Life is cheap in the Philippines: recent events prove it

The sad economics of human life is plain as day. Close to 6,000 Filipinos died just recently after super-typhoon Yolanda (a.k.a. Haiyan) struck the Philippines’ coconut growing heartland in November of this year. The Philippines made international news, the world’s great powers moved their men and steel into the disaster zone to help, top Filipino politicians grandstood, and the airwaves were flooded with sentiment that the relief effort delivered struggled to match. But then, also recently, Paul Walker of Fast and the Furious fame and Nelson Mandela of South African anti-apartheid fame died. The world was just as transfixed.

all_the_lonely_peopleA noted social media commentator noted that there was going to be a day of mourning for Mandela, but none for the thousands of dead Yolanda victims. Yours truly chimed in and observed that neither was there any for the thousands who died when Sendong and Pablo struck in 2011 and 2012. For that matter, the tens of thousands of Filipinos that succumbed to watery graves over the last 20 years in ships run by the same company, Sulpicio Lines Inc., are but an afterthought today. They were all the Philippines’ “little people”. The ones who huddle in rickety passenger ships by the thousands every year during public holidays and school breaks. The ones that live in obscure fiefdoms tilling the land and churning out “cash crops” in value-crushing volumes for the descendants of the old sugar and coconut barons. The ones that send the country’s “unsung heroes” to desert kingdoms half a planet away to prop up the national economy and keep Henry Sy’s malls and James Packer’s casinos humming.

What is ironic here is that the people who presume to uphold the blessedness of the weakest amongst us are the same ones who viciously judge others on the basis of how much (or how little) they visibly “contribute” to one cause or another and to one relief effort or the other. Indeed, the very reason for the yawning gap between the adulation we reserve for guys like Mandela and Walker and the token concern we exhibit for our Visayan and Mindanaoan “compatriots” lies in this very judgmental character of the visibly and vocally “socially concerned”. By the logic of these “socially concerned” loudmouths, celebrities like Mandela and Walker contribute a lot to society and thus naturally attract more attention in life and more mourning in death per capita than those who (even in their vastly greater numbers) don’t contribute as much.

There’s nothing unsound about that logic, of course. The economics and the hard numbers absolutely back that thinking and calculate an inconvenient truth about the value of human life. It is the reason why per capita GDP (and not GDP in absolute terms alone) describes the real wealth of a society. The eminent Nick Joaquin himself pointed it out in his seminal piece A Heritage of Smallness observing that even for a relatively smaller amount of resources poured into an endeavour, advanced societies “pile up more mileage”.

While Walker and Mandela are tangible people we mourn, the thousands of Filipinos who died (many in preventable disasters) are, by comparison, mere abstractions.

The world lost two great men, the loud mourners wail, when Mandela and Walker died. I wonder though how much the world will “lose” when the next ten thousand Filipinos perish in the next “natural” disaster? Can the loss of thousands of Filipino lives in the next disaster be as compellingly quantified as the loss of a handful of celebrities? Well, considering that all we can rely on to buttress the memory of dead Visayans and Mindanaoans are poetry and prayer there’s really not much to look forward to. Indeed, the fact that the Philippine government and its media cheering squads would repeatedly insist that the devastation wrought by Yolanda will hardly make a dent in the Philippine economy says a lot. So, we are told, while “77% of farmers and 74% of fishermen in the central Philippines have lost their primary source of income [to the destruction wrought by Yolanda]” there really is little cause for worry…

“As many analysts and other government officials have said, the economic impact is expected to be mild,” Amando Tetangco, the governor of the Philippines’ central bank, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas or BSP, said Friday as he spoke to foreign correspondents.

There you go. At least, in the aftermath of horrific death in 2001, the United States and its allies launched a global “war on terror” that lasted more than a decade and eventually resulted in the killing of the bogeyman. Where is the Philippines’ “war on mass death” following Yolanda’s killing spree? Numbers speak louder than poetry and prayer. Unfortunately, poetry and prayer are all Filipinos can deliver for now. The manner with which we mourn these “little people” and the resolve we exhibit to implement real measures to mitigate risk of mass death in the future will speak louder than any sort of social media “shout out” on their behalf. On account of that, I’m not holding my breath.

So far, the track record Filipinos have exhibited matching the short-lived crocodile tears they shed for their mass dead with an implementation of concrete structures to at least reduce the recurrence of death at these catastrophic scales is laughable. But that’s hardly surprising. It is no secret that many Filipinos loudly observe (as many foreigners undoubtedly do silently) that life is cheap in the Philippines. Two men in recent days sent the world in a frenzy of social media mourning and lament while the same noise afforded the Yolanda victims is in its dying throes as the Silly Season and its more pressing distractions approaches.


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28 Comments on "Life is cheap in the Philippines: recent events prove it"

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What’s ironic and sad is the people that view life as the cheapest are revered by those whose lives they make expendable .


Life is cheap, toilet paper is expensive.
A shit-hole run by ar$e-holes.
Death is a release. Burial is a bodybag.
Free bullets for politicians.

It’s not only the calamity victims of the Philippines that are offered only “poetry and prayer”. The same is true with those who perished in Turkey, China and other countries of the world. Whatever reasons that make anyone to say that “life is cheap in the Philippines” can be attributed to the attitude of the Filipinos to deal with the tyrants who are making their lives miserable and cheap. Filipinos lack the sense of responsibility, will and most of all courage to prevent, much more to overthrow and prosecute the oppressors who are trampling their human dignity and basic human… Read more »
Jerry Lynch
Mr. Walker was an actor who contributed to charities using his fame and time to their best effects. That does not make him a “great man,” but rather an admirable man. Nelson Mandela changed the lives of millions by his actual, personal sacrifice when he spent decades in prison. Then when elected President of his country he protected the people who were so afraid of a racial change in the power structure, so it really is a disservice to mention Nelson Mandela and Paul Walker in the same sentence. The premise of the article is great when we see that… Read more »



And the relief effort is turned into another status symbol: Selfies when packing relief goods, tweets and status updates that basically say “LOOK AT ME! I’m helping others!” and that stupid ABiasCBN shirt that people wave in each others’ faces and brag like they got the latest iPhone.


Yup, life here is so frickin’ cheap…we sell relief goods to victims, rampant crime and corruption…

Makes me wonder why we, as a nation, haven’t learned anything from the past. It’s like we are doomed to repeat our mistakes over and over.

Hyden Toro
Life is really cheap in the Philippines. the Journalists massacred in Maguindanao, Philippines. Are there any people jailed? The tenants murdered and massacred in Aquino’s Hacienda Luisita. Did any of the Aquino; sentenced even for a slap on the wrist? How about the Dacer-Corbito murder case? The case died with the two murdered victims. Our leaders are very insensitive to the sufferings of our countrymen. They are even politically campaigning in the midst of this tragedy. Maybe, the insensitiveness of the Aquinos, with the plight of their numerous farm tenants, who live in poverty. Caused us also to be insensitive.… Read more »
Life is undeniably cheep in the fils. and is becoming that way elsewhere, even in the so-called ‘1st world’. What is happening in Thailand right now and Bulgaria as well are perfect examples of people being pushed too far into desperate positions while others nearby walk in wealth. It is surprising that the exact circumstances befalling the Thai government at this very moment is not happening to the country that has proven itself among the most corrupt in S.E.Asia. Life is cheep there, so it is said, and getting cheeper by the second. What I am truly amazed at is:… Read more »

Unfortunately, that is a sad fact especially when you put inhumane politicians and bureaucrats in charge. The DSWD itself is hoarding all foreign donations.

“At the Ninoy Aquino Stadium inside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Malate, Manila, packages of relief goods are stacked several feet high almost filling the entire basketball court-size arena and which the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had declared off limits to media.”

They are also hiding the foreign donations inside cadaver bags. How low can you get?

The so called random murders and extra judicial killings and spate of mass murders continue to plague the Philippines. Victims and witnesses who have survived have tried to exposed this to the tri-media in the Philippines and human rights agencies to include the United Nations. However, editors and publishers of broad and wire newspaper agencies have been told not to put this information for the good of public consumption and knowledge by the Philippine government and most of all the President of the Philippines. News blackouts are common and often done in third world countries such as the Philippines. Life… Read more »