late. In our embassies abroad, they demand to be entertained by our diplomatic staff and help themselves to the cars and facilities of our embassies. They don’t line up at immigration counters and demand exception from customs for their contraband. They expect law enforcers to look the other way for crimes under the radar of media scrutiny. I can go on and on as the litany of abuses are as long as this newspaper.
While I do not suggest that all lawmakers are the same, I dare say that most are of Bertiz’ likeness, perhaps only more discreet. No surprise, the public view lawmakers not as men of esteem, but with disdain and distrust.
Bertiz is the personification of everything we hate about lawmakers. His latest caper only worsened their already tarnished image. Adding insult to injury was his backhanded apology, done while blaming airport officials for being rude. What kind of apology lays blame on others? It was clearly one laced with hubris.
Given the blowback on the reputation of the legislature, it is incumbent on the congressional ethics committee to slap maximum sanctions against Bertiz. The public expects nothing less. To let him get away with a mere slap on the hand will only confirm what most think of lawmakers — that they protect their own. A strong signal must be sent that such behavior will no longer be tolerated, especially under the watch of newly installed Speaker Gloria Arroyo.
Power is intoxicating and Bertiz is inebriated with it. His ilk forget, as elected officials, they are under the payroll of the people. Our taxes pay for their salaries and whatever pork funds they receive. They are at the public’s disposal, not above it. Hence, they are duty and morally bound to uphold the law, however inconvenient it may be.
Bertiz is clearly emboldened by his closeness to Bong Go and the President himself.
This begs the question, is it commonplace for friends of Bong Go and the President to enjoy special privileges? If not, why does Bertiz demand it in the most brazen of ways? Is cronyism on the rise in this administration?
The way Bertiz struts around town goes against the very grain of why President Duterte was elected in the first place. It will be recalled that the people voted for the Chief Executive principally because he promised to enforce the law without fear or favor. He committed to stamp out abuse among those in power and restore law and order in the land.
The actions of Bertiz undermined the President’s campaign promise. Unless the President cracks the whip on him, our people can rightfully conclude that cronyism is alive and well in this administration and that the campaign promise was a fluke.
As far as public opinion is concerned, the Bertiz incident could not have come at a worse time. Just as the administration faces criticisms for its inability to tame inflation, control the drop in the peso and arrest the decelerating economy — this incident only added another layer of discontent with the administration.
As for the senatorial bid of Bong Go, his association with Bertiz will make the public think twice before voting for him. He will probably be ruled out altogether. Thus, the further Mr. Go distances himself from Bertiz, the better.
Nearly everything that comes out of Bertiz’ mouth is wrought with political incorrectness — from threatening not to release the licenses of agricultural engineers unless they knew Bong Go, to accusing OFW, Eman Villanueva of being undocumented, to his slur against women’s menstrual cycles. The man is toxic.
In a recent press briefing, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Ed Monreal said that based on the footage alone, it was clear that Bertiz violated security protocol by not removing his shoes at the checkpoint. This was confirmed by Office of Transportation Security (OTS) Administrator Art Evangelista, who said Bertiz not only violated security protocols, he also breached security procedures by forcibly confiscating the ID card of an airport security staff member.
By law, only the President is exempt from security checks, but even he subjects himself to the entire security process.
Aviation safety protocols are governed by international treaties and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Failure to adhere to them could give other member countries the right not to accept flights from the Philippines and/or disallow flights from the Philippines from entering their airspace. As one could imagine, this could have serious ramifications to our OFWs, the very people Bertiz represents. It will also cause serious damage to tourism and the economy in general.
The blatant disrespect for security protocols could cause us to fail the next ICAO security audit which will bring about stiffer sanctions.
The stakes are high and to brush this off as some misdemeanor of an entitled lawmaker will be doing the entire nation a disservice. We must show the international community that we are committed to enforce aviation security protocols, no matter who is involved.
In conclusion, Bertiz has shown us how abusive and shameless our lawmakers have become. On civil society’s part, our vile reaction is indicative of how fed up we are.
But the issue now has transcended Bertiz himself. It is now about the reputation of the legislature and the executive branch. We ask ourselves — are they worthy of our respect? Do they have the moral high ground to dictate our laws and tell us what is right or wrong? Should we begin making our displeasure towards them obvious? Has the time come for us to demand a new cast of leaders?
Moving forward, it all depends on how they handle Bertiz. If they treat him with cushioned gloves, then we know they are just as broken as this entitled congressman.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.