Wretched Philippine-style poverty is actually quite normal

It doesn’t take much to remind Filipinos of their poverty. The problem, however, is that these reminders almost always have to come from external entities. And within this month alone we enjoyed the privilege of two stark reminders, Typhoon Mario and that Aegis Global viral video that the Philippine government is now desperately trying to rub out from digital existence.

What the two wake-up calls did was essentially the same — flush out evidence of Philippine poverty that erstwhile remained off many Filipinos’ personal radars — but different at a sublime level.

Routine flooding hits even the best parts of Metro Manila. Spare a thought for its worst parts.
Routine flooding hits even the best parts of Metro Manila. Spare a thought for its worst parts.
Before Typhoon Mario hit, the Philippines was humming along in its usual dysfunctional but predictable way. Then the floodwaters rose and out came the formerly unseen and untouchables of Metro Manila society — the squatter area dwellers, the ille de toule (“ilalim ng tulay”) set, and the Payatas crowd among others. Again. The assault on the gated village sensibilities of the Philippines’ chi-chi crowd can be likened to the shock of discovering a colony of termites after prying off the plywood cladding of a wall in an otherwise pristine-looking house. Or how one would jump ten feet in the air after a swarm of cockroaches would come rushing out of a crack on the floor after spraying insecticide into it.

In the case of that Aegis video, another sort of cockroach was flushed out. This time it was the millions of butthurt Filipinos who do not like being told that their country sucks and that, point-for-point, their neighbour Malaysia is a lot better as a location for business. Indeed, true to the way a democratic government tends to mirror its constituents’ character, the Philippine embassy in Malaysia raised a stink prompting Aegis Global to pull the video from YouTube — as if doing that will make the problems it highlighted go away. To be fair, perhaps it will; once again lulling Filipinos into their comfily familiar sense of nothing-wrong-with-the-Philippines trance — until the next “natural” disaster comes along.

You wonder about this “shock” and the collective gasp of the Philippines’ self-anointed “civil society” that follows whenever a “natural disaster” strikes or a “viral video” emerges that reveals again the extent of the Philippines’ wretched state. At least most people who discover termites in their homes were previously blissfully-ignorant of the infestation growing under their noses. And often, that discovery would, by itself, be a call to action. Call the exterminator!

Filipinos, on the other hand, cannot claim to be such. The reality of their collective poverty is in their face every day 24/7. From the time they wake up in the morning to the sound of the crows of roosters being raised illegally by their neighbours in their backyards, through the excrutiating commute along Manila’s decrepit and beggar-infested thoroughfares, to the time they get back to their homes and bolt themselves behind their homes’ 10-foot high steel gates, Filipinos have all but turned awareness of poverty into a mere fashion statement.

Assuring themselves that they are 'aware' of poverty is the preferred coping mechanism of the Philippines' elite.
Assuring themselves that they are ‘aware’ of poverty is the preferred coping mechanism of the Philippines’ elite.
The preferred solutions, were metaphorically captured in these two recent incidents. Filipinos habitually (1) just wait for the cockroaches to crawl back into those cracks on the floor and call the battle even or (2) nail the plywood cladding back onto the wall and roll a fresh coat of white paint over it. Year after year. Decade after decade. President after president.

Out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes physically (as when fences and screens are put up whenever the APEC or WEF mob parachutes in for another one of their million-dollar talkfests), or cognitively (as with the way we simply blot out the images of naked 2-year-olds roaming Manila’s streets during the rush hours captured by our eyes from our psyches).

Indeed, lots of people have made hobbies — even entire careers — out of intellectualising poverty. But really, poverty is the normal human condition that does not require a degree in sociology to understand. The idea that human beings are “entitled” to a life of freedom, comfort, “empowerment”, and full opportunity to “be everything they could be” is a relatively new concept — probably no more than a couple hundred years old. Whereas for much of human history — all c.300,000 years of it — humans were born poor, lived poor, and died poor while an infinitessimal elite lived in fortified luxury, the sheer stress of making sure their lifestyle stayed that way keeping them awake most nights. If human history was reduced to a 24-hour timeframe, the story of “human rights”, egalitarian ideals, and all that new-age Western jazz would probably take up the last five seconds to midnight. I’m sure fans of that popular TV show Game of Thrones will be able to relate.

In that bigger historical sense, perhaps Filipinos after all are right in assuring themselves that theirs is the normal state of affairs. So with that, let’s all just relax and bask in our country’s normalness in the bigger scheme of things.

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28 Comments on “Wretched Philippine-style poverty is actually quite normal”

  1. I’m not butthurted on this one but I was just thinking if the mastermind behind this was Claire Danes or Dan Brown he..he..

    Most of our folks don’t want to hear ugly truths man oh man no wonder they’re sluggish when it comes to progress.

  2. I made the mistake of moving from the U.S.to Lapu Lapu 3 years ago. I am now aware that this was a foolish move. I never anticipated such poor services. Too often, common items at any supermarket, are “out of stock” Do these markets have managers? Are these managers incapable of doing the job they were hired to do?

    1. They are not getting paid enough to give a shit ! If you were going to be paid $8 for a days labor: Would you even get out of bed?

      They ain’t lazy, your just getting what the people are being paid/or not paid, to do.

      1. Not true Vlad. Doing a proper job and a half assed job takes the same time. Filipinos are just lazy and don’t like to be criticized. They also lack proper training and proper ass kicking. The managers are just as lame brained as the stuff is. Having things out of stock is a Filipino sickness. It pisses me off since 30 years. It’s the same in every supermarket in the country. THEY ARE JUST TOTALLY INCOMPETENT plus, they don’t give a shit. I wonder that no one has ever figured out that this costs them Millions on a monthly basis.

        1. Sorry Jim , not true! Doing something wrong and doing something right can often be very time consuming.and besides that is not my point.

          The point is they are getting paid practically nothing, so what does anyone expect to get? You get what you pay for, and that is if your lucky.

          as far as getting their asses kicked, R U KIDDING? In that hell-hole country, the people get the shit kicked out of them constantly. it is another one of the reasons why they do not want to work, along with getting paid dog-shit wages.

  3. We need to speak about poverty, even if majority of our people accepted our real economic and social situation with open arms, false hopes and closed minds. “We are poor, so what?“ Poverty paralyzes our abilities to dream, to be ambitious, to have the best things in life, to live fully and to enjoy a beautiful life. Our country iso rich with natural resources, but poor in planning in what to do with the things that we have. We export raw materials, but we import the same raw materials as finished products. We are poor in imagination and creativity.

    How do we end poverty? Key is access. Access to clean water and electricity. Access to information, innovation, loans to farmers, fisher folks and the many jobless, both urban and rural. Access to more science and math. Access to empowerment of the people by having real jobs, not dole out. Access to quality healthcare.

    Filipinos must stop embracing poverty and start accepting progressive thinking. We have to; Think. Demand. Work hard. Think some more. Demand better government services. Work harder. Stop having “poor and victim“ mindset and culture.

    1. Actually the real key to ending poverty lies in my personal definition of poverty as follows:

      Poverty is the habitual entering into commitments one is inherently incapable of honouring.

      The key to implementing sound solutions is in having a crystal clear understanding and definition of the problem. From there, the solutions — the obvious ones — naturally emerge.

  4. The second worst thing to happen to this country in the last 50 years was Cory Aquino dying just in time for a sympathy vote to elect her inept, unable to govern kid to office.

    The worst thing was when she was the one to supplant Marcos, who DID need to go.

    Had Cory not died the President would probably be Manny Villar. He is a thief but at least he is an EFFICIENT thief and he might have been able to do something for the country.

    1. Then again, Erap came in second in the 2010 elections. Who knows how many more supporters he could’ve had if Aquino didn’t run.

    2. The worst thing that can ever happen to The Philippines, UNFORTUNATELY, has not happened yet.
      The entire mindset of the country is sooo inherently flawed and plain screwed up, that it leaves little in the way of seeing realistic idea’s and implementing progressive idea’s that will bring future generations of Filipino’s some sort of economic prosperity. Right now? the 25,000,000 just born kids are just fucked, and will inherit a bankrupted shit-hole country that in 10 years will be just the same as it is now, except more bankrupted due to corruption.

      1. Filipinos still tend to live in the past, look at our school’s curriculum, full of crap history subjects. People would rather rally in front of Malacanang for things that happened many yearrrsss ago.

  5. I have one question. Benign0, are you filipino? Because it would make EVERY POST you made, make MORE SENSE than it already does.

    Nothing beats the word of truth from a true citizen that has felt the country’s hardships.

    I agree with this and hope to see more of your posts in the future.

      1. You do not need to be a Filipino to know just how fucked the country is and how hard life is in the 3rd world shit -hole that is the republic of the philippines. The rest of the suppossed 1st world is collapsing financially and 3rd world living conditions are fast becoming the norm in 1st world countries.
        One thing the Filipino’s should stop doing is accepting out-sourced shit paying jobs,JUST STOP NOW !. and develop their own industries to compete in global markets, with sales of goods, instead of milking the OFW’s,paying garbage wages to call-center agents, and speculating energy prices up to the sky for the benefit of the .01%. This,as any blind man can see, gets the country nowhere and is a vicious cycle of never ending, self perpetuating, poverty.

        1. Unfortunately, many Filipinos have been imbued with the mindset that they are so “lucky” to get those slave jobs. My partner tells me sad stories of how her brother-in-law is being screwed over by illegal employers who delay or cut his salary every month in Saudi Arabia, but then confirm that he “loves it” there because of the chance to get a reasonable income.

          Not getting to see his young kids grow up isn’t even considered a sacrifice any more, they must get that drilled out of them in their teens or something.

  6. If you’re a leader, common sense dictates that when you see a squatter’s area (and it surrounded Metro Manila), you devise a program that will better the lives of those who live there. Seize or rehabilitate the area, it’s possible that it could be made to an industrial arena (of course with allowance for natural resources to grow as according to environmental psychology your surrounding affects the way you think and behave, a beautiful surrounding enhance positive and take-charge thinking, an ugly one, well..), as you relocate the residents there to a tall neat house buildings that will inspire them to live decently. The thing is housing projects even by PAG-IBIG are not practical especially for regular citizens living on a minimum wage. In urban areas sardined with enormous population (the active workforce), the house projects are carried out in rural places turning it into villages or subdivisions when what we need is high-rise residential architecture to cover the fast-growing population then maximize the vacant space for transportation and flooding solutions while foreign investors may plant their root to our several regions (we still have key provincial cities that are free from government red tape). Fighting for their shacks they have no right but the problem with these poor people settling in an ugly urban community is not having a place to go (or the fear of change from the way of life they’re used to) supported by not having much so they dug their way for “free space” (which is not actually free for even in squatter’s area most pay at least 1K rent for small room space). But I’m not saying that we pity and be generous with them. It should be the other way around. Unless you put responsibility on their shoulder they’ll continue living as a parasite weak on their own. The question is what things will they be responsible of when not much is expected from them except their votes and their eagerness to make an irresponsible fluke win?

    Also, our mind is too crowded with politics and entertainment industry’s garbage that we forget about self sufficient living. There’s nothing wrong in planting kamote as we’re not as food sufficient as promised by the government years ago. Problem is apart from not having the space to plant crops people have no time on self support farming amidst high price of basic necessities and are just too lazy to think how to make things possible. Not wanting to get our hands dirty, our sense of dependency to the government stagnate our development.

  7. Basically, poverty strips dignity in human beings. People in poverty lacks basic needs- food,shelter,clothing. And no access to education, jobs, healthcare, etc. It is a cycle of scarce opportunity to live as an effective member of society.

    This is the first time I have known your brilliant definition of poverty, emphasizing- habitual and inherently. It is like nature and nurture.

    1. I developed that definition way back before 2010 and the earliest available article I could find is piece I wrote back in 2010 which links back to a FilipinoVoices.com article (now defunct).

      What you wrote about how poverty “poverty strips dignity in human beings. People in poverty lacks basic needs- food,shelter,clothing” describes the effects of poverty on people. My definition, on the other hand, goes down to the level of its fundamental cause.

      1. I understand you better now. I described only the surface of poverty but you explained the core. Sadly, we do not have national agenda that addresses overpopulation, allocation of our natural resources, productivity and economic growth.

        Our politicians‘ solutions to our problems remain the same, but never addresses the fundamental cause of poverty in our country. So, our situation just keeps getting worse. We keep adding more commitments, but no way of knowing how to feed and raise them well. Limited resources, too many people, little productive output equals the mess we are in.

        1. the Philippines national resources are being stripped away at bargain basement prices due to paying off a few oligarchs and screwing every one else. The lumber coming out of northern mindanao alone is being sold so fast that the eco-system it is coming from shall take 10 years to recover,if ever. The slaves running up and down the northern highway in rigs that could never pass a first world safety inspection are so over-loaded that it is no small wonder that traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in the under 40 crowd in the philippines.

        2. @kaloy, yeah you nailed it. The Philippines, like other Third World countries, is inherently incapable of developing the technology needed to support a population of the size it’s produced. It has to import this technology and thus becomes dependent on an external source of capability to prop up its enormous population.

          Traffic, is a good example. Metro Manilans have committed themselves to supporting an enormous number of vehicles yet lack an inherent capability to develop and implement systems and facilities to keep those vehicles flowing through the city smoothly. And so traffic never gets solved. Worst of all, it keeps getting worse. Filipinos cannot help themselves, and outsiders can only do so much. The will and ability to improve must come from within. Sadly, Filipinos are bankrupt of that internal substance.

  8. The marriage of overpopulation and poverty, adultering with idiotic government policies, giving birth to a cycle of a failing and ailing society. Can dumb parents produced brilliant offsprings? Can gold be produced using other elements? Benigno, you placed it best in saying that Filipinos are bankrupt in both the will and ability to improve our apalling situation.

    Filipinos are still in denial stage or worse accepted our dismayal state is just fine, normal and tolerable. Meanwhile, 3 Filipinos are born every minute. AND millions are trapped in traffic, hunger, unemployment and watching dumbed telenovelas.

  9. What did our colleague Paul Farol or one of this friends coin? Poverty Porn? The aegis ad may even be poverty porn. Especially after hearing that it was actually made by a Filipino company that Aegis Malaysia outsourced the job to.

    1. False info chino. Get ur fact straight. Aegis got a local ad agency. Aegis is not a filipino compny. Doesnt mean when saying local its filipino. Local means within their territory. Gets?

      It definitely wont come to any of our ad agency it would definitely stir up the name it came from. Plus our ad agency are in hand and hand in making the process right.

    2. Its more like Poverty Tourism to me. Even our indie films shows extreme poverty in the Philippines, we are showcasing poverty like another cash crop like tourism.

  10. Poverty is when your earning/income is not enough for your basic needs. You don’t have to define poverty. You just have to look at it: in the Squatters area in Metro Manila; the tenant/serfs of Hacienda Luisita; the poor peasant tilling two (2) hectares of land, supporting his family of ten children…many faces of poverty in our country.

    While our corrupt leaders , wallow in ill gotten wealth. Poverty is widespread, it is just noticed during natural calamities. After the calamity; it is Ignored by most Filipinos. They are already desensitized to it…

  11. Ever occurred to people that poverty there is like a drug they have to keep ingesting their whole lives? Forget poverty porn, they are poverty addicts. Small wonder a good chunk of society glorifies and defends this disease like delusional pot heads.

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