The sinking of the Titanic in the Atlantic was a wakeup call to humanity’s pretense at invincibility. It sank with less than 37 percent survivors, though it had time to evacuate all its passengers. It just did not have enough lifeboats and vests to keep everyone afloat in the frigid waters, long enough for responding ships to rescue them.
China’s CCTV movie channel chose to show the movie Titanic while the press was pointing to the similarity in the rate of casualties between the Titanic and the Sewol ferry that capsized a fortnight ago in its regular service from Incheon to Jeju in South Korea. There were four Chinese casualties in that voyage, the body of the fourth one finally recovered this week.
The MV Sewol revealed a big hole in SoKor’s culture, regulatory practices, and its capacity to respond to disasters. PM Chung Hong-Won decried the seeming incapacity of the Rescue Office of the government and the “murderous” behavior of the crew, leaving a young 26-year-old inexperienced third mate at the helm while the boat was already tilting. Revelation has since been uncovered that the boat had less than a 1,000-ton load capacity of cargo but was actually carrying more than 3,000 tons, some of which were not secured in place that might have contributed to the boat’s loss of equilibrium and eventual capsizing.
PM Chung reportedly blamed “deep-rooted evils” and societal irregularities for a tragedy that has left more than 300 people dead or missing and led to widespread shame, fury, and finger-pointing. In a national TV broadcast, he said: “There have been so many varieties of irregularities that have continued in every corner of our society and practices that have gone wrong. I hope these deep-rooted evils get corrected this time and this kind of accident never happens again.”
I am familiar with many practices now called “corrupt” but taken for granted in the conduct of regulatory practices for they are in place as the norm rather than the exception in many governments, particularly the so-called “democratic” ones around the world.
A Bureau of Customs kin in the Philippines kept a humble domicile in Quezon City while a secretary so much lower in departmental rank than he was enriched herself managing the paperwork and signatures for freight needed in and out of South Harbor in Manila Bay, affording her a mansion in the suburbs.
I was asked several times as pastor of a local church congregation on Saipan to facilitate the purchase of a driver’s license at MVO. The going grease money at the time was $350 and I was handed $500 to do the task. Not being moralistic here, since the practice of “facilitating” paperwork through regulatory channels was structured in Brazil, where offices that represented entities acted like lawyers were given 10 percent of any expenditure to get the job done, but to keep the function in the informal sector only made corruption a normal practice.
The EDSA revolution that ousted President Marcos, mercilessly dubbed as the conjugal kleptocracy with Imelda, might have had ideological sentiments, but members of the Makati business community I knew were livid when the cost of getting papers out of the President’s control reached 35 percent of expenditure. A first lady was dubbed “Madame 15 percent” for the rate of her facilitating similar efforts in Indonesia later.
The seasoned 68-year-old ship captain apologized profusely for the loss of life and will be criminally prosecuted for his role as the captain of the ship; he was one of the first to abandon ship. It is quite understandable that he might have been disoriented when he bumped into a glass door in his haste to get to the bridge but Chung’s blanket charge is a welcome breath of fresh air!
In the Titanic, the captain and even the architect of the newly rebuilt transatlantic liner chose to sink with their vessel, so PM Chung’s resignation is understandable. So was the suicide committed by the vice principal chaperone to 325 students in the Sewol ferry. Not so with Malaysian officials responding to queries from MH370 families of passengers who could not get a single gesture of humility, let alone a sense of accountability. The plane’s disappearance, notwithstanding multinational effort with the latest in search technology, remains buried in deep mystery as no trace of it is yet to be located. Malaysian hierarchy, however, remains uppity in their public appearances.
I attend a reflective week in Texas this summer. One of the regular attendees will not be there. He is busy flinging his 85-year-old body into the barbwires of history, protesting plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline for the gooey tar sands from Alberta into the Gulf of Mexico. Coincidentally, I will also be in Alberta for another meeting where I expect most of my Canuck colleagues to toe the familiar line of Obama’s WH being anti-labor with the announcement that permission to build the pipeline is on hold, possibly until after the mid-term election for members of the U.S. Congress.
The “m” on “steam” is defining our merry month of May!
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at email@example.com.