Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Dispatch from Manila

Manila: A city built on the God’s dunghill

There is a foul legend about the Philippines, according to Francisco Sionil Jose, a Filipino writer: “When God created the world and was fatigued by His labors, He sat down to shit and this shit is this group of islands.”

In the smoke-filled and foul-smelled city of Manila, where people spill over from all over the country like flies are drawn to carrion, I found the Filipinos under the total surrender and subservience to the oligarchic power and establishment.

Contrary to the Koreans whose cultural values are still esteemed among people despite of gradually losing its patina at the invasion of McCulture, the Filipinos appear to be totally complacent and absorbed with the cultural influence of Occidental invaders, Spanish and American colonization.

In other words, the colonization was such totally and absolutely rooted in the minds of people that the Filipinos do not seem to feel the shame of lacking the national heroes, homegrown culture, or indigenous characters.

The Filipinos were made poor on purpose by their colonizers…so that they would be enslaved to work to death, while their masters wallow in sybaritic comfort.

With a glance, you could tell immediately the Philippines are the country where the powerful oligarch maintain the disparity between the rich and poor, as in the colonial era where hacenderos (landlords) and illustrados (intellectuals) were expropriating the rice paddies of the uneducated Ilocano peasants.

Three hundreds years occupied by the Spanish tyranny, three years overrun by the Japanese, and fourty years dominated by the American exploitation have planted the indelible scar of subservience to the Masters in people’s mindset, in which process the Catholic Church played a major role keeping the Filipino people suffer so that they could receive the final reward that only God could bestow.

The Church was not interested in justice or in the abolition of inequality, and the God that the Church introduced to the Filipinos was a God of white people who were the oppressors of the Filipinos.

On the third day of my stay in Manila, I, a slumming foreigner, not as a philanthropist, have visited, under the guide of a hired cop-cum-chauffeur, the notorious ghetto of Tondo (the Smoky Mountain) in the outskirts of the City.

This wretched town to which the poorest of poor were shackled permanently was livable only in the mind, and for the villagers, it is not culture, free speech, or human right to be concerned about, but clothing, food, shelter, and medicine for kids and education not for a degree from Diploma Mill but to get a decent job.

You don’t need a speech here in Tondo.

A bottle of cheap liquor and a pack of cigarettes were all needed to be invited into a ramshackle hut at the entrance of the slum…no running water, no toilet facility, no sewer system, but a dirt-floor walk-in vestibule-cum-kitchenette and one sleeping room divided with the soiled curtain of thin burlap cloth.

A middle-aged man of the hut coughed through his gap-toothed mouth, swooshing the swarms of black flies away from his emaciated body and began to talk his bio, in vino veritas.

A sudden shower of the passing rain was the godsend opportunity both a gaggle of rambunctious urchins for taking a bath and a swarm of women for collecting the buckets of potable water.

The rows of the hairpin passages were instantly flooded into the gorges that water gushed into the living quarters where we sat in the puddle.
Three giggling kids barged in from nowhere, bare naked on top with wet underpants and no shoes.

I followed them into the sleeping quarters, which were barely spacious enough to accommodate “minnows”, not a 6-foot man like me.I measured the room where the copulation could only be achieved in an upright missionary position or a crouching dorsal posture by the female counterpart.

However, Filipinos are fecund parents due to the stern admonition from their Catholic Church, (religion was their last hope), that prohibits any form of artificial abortion. (75 millions in an archipelago of 8,000 islands)

I was dazed with agony of my helplessness and totally forgot about taking some pictures.
I felt like I was just back from the moon, when I bade a farewell to the kids leaving few hundreds pesos on their soiled hands.

On our way back to the luxurious Inter-Continental Hotel in the business district, Makati, my chauffeur quipped: “we, Filipinos, are like bamboo trees, that survive the storm because it bends,” adding that “there is nothing romantic about poverty. It is totally degrading.”

The Pobres Park, Manila’s ritziest district was the iron-grilled gated community, surrounded by the ten-feet high of the stone walls, equipped with the searchlights, video cameras, and the armed gatehouses that were patrolled and manned by the private gun-toting guards with German shepherd dog 24 hours a day, accessible by invitation only.

The palm-tree boulevards were regularly cruised by a fleet of the police cars and any pedestrians approaching the area were subjected to the random interrogation and search of their possession.

The villas in the gilded precincts of oligarchy were antiseptically furnished with the marble stones imported from Italy and lush gardens were manicured with full of exotic trees, plants, and birds from the South American jungles.

Conspicuously, the mansions were occupied by fair-skinned mestizos compared to the dark-skinned aborigines of the massive slum.

A denizen of the Compound served me a cocktail and assorted cheeses imported from France, and he brayed his views on his fellow citizens: “the Filipinos could not have a luxury of the class struggle, and all they want is a roof over their heads. We will give them what they want, slowly, very slowly. Never the pie. Just the crumb. We will talk about the social justice and land reform. But we have to maintain them nailed to poverty so that we can use cheap labor that is one of our assets.”

He did not mince the words: “Please do not forget that the poor will always be with us and it is not our fault.
They will be there because they are stupid, and they are stupid because they are poor.
They are there because they are lazy, they have no capital, no incentives, no imagination and no will to work.

It is not a crime to be rich, you know.

It is the fate of man to be born unequal.”

After the lecture, he never forgot to show me the truculent magnificence of his wealth; in his triple-car garage, two dark Mercedes Benz and a white BMW were waiting for him, his wife and daughter.

Looking down the plaza from the 7th floor window at the InterCon, I felt some crushing weight on my chest, when I trembled with anger over my helplessness…anger was what has kept me alive, although I have expressed it not with violence but with cynicism.

I thought only pigs were fated, because they cannot do anything except feed on the trough before they face the butcher’s knife and I believed that man could do something about the future and live with honor, dignity, and justice: "Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

Instead, the Filipinos were eating shits on their knees in a dung heap of poverty without recourse to justice and waiting only to be saved by God…death is the last refuge for them to rest in peace.

They were too exhausted to batter down the grilled gates of Pobres Park or the high walls of Malacanang.

On the concrete wall overpass in the highway, graffiti screams: “ Ibagsak ang Pasismo, Marcos Diktador! “ (Down with Marcos!), “Ibagsak ang Imperialisimo, Yankee Go Home, Close the U.S. Bases”.

Marcos is as stone dead as anyone in the cemetery and the Clark Naval Base is as padlocked as the auto junkyard.
The people’s revolution has come and gone nowhere, and people were still walking on a one-way street to perdition, believing that they go straight to heaven when they cloak.

This was how Filipinos view themselves as the relentless destiny of the poor.

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