PGTW: “Get out of jail free” cards

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 2 October 2014, Thursday

“Get out of jail free” cards

Whatever gets on the Internet, stays on the Internet.

By now this should be the “lesson learned” of Alyzza Agustin, a men’s magazine model who a few days ago posted on her Instagram and Facebook accounts a photo of the business card allegedly of Philippine National Police Director of Plans Alexander C. Ignacio.

There was a signed handwritten note on the back in black sign pen ink: “Please assist my EA, Alyzza Agustin.”

Agustin captioned the photo thus: “Nahuli nanaman ako dahil coding but because of you Boss Alex wala ng huli huli [sic]. Thank you so much sa napaka useful mong card with matching dedication pa #happykid”.

A screenshot was taken of the post, and this went viral after being posted on prominent motoring-related Facebook account and blogs. The photo was taken down after backlash from netizens.

Most commenters saw Agustin’s use of the card to avoid a penalty, and Ignacio’s issuance of it, as an abuse of authority.

Media outlets later reported that Ignacio denied that he personally knows Agustin; he pointed out mistakes on the calling card, saying he is only a one-star officer whereas the calling card has a flag with two stars on it (implying the card is not his). He also said that Agustin is not his employee.

Agustin subsequently posted an apology on her Facebook account, which was also taken down soon after, but again, not before screenshots were taken.

In it she apologized to “everyone who was affected and offended by my post, fellow motorists, Director Alexander C. Ignacio and family, and the PNP institution as a whole.” She also denied knowing Ignacio personally.

She added, “Just like any Filipino motorist, [I] would like a little convenience on the road.”

Ignacio did not deny he gives out business cards, but says these go “with the implied condition that [they] will not be used to violate laws, to shorten prescribed procedures, and for illegal gain.”

It’s been called the “calling card culture” by local politicians and police officers giving their business cards to friends and acquaintances with similar notes on the back, usually for accommodation for traffic violations.

Some people obtain identification cards from government agencies and hang these prominently from their rear-view mirrors; these perform the same function as the business cards when seen by traffic enforcers on the road.

Others don’t even use a calling card to get out of traffic penalties: all they do is name-drop, and if done with enough bluster and conviction, they get away with it.

Some government officials and employees and those using red-plate vehicles, insist that their status as civil servants allow them to beat the red light, make U-turns and wrong turns, use their cars on coding days, and commit other minor violations.

This calling card incident is a manifestation of a practice that has sprung from the Filipino’s predilection for a heavy-handed exercise of authority that leads to abuse and corruption, special treatment, and “convenience”, as Agustin called it.

Agustin’s posting of the photo and bragging about her “get out of jail free” card shows poor judgment, and her excoriation by netizens should teach her a lesson in humility, and everyone else a lesson on how the Internet never forgets. Agustin may have deleted her posts, but these will be on the Internet in some form, if not forever, then for a mighty long time.

What happened to Ignacio will also be a learning experience for officials who issue accommodation calling cards – they will never know who’ll be stupid enough to share these on social media, to the detriment of their reputations.

While this particular instance was not a good experience for Agustin and Ignacio, it exposed to the public a practice that favors the privileged few, promotes unfairness, and reinforces corruption and abuse. No matter how hellish the state of Metro Manila traffic, there is no excuse for breaking the law.

For the public, it’s a positive incident, because now society can be vigilant and do what it can to uproot this practice. ***

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