Past Forward

Cebuanos in a pigsty

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Jeff Ruffolo’s contributed article in Cebu Daily News titled “Why is your city in chaos?” has stirred up anew a hornet’s nest of condemnation from readers. One can see in the online edition of this article that those who disagreed felt slighted to the extreme by Ruffolo’s ranting and raving about their beloved Cebu.

This article is in sharp contrast to an online competition of late that has put Cebu City as one of the top nominees for the New Seven Wonder Cities of the World. (I am sure, with cheap Internet access all over the city, we will get a shot at this.)

Did Ruffolo wake up on the wrong side of the bed or is there some truth to his exasperation with the chaos of Cebu, as he describes it, full of Cebuanos who live like pigs in a pigsty.

Let us dissect his article and see beyond his awful and uncalled for remarks that betrayed him as someone who lives in the comfort and luxury that only highly developed countries can provide.

Ruffolo wrote: “The international terminal is falling apart; the security belt where you place your luggage  is being held together by a black masking tape. The ceiling tiles are black from soot and age, ready to fall apart. There is no Wi-Fi high speed Internet connection and almost all of the power plugs available… to run laptops like mine have been yanked out.” Are these observations true? I would agree with him on the absence of Wi-Fi facilities but I do not think the airport is falling apart. That is pure hyperbole and ballistic exaggeration meant to show his extreme dislike.

Ruffolo wrote: “The taxi drive on the way to the airport itself was something akin to a thrill ride at Hong Kong Disneyland.” My take: He should have flagged a taxi driven by an older man. There are taxis that in fact barely move in this city, especially those driven by men in their 60s and those fuelled by liquefied petroleum gas. Moreover, I wonder why he took a taxi when he could probably afford a limousine or rental car, given that he obviously comes from a highly industrialized country? Was he scrimping? Did he realize the extreme difference in taxi rates between Singapore and Cebu? I could write an equally scathing letter about how ill-mannered taxi drivers are in Singapore or even in the United States and how cabbies in New York  drive like there’s no tomorrow!

Ruffolo wrote: “There is no modern transportation system in your city of Cebu. None. You have no bus system and no Metro. It is a frightening experience to get from one end of this city to another. Night-time travel is even worse. Try getting in a taxi at 9 p.m. with Cebu city streets filled with roving bands of young men and prostitutes who stare at you while hovering over open fire pits.” I agree with him, as I keep on writing about the absence of an efficient mass transport system in Cebu. (And now, even the Bus Rapid Transit which was supposed to be tested in Cebu has been transferred by President Benigno Aquino III, in his usual stroke of mediocrity, to the extremely chaotic and hopeless Metro Manila.)

Still, I cannot agree with Ruffolo that night-time is even worse in Cebu City. In fact, I always drive home beyond 9 p.m. because that is the time when traffic begins to slacken and driving home to Banilad from downtown is such a breeze. It makes me wonder which part of the city he was that he saw roving bands of young men and prostitutes. Where in hell was he staying all this time? Was he in Sanciangko Street, General Maxilom Avenue or Junquera Street? What firm sends you to Cebu and puts you in a hotel or pension house right at Sanciangko or even Pasil?

This space is once again far too short to delve into the other observations made by Ruffolo. I certainly agree with him that this city will never become a Singapore. Of course we will never be, we can still laugh at our misery and we still have the lowest suicide rates all over the world whereas Singaporeans were reported in a survey to be almost devoid of emotion, which is good when one plays poker.

But Ruffolo has also made some important points about how badly politicians have run the city, how their self-interest got in the way of development. One need not look further than see how Mayor Michael Rama has had to scrimp and cut down on a lot of his plans and projects—especially the much needed drainage master plan because the city legislature sees things differently from him. To think that Cebuanos voted all of them not to serve their masters or their narrow political interests but the good of Cebuanos.

Once in a while we are jolted by foreigners who see what we think and feel as givens. Ruffolo’s is but one more observation that, though written by someone who saw what he wanted and needed to see, reminds us that our world is not perfect and that we should continue to strive to make it at least liveable, not just for our generation but for that of many more to come.

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