Being away from home allows one an opportunity to look at his own people with a detached perspective. It is with that note that this blog is being written.
Because I am overseas, I only manage to get fresh news from home by watching the news in TFC. It is very refreshing to hear news of Filipinos achieving so much in the fields of boxing, entertainment/music, fashion and sometimes, even science, but it is quite disconcerting to hear news about the degenerating political and social climate in the Philippines. I speak here not as an expert but as an ordinary person who has big dreams for this country and also thinking of how best to contribute to a brighter future for all Filipinos.
I have titled this blog, “Circumstantial Culture” to describe what I observe as an alarming social phenomenon where particular segments or sectors (or sub-sectors?) of society share and live a common mindset and behavioral conduct which ultimately seem as if they are evolving a culture so uniquely their own. I wish to emphasize here that I have no intention to judge nor offend any one. If I will do so in the process of sharing my thoughts, I offer my apologies. My kababayans (compatriots), I hope these thoughts will also touch some minds and hearts, and perhaps, will encourage more discourses – discourses that will hopefully lead to meaningful changes.
There is a part of me that feels sad or even angry when I hear news about demolition of informal settlers’ shanties; of rivers being clogged because of too much garbage; of children being continuously born from couples who have barely food to eat between themselves; and lately, of vendors being driven by police and MMDA out of sidewalks.
I am sad because my people are still poor; I am sad because many in Government–albeit the good ones–are still insensitive to the real needs of the Filipinos; I am sad because the society remains blind and deaf to the plight and circumstances of others.
But I am sadder because it seems that more attention and bias are being given to what the informal settlers feel when their shanties are being demolished. Before anyone accuses me of being pro-rich and anti-poor, let me stress that I am not angry at them because I can imagine how is it be driven away from one’s home; to see your roofs being torn down right before your very eyes. Who would not scream and shout in such a circumstance? The police, demolition teams and landowners are cruel, ruthless, insensitive…
But on one hand, I ask this: Have we ever thought of what the owners of those lands feel? What about the rights of the persons who own the lands? What if those lands are products of the toils and sweat of their ancestors? What if those lands can be used to build factories, which can eventually generate employment? Isn’t it enough that the informal settlers have enjoyed years of free rent from those lands and that now, isn’t it time to turn over the lands to their rightful owners? Can’t they shout praises and thanks for being given free rent for years instead of screaming invectives and hateful words?
But the media is quiet about that. Instead it proudly espouses the “rights” of the informal settlers; picturing the demolition team and landowners as the “enemies of the poor.” I see that as promoting selfish circumstantial culture rather than encouraging a culture of peace, wisdom, and gratitude. Because the media amplifies the invectives and hatred, they also (perhaps unconsciously) promotes continued ignorance. It seems like instead of becoming instrument for education, the media becomes puppet to mass hysteria and distorted thinking. What can our society expect in today’s young generation when what they see on TV are pictures of a society that encourages land-grabbing and squatting instead of respect for rights, private property and entitlements?
Again, no one has the right to make any judgement. But one is free to ask questions. Where do these informal settlers come from? Most of them come from the provinces. They are the ones who leave their small pieces of land and carabaos in the barrios, thinking that Manila is the “land of milk and honey.” They join the millions of people who are also homeless and jobless when they arrive in the big city. So they end up building shanties on the land they do not own and when the real owners now come to re-claim their lands, they shout “injustice” and “cruelty.” Yes, sometimes these words are true. There are cruel and ruthless landowners. But more often, many informal settlers don’t see that there is also a big injustice in their inability to respect private ownership. They seem to refuse to see that these landowners are humans, too.
The other night, I also sadly watched about the deteriorating physical environment of Metro Manila. There is that portion of the news that highlights a river clogged by household and industrial garbage. Then the report suddenly highlights the local government’s “inaction”; saying that the government should clean it up soon. Of course, it always comes down to that; the government should always take the flak. In a society that continue to encourage this somewhat twisted way of thinking, clogged rivers are the fault and responsibility of the Establishment. The news report didn’t say anything about people, households and industries throwing dump on the river; rather it highlighted the local government’s incompetence.
Now, please tell me, what kind of generation are we bringing up?
Another thing that continue to baffle me is the Philippines ever-growing population. It is as if our people have not been seeing enough poverty. When we look at statistics, we will see that families in the lower strata of the society have more children than those who can very well afford bigger families. We hear of heart-wrenching stories about women giving birth to twins and triplets but without enough money to feed these innocent beings. Our hearts go to them and some even go as far as sending immediate help.
I, for one, also consider adopting someday so that I can somewhat help alleviate the sadness of grieving mothers. But in my mind, too, I still continue to ask the same questions. Why can’t they just stop having children? It is not as if they don’t know that having sex can mean producing another mouth to feed.
Is it really the government’s fault that they are not being educated enough? Is it really the society’s fault that these families are not eating enough? Are people born in difficult circumstances excused from thinking wisely? Do we offer more space and excuses for them because they are poor and therefore, worthy of more understanding? In the process, aren’t we encouraging a culture that promotes mendicancy instead of self-reliance? In school, we are taught about compassion for the poor. I grew up in a family that encouraged charity and compassion. But in school, are we also taught enough about engaging the poor to be more responsible?
In the same manner, we are also falling victim to the cries of the sidewalk vendors who are violently driven away by police and MMDA from the streets. We pity them as they receive lashes of invectives from the “cruel” police and “thugs” of Bayani Fernando. TV cameras focus on the angry faces of helpless vendors running away from pursuing “mobs”, pulling their carts, carrying as much of their merchandise as they can. News clips air more of their struggles but give less coverage on how these vendors cause disruption on traffic, public safety, and drivers’, even pedestrians’ right of way. Sure, the government and private sector should ensure that there are enough infrastructures for people to sell their goods. There is no argument about that.
But what kind of picture are we showing our children? That in the Philippines, it is ok to squat and build houses on lands that you do not own; that it is brave and heroic to sell your merchandises on the road (never mind if you are subjecting yourself and others to harm); that it is admirable to produce more children that we cannot even feed?
What kind of culture are we promoting?
I feel sad because I am borne out of that society. And I am guilty, too.
[This was submitted as an entry to a blog competition, with the code PBA09qo3907p.]
This is not a paid blog.