Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was first published in Interaksyon.com on September 28, 2011.


There is nothing sadder than a mosquito sucking on a mummy. Give it up, little guy. – Jack Handy

Popular support lends legitimacy to a cause. That’s why not all strikes and protests are perwisyo, a nuisance. Some are blessings, like EDSA 1.  And EDSA 2 also, for one couple. That’s the first lesson rabble-rousers learn. And that’s the reason why PISTON’s George San Mateo, he who is to the public transport sector what Rep. Mikey Arroyo is to security guards, and Bayan Muna’s media face, Rep. Teddy Casino, got all onion-skinned when DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communications) secretary Mar Roxas called their dismal nationwide transport strike perwisyo.

It hurts a do-gooder to be called a nuisance, it bumps him off his high horse.  Evangelists knocking on your door believe they are on a mission from God.  Tell them to come back in the next life but don’t call them perwisyo. Communists trashing democratically-elected governments believe they are on a mission from Mao. Call them anything but don’t call them perwisyo. But I will.

Perwisyos know that there are times when proselytizing will not do the trick. The second lesson in “How to Win Friends and Influence the Masses”, the title of Mao’s famous little red bible, is “If pie in sky not working, a blow to head will.”

And so perwisyos are never remiss in bridging the gap between rhetoric and reality. They engage regularly in strikes spiced with photo-op plankings, extortion disguised as revolutionary taxation, kidnappings, assassinations, bombings, and periodic internal purges to prove that they mean business. By the way, those activities are not perwisyo, they are for everybody’s own good.

Perwisyos believe they can regain the ground they lost because of political miscalculations in 1986 by raising bogus issues, like blaming the government for the global price of oil. They are betting that people are not that well-informed; ignorance is their best friend. So they propose artful solutions to a problem that cannot be solved unless the country takes to bicycles:

“Repeal the oil deregulation law!”

And what, bring back the Oil Price Stabilization Fund? Been there, done that, wouldn’t want to ever go there again. Bankruptcy is not good. Unless you are out to destroy democracy.

“Remove the VAT on oil!”

Will that bring oil prices down or will it only shift the pain? VAT (value-added tax) is an add-on that goes to social services. But a democratic capitalist society providing a safety net is anathema to perwisyos.

At any rate, when global oil prices force perwisyos to ride bicycles, they will stop bitching about the VAT on oil. They will bitch about the weather. And blame democracy for that too.

“Sue the oil companies for conniving to fix prices!”

Good luck proving a cartel. Oil company executives will claim it is their duty to earn maximum profits for their shareholders; if one company can sell at a high price then why should another company do anything different?

“Let’s invite more oil companies, to destroy the cartel!”

Okay, that sounds good. Then again more oil companies might just make for a bigger and more powerful cartel. The bottom line is that oil companies are not going to get into a race to the bottom, they will not compete over who can go out of business faster.

“Ban private property! Criminalize profits! Nationalize everything!”

Wait, I’m getting carried away, that’s for later. Let’s go back to the issue at hand.

The fact is the government can only nibble at the edges, like giving out discount cards here and there, because it has no control over the global price of oil. But it can stop oil smuggling. Admittedly, that will not bring down the price of oil, but prosecuting smugglers will send some oil company executives to jail.

Now you could say that’s a small consolation but I say that when you’re extremely pissed and looking for someone, anything to strike at, seeing an oil company executive behind bars is like smoking a good cigar. And that’s definitely more satisfying than sucking on the mummy of Mao.