One place, two worlds

Tondo. The place is already an institution in the Philippines. The place has come to mean an island of abject poverty in the midst of surplus. The place has also come to symbolize the grit and fighter spirit of the modern Filipino native. An enviable virtue. On the other hand, a den of everything deplorable and illegal. A veritable hell. As the musician Lorde puts it in Royals, the address is not “postal envy”.

President Duterte’s uncommon visit to the place right after his inauguration for a Solidarity Dinner with the Poor directs the nation’s interest from the glitterati of Malacanan toward Tondo and all that it represents. For the endowed, privileged, and learned among us, the test for whether our minds and hearts are still connected to this part of the community is do we feel the teeniest flutter of shame in having allowed decay of the place?

Growth and development has been happening all around Tondo. Masterplanned communities, picture-perfect ideals of urban planning, are continually being built beyond it’s borders. Throughout these changes, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has been soundly asleep. Or should I say hijacked it’s own hands with traffic enforcement. Is not management of the metropolitan the role of MMDA? Is not Tondo part of Metropolitan Manila?

There has got to be a masterplan for Tondo too. This is not possible when authorities and citizens in the Metro continue to not communicate with one another. Possibilities start with a spark- it could be an idea, belief, aspiration, frustration over the status quo, a dream. But it has to blaze bright and hot enough to overcome fear, doubt, and differences and spur connection, action, and movement. Bright and hot has birthed the world with Google, Apple, Facebook, and such. Nothing great has ever come out of tepidity. And then for things to actually happen, persistence.

Incidentally, these innovators are young people. When young Filipinos underutilize their gifts and subsume their can-do attitude and naturally-curious and -innovative selves under the yoke of disillusioned folks’ can’t do attitude, tentativeness, and doubts, the result are places like Tondo.

Another glaring fact the President’s visit points to is productivity i.e. plenty of Filipinos are underemployed. Consider: a nursing graduate employed in a job which pays a quarter of what he is supposed to earn if he were a nurse in a top tier hospital. This means taxes he pays back to be utilized for reinvestment in growth and development are far below than what he is potentially capable to give. Multiply this situation by 2 million every year. A waste of capacities. In contrast, there are how many children being born in the country every minute?

Back to Tondo. The lack of productive opportunities that would over time raise their skills and knowledge hence their market value has caused the residents to revert into entrepreneurial activities of the illegal kind. In the real world, better that than starvation by saintly activity. When no employer in the Metro will hire from the “University of Tondo” human resource pool, not even bothering to hide disgust at their “smell” imagined as contaminating air in the interview room, going instead for traditional sources, what do we expect? Rejection bites and when this is a pervasive occurrence through no fault of yours it does something to you. It shrivels up your spirit, hardens your heart, and poisons your mind. Before you know it, in order to survive, you’ve joined the villainous ranks your place is famous for. And then nobody is really going to touch you with a ten-foot pole. A vicious cycle.

Economic growth and development is always a pro-poor strategy. But the problem is how. How to bring in those with less to play on a level field with the rest already in the economy. When we say inclusive economy it really means making rules more friendly to the poor as for instance the entrepreneurial poor for them to break into the economy. Yes there is microfinance. What else? And what else? It has to be a menu of choices. To put it simply, it is like choosing a budget-friendly call-and-text plan on your prepaid mobile. The lowest I believe is PHP5. The user chooses according to his or her available budget. Same with an economy that is inclusive.

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