The bullied poor don’t do “polite”

via interaksyon
via interaksyon

Informal settlers throwing plastic bags of feces at the police who were serving them notice of eviction from a prime property in Quezon City – the act has offended the refined tastes of polite society and was touted by CHR and some members of the media as “too much“. Further, CHR Philippines chair, Rosales, asked if throwing feces is a Filipino thing and that she’d make sure CHR “will take steps to educate the informal settlers about their rights and responsibilities”.

This is all unexpectedly too funny. Too much to swallow quietly on a weekend. The statements, that is. How?

It reminds me of the movie, Hunger, directed by the brilliant Steve McQueen. The protagonist, Bobby Sands, a young leader of the Irish Republican Army and known for his 66-day hunger strike (which eventually inspired Nelson Mandela to stage a similar and successful one at Robben Island prison), is played by the equally brilliant actor, Michael Fassbender.

IRA members who were put in prison fought to have their status elevated as political prisoners, and resorted to a smear campaign, in the literal sense. They used their feces (and urine) as medium – these were all they had in prison – to protest against how the government treated them at the time. Margaret Thatcher who was then the Prime Minister ruled that all political violence are ordinary crimes hence their treatment as such.

Smear campaign- shit on the prison cell wall. Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands in the movie, Hunger. I via life-between-films

To cut the story short, Bobby Sands’ death eventually elicited, after several talks were initiated between the British Foreign Office and the Provisional IRA, the desired results from the British government although without public concession to this (but why does these things always have to move forward after the death or deaths of people?).

The use of feces (or body fluids) as a medium of protest has a desperate feel to it. It’s the last thing used when there is little or nothing else. Or, when seen positively, it symbolizes a rock-solid faith in the goodness of others, as when somebody on the other end, recognizing the desperation or frustration, is moved and spurred into doing something, as demonstrated in the faith of the widow who offered her one last coin: Jesus and His friends sitting near the church saw people putting their coins into the box. Some very rich men came to the box. They put lots of money in and made such a sound that everyone could see and hear that they gave a lot of money. Then, quietly, a little old woman came to the box. She put two small coins in. “Truly I tell you,” He said, turning to His friends. “This poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Society’s disgust at the reaction of the poor in the Metro as they were being evicted by the police depict in real images the Pope’s recent articulation about starched Christians politely and calmly talking of poverty while sipping tea. Poverty, when it comes down to resolving it, is not polite – in the way society defines the term – and never polite.

How so?

Current institutions–the rules of the game–are such that these force the poor into almost always desperate actions – because they have so little to “fight” these rules with. If the situation is reversed, say, the wealthy are the poor being evicted from the only property they have in the world, they will do the same thing. In the face of oppression and persistent neglect, one will always fight to remind others and have one’s rights recognized and protected. Human rights are what define one as human, rich or poor, black, brown, or white, in the First or Third World, Catholic, Christian, or Muslim. Stripped of these rights, human beings become less than animals (because at least the animals did not fall from grace). Shelter, inclusive of its element of quality, is everyone’s right.

The fact that the confrontation has come to this is reflective of the failure of process. Apparently, there has been no satisfactory agreement (or, had there any talks at all with the informal settlers?) among the local government of QC, the property owner (national government), property developer, and the affected residents. Of course, the informal settlers will protest. They’ve been staying on the property for so long – how many of their children are now grown up and with their own families? The fact that nobody from government (the lot is owned by the government before it was sold to the private developer) evicted them at the first instance they trespassed on its lot is a signal to them that their move was OK. Banking on that IMPLICIT approval of the then property owner (government), they made to establish their lives in the Metro. Naturally, these families will protest, heavily, now, that they’re being asked to relocate on some godforsaken place. And because nobody’s listening or have bothered to know their minds, story, and apprehensions, instead are targeted to be lectured about their rights and responsibilities, they’ve resorted to feces. Shit meets shit. Shit against shit.

The other day, I attended an anti-bullying seminar. The speaker says bullies include their audience who cheer them on, passively or actively, instead of stepping in and stopping them. It is also why bullying persists. The eviction of the informal settlers is a case of entrenched public bullying of the urban poor. Apart from the police (their weapons are the ones that are “too much” – I will always quail in the face of a gun because at least if feces hit me I could just shower and disinfect myself), the government (who have finally sent the police after decades of implicit agreement to the poor’s squatting), CHR and members of the media (who have referred to the poor’s reaction as “too much”), there’s no one apparently from the immediate QC neighborhood (this area is known to be a place where intellectuals reside not to mention the headquarters of NGOs) who tried to bridge or prevent the situation.

Who went too far? Shitting at least is the the body’s mechanism of protecting the person from toxin accumulation. But the kind of shit that have been and continue to be thrown at these poor!

As with the case of the IRA prisoner-hunger strikers, a resolution is possible when parties communicate, that is, communication which aims for a win-win outcome. To start on this process, the parties need to set aside prejudices and discrimination. Apparently this was not the case over the Ayala-acquired property. It appears that the affected settlers were largely uninvolved in the process.


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