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Editor’s Note: Facebook Family and Friends, I got an email from a reporter friend about an article that will seize your emotions. If you have an iota of humanity, compassion or kids — then, you SHOULD read the email that I posted on my "Sam I Am Blog" because it looks at what a Filipina reporter witnesses as the differences in two cultures in response to a National Tragedy. The focus of the article begins with the sinking of the South Korean ferry and the "teenage lives" lost in the tragedy.

Editor-In-Chief

Samuel E. Warren Jr.

Shame
SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 2, 2014 – 12:00am

A day after a ferry carrying hundreds of high school students sank on its way to a resort island in South Korea, my lunch meeting with a Korean expat was canceled.
Earlier this week a Korean told me why: their entire nation is mourning for the dead and missing in the sinking of the ferry Sewol, and people consider it inappropriate to enjoy fine meals or entertain in restaurants. Concerts and other fun activities have also been canceled.
While business is down in South Korea as a result, the situation is expected to persist as the retrieval of bodies moves slowly. Retrieval has been difficult, I was told, because of an unusually rapid tidal current or stream at the site that can move at around 20 kilometers per hour, compounded by stormy weather and icy waters.
The Koreans are considering raising the ferry from the seabed, but the logistics are daunting particularly because of that rapid stream, even for a nation that is home to three of the world’s largest shipbuilding companies (Hyundai, Samsung and Hanjin heavy industries).
“We are so ashamed,” a Korean expat lamented to me recently, citing the behavior of the ship crew, their government’s response and the regulatory failure that contributed to the tragedy. The expat said it is a painful learning experience for Koreans.
For a number of Pinoys, on the other hand, the Korean government’s response is impressive enough along with the nationwide mourning and public expressions of remorse and shame over one maritime accident.
South Korea’s prime minister apologized and resigned over the disaster, while the vice principal of the students’ high school, who was rescued from the ferry, was found hanging with his belt from a tree near the school gym.
The fisheries minister and coastguard chief spent an entire night with angry parents in a tent on the beach explaining their agencies’ responses to the disaster. The deputy coastguard chief was also taken to the tent from his temporary office by irate relatives of the victims.
President Park Geun-hye herself, her popularity sagging in the wake of the accident, has publicly apologized for her government’s “insufficient first response” and failure to curb the regulatory “evils” that contributed to the disaster.
Some reports said the addition of cabins on several decks to accommodate more passengers made the 20-year-old ferry unstable in the powerful current. The ship, which carried 476 people, was reportedly overloaded.
The ferry captain – among the first to be rescued by responding coastguard personnel – and 14 of his crew have been arrested. The billionaire owner of the company that operated the ship is under investigation. The offices of his company and its affiliates were raided and documents confiscated as a probe got underway on the group’s finances.
Maritime regulators are also under investigation not only for administrative lapses but also for possible corruption. There is suspicion that regulators colluded with the company for the modifications that made the vessel top-heavy and unstable.
Compare this with what happens when a ferry sinks in our country. When the ferry Doña Paz collided with the oil tanker Vector off Marinduque on Dec. 20, 1987, it took 16 hours for rescuers to arrive, by which time most of the passengers and crew had drowned, died in the explosion and fire from the cargo of gasoline and other petroleum products on the Vector, or devoured by sharks in Tablas Strait.
Because of the inaccurate ship manifest, there is still no verified number of the dead and missing, estimated at 4,386.
It took more than a decade for the official probe to be completed, with Doña Paz owner Sulpicio Lines and Caltex Philippines, which chartered the Vector, absolved of liability. The Vector was found at fault and ordered to indemnify the victims.
I don’t remember anyone, however, being arrested, tried in court or publicly apologizing for the tragedy, considered the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster. No maritime or regulatory official was punished, suspended or fired. No one resigned, much less committed suicide.
We can argue that Korean society is different, but this is not only a cultural thing. Our problem is also systemic. The Doña Paz disaster failed to result in dramatic reforms in our maritime industry. After the collision, we still saw deadly maritime accidents almost every year, in fair weather or foul, with several of the ships also owned by Sulpicio Lines.
The deep sense of shame can be found in other societies. Yesterday in California, for example, Mike D’Antoni quit as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers after two seasons of unimpressive performance by the team.
In our country, those in charge of sports development have clung to their posts through many years of unimpressive performance by Philippines athletes, including their worst ever in the Southeast Asian Games.
All natural disasters here are dismissed as acts of God, with no one taking responsibility for failing to mitigate the impact, such as by preventing illegal logging.
In any disaster, the immediate response is to pass the buck, to deny responsibility. Remember what happened in the Rizal Park hostage mess. In the end it was an official who wasn’t even there during the fiasco, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, who had to apologize to Hong Kong for the deaths of their tourists.
Crooks in government, even when presented with incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing, will never admit it all the way to their grave, and will be sorry only that they got caught.
Suicide? Homicide is more likely; woe to whistle-blowers.
Shame? Not in this society. Some of the individuals accused of plunder (plus an ex-convict) and other high crimes even hobnobbed with US President Barack Obama at a pricey Malacañang dinner paid for by Pinoy taxpayers.
In our society, thieves and those responsible for public misery never say sorry or quit. They aspire for high office, and they often win.

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