How does one pick up 1001 kinds of shit?

I’ve been off the news (except for the SONA which I replayed) the past weeks, partly for my own well-being. You see, there is so much more to the Philippines and the Filipino than what’s in the news. That is the truth. What gets in the news are – I will be blunt – biases of this and that editorial team from this and that agency. Featuring a 30-second statement out of an hour of speech or report is like zooming in on just a brow out of an entire person’s face– it doesn’t help audiences form right decisions and opinions. What if the person is actually blind in both eyes but the news is talking about his brow? Does that make any sense?

Inside a taxi late one night, my companions and I were listening to the news through the radio. The anchor was reporting about a drunken man in so-so neighborhood in so-so City  One drunk. On air for a good 10 minutes. I couldn’t help myself and blurted out, “how do these people do it? why that drunk out of probably fifty million Filipino men drinking out there? and why always about drunkards? what about the other half who are sober?” There was a few seconds of complete silence and then my companions burst out laughing. I realized it was because one of them, the executive director who was sitting in front, was once infamous for his drinking ways among local partners. He has since sobered up after a health scare. But, seriously, though, whose story gets published or reported? and what about the other half of the story?

So I was taken aback when on meeting my host after the weekend, he asked if I’ve heard the news- the raid in Ozamiz City that led to the Mayor’s death. “How?” I asked (it has been an interesting time since I came here. the news about the Marawi City siege and then Martial Law and everything in between). The response was that the Mayor’s security detail fought back. Soon as I got back to my place, I re-connected and replayed the news. Here are my thoughts:

This war on drugs stems from the repeated failure of local government especially Barangay and Municipal/City Local Government Units and citizens to address community issues before they morph into monsters. Once these are out of the community’s control, it’s not just the locals who suffer but also the wider community. Like what we have right now with this. And, look, the resolution to this drug abuse problem is being commuted back to the originating communities through the community-based MASA MASID (Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Iligal na Droga) program in which local teams that also include barangay volunteer-members are put in charge of managing the rehabilitation of drug abuse-surrenderees.

community based rehabilitation program masa masid

When I was told this, I was “oh.my.god. so many years gone to waste. if only the barangays and the people did this the first time the problem popped out instead of closing their eyes to the problem and believing that it can’t be solved thus allowing the problem to grow, grow, and grow out of proportion and control. we’re all so back to square one.” If I were the President, listening to this, I would’ve gone and grab the useless Barangay Captain and his cohorts by their ears and drag them a mile. Because- my god, my god, years and years of tax money gone to waste! Not to mention wasted years of otherwise productive lives.

National government DILG’s MASA MASID program is news-worthy topic that news agencies have not given equal air time to so that all people (and other countries) know is that the drug abuse problem in the country is being resolved through EJKs (which we should note were in the news as early as then former President Noynoy Aquino’s term). This begs the question, how is journalism – the ethical search for and telling of the entire truth – helping the nation to resolve the drug problem? Whose side are news agencies on? Their investors? Their businesses? What sells? Truth should not be sold as if it were a good nor chopped into pieces that make it impossible for audiences to understand the complete whole. Truth is integral to the personhood of human beings. Journalists messing with truth is like them chopping up the human body into unrecognizable pieces that anyone buying cannot distinguish it from minced livestock meat.

Finally, the people. The masses. What’s funny about the masses is that they continue to have fiestas and dancing on the streets even when they know where the money that funded the dancing came from. They dance long and hard for fiestas but not for basic medicines and equipments for their village health centers. They sing long and hard at neighbors’ birthday parties but not for roads in their villages. They approach the throne like very meek sheep for, like, maybe, food, clothing, shelter, and curse the same throne once they’re far away and have gotten the goods. Well, this is the sort of attitude and behavior that produces shit, not freedom, as the outcome.

And so, 1 + 1 = 1001. Elected local officials who live as if they will live forever + citizens not in the proper state of mind + media that keep their cameras on perpetual zoom mode = 1001 kinds of shit.

What is the proper way to go about picking up shit like this?

In any case, the weekend incident in Ozamiz City is yet another call for the nation to reform. Something we should’ve done a long time ago, since the time of Rizal and Bonifacio. To reform, at the core, means to be authentic. STOP using the people’s money to buy collections of Birkins or Hermes bags, luxury cars, or children’s tuition into Harvard or Oxford. STOP using the masses as if slaves, your errand boys and girls. STOP knighting family members as second-liners to a throne that’s not there. We are a republic. STOP the desire for quick and easy money. We have long ago turned our backs to Juan Tamad. Let’s faithfully till the land this time to it’s full potential. STOP the thinking that this nation is comprised of just one class or tribe of Filipinos. We are many. We urgently need to learn how ‘many’ could actually become a strength. STOP everything that has gotten us to this point of in-fighting, back stabbing, and fakery. STOP trying hard to be Americans or like Americans. Let us START to embrace our identity. We are Filipinos. Let us START to listen to old folk songs if only to re-call the life of honor that Filipinos before us strove to live. Let us START to live our positive values of maka-Diyos, maka-bayan, pagtutulungan, pagkakaisa, hiya.

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On the Philippines-Taiwan row Part III: beholden

Filipino overseas workers in Taiwan have been unnecessarily dragged into the picture. In the sense that it makes the Philippines beholden, this picture is not a particular source of national pride. The effect is like that of a husband reminding his homemaker wife in front of the children that she is not financially contributing to the partnership, ignoring her non-economic contribution to keeping the family together. Painful. Humiliating. Undeserved.

This brings into sharp focus the call to carve a path toward economic security, one that can, as experts reiterate, stand independently of remittances. Policies are enacted for every aspect of the Filipino’s daily life. We just need lakas ng loob to act on these, and this starts with the Local Government Units, the municipalities/cities and barangays.

We cannot control others but we could change their regard of us by working on ourselves first. We bristle at Brown’s fictional depiction of Manila as gates of hell but the painful truth – even to ourselves – is traffic in this mega city is hell. The slums are hell. The waterways are hell. The soot is hell.

Political will is connected to the nation’s psyche, the Filipino’s personhood values of karangalan and hiya. When these are seriously compromised, we are collectively wounded. We try to cope or ignore the result with kapal ng mukha which all the more wound us, deep down. As karma goes, the things we’ve failed to address in the past resurface again and again from one generation to the next in various different forms until such time that these are fully recognized, addressed and resolved. The good thing is, the decision to move out of this rut is ours, within our control.

Showing up

Not turning up to take your stand when it is your duty to do so is irresponsibility. Not turning up to take your stand – whether it’s a yes or no – on the RH Bill is a tactic that can’t be invoked forever. At some point, the duty-bearer has to show up and speak. If it’s a no so be it. If it’s a yes thank you very much. At the end of the day, it’s not the yes or no, but rather it’s about having a healthy robust debate such that the matter is understood from all angles, deciding, and making your decision known. I guess I’m a true Aquarian in that I will defend any one’s right to speak his or her mind even if I don’t agree with it.

In an earlier article here, the subject is on identity crisis. Not showing up when that’s your job conflicts with the Filipino value of palabra de honor. Where has this value gone to these days? What is an honorable Filipino statesman/woman these days? What is a respectable Filipino citizen these days?

One’s kin and teachers teach you that honor and integrity are worth more than academic scholarship but ultimately to be honorable and respectable is your choice. You have to choose to imbibe particular value sets of your culture for that to become part of who you are – your identity. To turn away from making the choice is worse than making the wrong choice. Relative to dutiful soldiers taking the frontline in the senseless conflict in Mindanao, turning away from making your decision known when it is asked for is betrayal of a nation’s trust.

Urban form as a reflection of local values Part 2

It’s not that I condone lice picking on city streets or the conduct of sand and gravel business on the sidewalk of a primary suburban street, rather I’m trying to understand why despite controls Filipinos continue to infringe on streets (and because the practice is viral, that is, unresponsive to public laws and policies, exasperated public authorities have long given up on preventing or controlling the spread and have left it be which of course doesn’t resolve the “problem”).

A year or so ago, I heard a senior executive talk about the Blue Ocean Strategy. I thought, wow, genius in its simplicity and obvious too (although it’s the obvious that are oftentimes overlooked): Leave behind the red ocean of competition and find an entirely new product or service which calls for an entirely new client base (example given was Cirque de Soleil).

The red ocean or the usual way of looking at the disorder of the urban form in Filipino communities is that the problem is the disorganized and disorderly Filipino hence the target of the solution. As mentioned in Part 1, usage of the street by Filipinos for private business and activity continues despite pressuring him or her to conform with legal provisions and standards (e.g. prescribed allowance between the street and buildings, zoning) and policies (e.g. urban growth strategies).

But what if, following the Blue Ocean Strategy, the problem is not the Filipino? What if it’s the planning paradigm applied?

Reading on countries’ experiences and evaluations of spatial patterns, I came across a journal article Urban Spatial Patterns and Local Identity: Evaluation in a Cypriot Town by Dekra Oktay. It focuses on the concept of ‘extension of life into the street’ which is also previously studied by Girne in Limanarkasi. The author says that in North Cyprus the street was the most primary element in traditional urban pattern in that formed an intersection between the public and private domains. The street, Oktay observed, was an extension of the home where a multitude of group activities was accommodated within the limits of privacy.

Similarly, Deden Rukmana, an Indonesian who is assistant professor for urban studies and planning at Savannah State University, and a blogger (Indonesia’s Urban Studies), argues in his blog that the dominance of the Chicago and Los Angeles Schools in the practice of urban planning in Indonesia has contributed to the lack of spaces for the informal sectors in urban areas, in effect marginalizing the sector. He refers to the informal sector as a unique urban phenomenon in developing countries not commonly found in developed countries (where urban planning schools of thought originated).

In Part 1, we see that as with the case of North Cyprus and urban Indonesia the street for the Filipino serves a similar purpose. Oktay and Rukmana attribute this to traditional local culture such that the traditionally oriented person will regard the street as expansion of his or her home regardless of where, urban or rural, he or she is. In this regard, therefore, it makes sense for the Filipino proprietor of the gravel and sand business with the suburban sidewalk as its business address to not have qualms about conducting his or her business there.

But – and this is when the conflict starts – traditional planning principles would balk at this and refer to the practice as unsound. On the same note, the provincial and traditionally-oriented Filipino describes their fellow Filipinos living in sanitized and uniformly-designed living spaces (think upper middle class developed estates in Metro Manila) as “westernized” which in this case has negative value in that “westernized” Filipinos are seen to have lost their orientation toward the street. To the extent that the street brings together everyone in the community regardless of status, “westernized” Filipinos are accused of keeping to themselves (not stepping out of their homes in order to interact on the street with the others).

Oktay (as well as Rukmana) critiques the new urban developments as usually oriented toward creating a monotonous and standard image (one borrowed from uniformly designed and sanitized settlements in Northern countries) and buildings designed with little concern for their relationship to each other (again, based on the cultural orientation in Northern countries toward independence), orientations that in the study contradict local (Cypriot) culture. She therefore recommends that design should take the street as an integral part of the dwelling, considering its components as in an outdoor room and provide a direct relationship between the street and the house.

What about for the Philippines, is this the recommendation as well? Is the street-oriented tradition good or bad?

If you ask me, I’ve no definite answer which goes to say that the issue needs community discussion and resolution. I’m conflicted between the recognition of the benefits of the planning paradigm (one that values order, uniformity, community sanitation, and the like, which I personally prefer actually because of my personal orientation but then I’m not the only Filipino in the world so) espoused by Northern countries and the preservation of local identity and culture. Following the Blue Ocean Strategy, the call is for a planning paradigm and tools that can make diversity (global yet local) in space work. Meanwhile, the crux of the matter I think is not whether one orientation is superior over the other (because each has its benefits) rather it is to what extent will, as Rukmana suggests, urban planning practice be modified in order to in this case preserve the distinction of place. Can the street accommodate private activities (well, of course we have to draw the line on lice picking on city street and gravel and sand business on suburban road) and actually work? To what extent will it work? This implies research on the subject (and many more) relative to urban planning (and growth strategy making in rural areas), a culture that LGUs should build up within their systems.

Another dimension to this is that, based on my observation, those who are now conducting their private activities and encroaching on the streets are traditionally oriented (despite a college education) for various reasons (perhaps from having had little or no exposure to the rest of the world which of course is not their fault). And it would take perhaps three to five generations more before adult Filipinos, through community education and exposure, are globalized in their mind-sets and practices (again, is this good or bad?). Until then, we are still going to see on the streets extension of private activities and encroachment.

Urban form as a reflection of local values Part 1

One of my interest area relative to my urban management studies is the Filipino’s manipulation hence formation of urban space – how does this space look like when collectively shaped by Filipinos.

My observation is that Filipino settlements* (whether in urban or rural) morph into a pattern of their own, in viral fashion, and blind to or despite the provisions in laws and standards set in policies. In terms of movement, the pattern distinctly orients itself toward and oftentimes encroaches on the street (usually the primary streets including highways).

Source: The Philippines and Then Some, as lifted from the book FILIPINO STYLE Photography by Luca Invernizzi Tettoni, Tara Sosrowardoyo with additional photography by Emil Davocol. Main texts by Rene Javellana, Fernando Nakpil Zialcita, Elizabeth V. Reyes.

In Baguio City, let’s start at Camp 7 (originating from Loakan or Kennon Road). Camp 7 is predominantly residential but over the years especially in the past five years saw the putting up of commercial establishments along the road and educational institutions in the inner area. As a residential area, houses here come in all types, colors, sizes, and shapes, laid out everywhere – under the bridge, on the side of the hill, on top of it, and alongside the road. The subdivisions don’t seem to have a uniform type of housing requirement – it looks like the owners are free to do whatever they want on their own plots and houses. And so you can actually be overwhelmed by the whole sight.

Of the commercial establishments and activities, let’s start just after the supposedly rickety bridge (early this year, a sign was put there – half of that bridge was even closed – that warned travelers to take caution because the bridge was falling. Now, the sign is nowhere to be found, traffic is back to two lanes, and it’s the same old bridge. So, now we’re Humpty Dumpties waiting to have a great fall anytime) where on your left you see a couple of itinerant vendors barbecuing innards (which the average Filipino loves) on their mobile implements set up beside the waiting shed. Just across the street from the shed, a car washing business which spills gray water all over the road. Beside it, an open swampy area used as a parking space for an old mini-bus and engine that seemed to have been placed there to decompose, however their owners define decomposition. Across the street from this open area, an apartment block with its ground floor devoted to shops selling hardware and an eatery-cafe. A few meters up ahead of this apartment block are heaps of gravel and sand occupying what is supposed to be the sidewalk. If it’s your lucky day you’d be stopped on the road (for what seemed like hours) to wait for a loader which has intruded on half of the road lane to finish loading gravel into a dump truck. A few meters up ahead, a fuel station. Beside this, a newly-built block of shops – restaurants and a spa with a blown up image of a half naked woman which makes you think she’s having a blast of a time from the spa’s services and perhaps you’d want to make a stop and join in. Across this block of shops, an apartment with its frontage devoted to a couple of variety stores. Up ahead, another waiting shed where another itinerant vendor sets up her home grown vegetables to sell. Across the shed, from the bend going into the residential area, a hotel that has no redeeming view (unless there are travellers who consider the tops of houses as the value exchange for the thousand bucks or so they pay for a night). Further from the hotel, a row of apartment with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and doors, the potted bamboos on its frontage giving the residents some privacy. The residents are young people from Korea. This apartment block is for me the only pleasant view on this route. A few meters ahead, across the road, a rent-a-car business whose parking space is an undeveloped area cleared off among the woods. A bit further ahead, another apartment block with the ground floor used as shops that have since closed and presently utilized as billiard halls. Across this, a shed converted into a variety store that also sells second-hand clothes which are hung on a mobile rack and displayed alongside the road. Ahead, a Christian church which was converted into an airport limousine business, its gates vandalized with white paint. A few meters ahead, across the street, a second-hand car shop, its limited front yard space bursting with “toys for the big boys” which sometimes had to be parked alongside the road. Across this, a police station. Further on, a shed, set up outside the gates of a house, displays wooden furniture sets for sale. Across the shed, a vulcanizing shop, the works done alongside the road because the shop doesn’t have enough space. Up ahead, variety stores on frontages of dwelling units, selling, well, a variety of things such as bananas.

The shop signages – mostly scrawled in white paint on what looked like ripped off thin wooden boards and hung on rusting wires. They are nailed into shop frontages, a little skewed to either left or right. (You can get disoriented and think you’re in the wild west of some American cowboy movie.)

At the CBD, on lower Session Road, you can catch on sunny days itinerant sidewalk vendors of posters and mobile phone blings having a grand time pulling out lice from each others’ hair in between sales which are far in between given that their wares are rather low end. Beyond, behind City Hall, the City’s fire trucks are parked under what looked like an abandoned building – is this the fire station office? Ahead, at the crossing to Bokawkan, a block of old shops – a dress shop beside a funeral parlor which is beside a telecommunications office (when you think about it, the product/services link up, although in a bizarre way). Along Bokawkan, you’ll find a mix of residential and commercial establishments such as a fuel station across a hotel. A Christian church beside a disco house which has blow ups of provocative Marilyn Monroe poses on its gates. Further down the road, a tertiary school (it said international) with its ground floor used as a grocery, fronting a couple of nightclubs that have ads of “come and see i-models (international models for folks at the international school across the street?) and pleasant GROs” posted on their entrances. Further down, Pines City Colleges, a nursing school, having a grand view of the grossly-disturbing hill of slums.

This sight and pattern are not exclusive for Baguio City. I noticed that it’s more or less the same throughout the country, whether urban or rural. In the rural areas, children play on highways (a former colleague who was the company driver ran over and killed a child playing on the highway. He was on the right side of the law but an accidental death such as should’ve been easily avoidable. With another company, while travelling on the highway we heard something went under the car, a child. Miraculously he only sustained a minor fracture and several scratches). Harvested rice and corn are sundried on highways. Fowls (and even pigs) are let out along the highway (and owners have the gall to charge motorists for having run over fowls sitting quite prettily in the middle of a highway which has an allowable maximum speed of 120 kph). Folks sit and converse at leisure along the highway (I’d avert my eyes whenever the bus I’m in zing past them. I mean, don’t these people have a sense of personal safety?).