I’ve been seeing this post for some time now on Facebook. What it is is a housing unit in a relocation site that the government has offered to Metro Manila’s informal settlers on top of a one time 18 thousand peso relocation cost.
I’ve read with dismay the comments posted. The comments posted and the reactions to these comments make me heartsick. The general tone is of one of mockery and outright derision because the informal settlers have said no to this enticing offer–a fully furnished home and 18 thousand pesos on top of it.
For instance: ‘Swerte nman ng mga yan.. di na nag babayad ng tax may pabahay pa..’, ‘Ang swerte nyo naman! Mag-aalsa balutan na ako at magsa-skwater na para maka house and lot na ako!’ ‘At aayawan pa nila to?? Sobrang mapili ha!’. On and on and on and on–
Oo nga ang swerte talaga nila–pwera pa sa riverside residence, may view pa sila ng floating basura. Tapos, lagi pa silang gutom at nagkukunsumi kung pano nila tatanggalin tong gutom na to. Swerte! Sa tanang buhay ko, ngayon lang ako nakakita nang ganitong kadaming naiinggit sa swerte ng mga informal settlers nating kababayan. And I could think of a million ways to describe them and ‘swerte’ would not be one of them.
About those relocation site, what they forget to add is where these relocation sites are located.
I have been to a handful of them and there is only one word for these relocation sites: wasteland.
There are no jobs anywhere nearby, no schools, no hospitals, no health facilities. Just rows and rows of tenement housing much like the one in the photo I’ve attached. And when residents step out of their model unit, what greets them is this yawning absence I imagine someone in the middle of the Mojave dessert feels when he steps out of his car. There is nothing but dust and rows upon rows of shoebox houses exactly like the one he stepped out of.
What makes you so different from them?
That 18 thousand pesos you think they should be dying with gratitude to receive is no different from that 18 thousand in your pocket.
How long can you stretch that? Will it last a month with you? If you have an abundance of children like they do (given that this government still has no balls to put the monolith, Catholic church in its place and finally make available to those who need it most family planning services), how far will your 18 thousand go? Not very far, right?
What makes you think it’s any different for them?
And what makes you think they should be jumping up and down with sheer delight at getting this fully furnished unit located in between Timbuktu and the Hala Hala Mountain Range–where no jobs await them and where their children might need to swim, bike, run (triathlon! woohoo!) to get to school and where they might need to engage in the study of medicine and be doctors so when they need medical supervision they can just put in an IV line on themselves and maybe perform emergency appendectomies on their children –because the nearest medical facility in this new paradise is like 7 mountains and 2 oceans away. Or maybe have a private plane so it gets them to the hospital on time, in case they decide medicine is not the course for them. Sobrang mapili nga eh no?? How dare them. Spoweld!
What makes you think they should be jumping up and down with joy to get such a generous offer from this government so bereft of thinking skills this is the best they can offer–not even anything remotely resembling a band aid solution–when you yourself will not be jumping up and down with joy at this showcase??
You know what does?
It’s this thinking that they are DIFFERENT–you know, those smelly, stinky, pesky, grimy squatters who scratch on your car windows begging for some loose change and scratching at the windows of your conscience, it’s just so fucking annoying.
I have news for you.
Though vastly different in how they look and smell and dress, they’re no different from you and me.
That peso that will not go an inch farther on your hand will go no further on their hand as well. And the fear and trepidation you feel because you have no job and nothing to feed your family, nothing to stitch body and soul together is the very same kind of fear and trepidation they feel when they have no jobs to stitch body and soul together as well.
They are no different from us. Mystery solved I hope.
And until you truly believe this, they will forever be a puzzlement and annoyance to you. And this puzzlement and annoyance leaves them naked and so susceptible to truly inane not-quite-band-aid solutions such as these that think a fully furnished house and 18 thousand will make poverty go away.
It will banish poverty as much as it will save us from a government so bereft of erudite, thoughtful public servants with real solutions.
This ‘us and them’ mindset will be the death of us all. There is no us and there is no them. We’re all in this together. What diminishes them, diminishes us. There is reason these lines are cliches. It is because, finding nothing else to hang our truths on, we go back to them over and over.
The cost to this kind of mindset is immense. We pay with high crime rates and with a vastly uneducated mass base that keeps putting into office the worst of us–plunderers, murderers, Eat Bulaga buffoons, dance show emcees, has-been action stars, military officers who act and think like has-been action stars.
And from someone who should know better, I was asked this question: ‘How far over should we bend backwards for THEM and for how long?’
I was hoping it wasn’t a rhetorical question because I have an answer to that. An answer that burns inside me, as a matter of fact.
We bend over backwards and make like human pretzels and till we’re blue in the face and for as long as it takes to level the playing field enough for them to have the ability to have dreams and goals–like the rest of us–and then make those dreams and goals happen.
This is not a treatise on how to solve Metro Manila’s urban woes nor its mind boggling, soul searing poverty dilemma. You would need actual experts on this, Malacañang–urban development experts and poverty-alleviation experts and therefore know how terribly complicated poverty is so we’re not treated to this awesome display of simple minded ignorance at the executive and legislative level.
What this is is me pleading to you to shift gears in your mind and heart and soul. Walk in their shoes for a few days and see how that feels like before you make all these terribly mean and cruel remarks.
And I hope you get here — this truth that they’re no different from us and the line that separates them from us is a line that exists only in your heart, mind and soul.
Erase that line.
It hurts us all.
***Written July 2013***