Since the conclusion of this year’s Fiesta Election, a palpable void has been left. What now? What is the Next Big Issue to pump our fists in the air for?
One realises in hindsight how little substance there was in much of the noise and colour that erupted during the campaign leading up to the 13th May 2013 mid-term elections. They were “movements” and “initiatives” aimed at superficial issues rather than on enduring systemic challenges that defy individual terms of offices and transcend any one inconsequential political personality — or family.
Indeed, outside of the context of Fiesta Elections, the topics — spun as the “issues” by one social media maven or another — are really not that inspiring. That is because they merely lend a veneer of tenability to what are really profound systemic problems that actually border on untenability. I discussed one of them in my previous article, the reality of the Philippines’ wholesale addiction to foreign capital and, as such, the tendency of its “thought leaders” to frame key solutions to economic recovery around the dubious notion of “attracting foreign direct investment” without addressing the other side of the equation: the absorption capacity of the Philippine economy; i.e., the inherent ability of Filipinos to turn capital into commensurate returns in a sustainable manner.
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Unfortunately, Filipinos are good at attracting wealth in short ill-thought-out bursts of marketing and promotions, but poor at employing it productively much less retaining it domestically.
If we were to identify a single statement that best encapsulates everything that is wrong with the Filipino, the above statement would pretty much be it. Seems like no amount of literacy, no amount of minerals, no amount of land, no amount of freedom, and no amount of money can make Filipinos sustainably and expansively prosperous. We then wonder whether all the political initiatives out there most if not all of which involves some form of force-feeding some kind of resource down Filipinos’ throats are simply all just a waste of time. If we want to go biblical, this isn’t different from the notion of sowing seeds on rock. There’s just no room for opportunity to take root in Philippine society until a major reconstitution of the very substance of the society is mounted.
Speaking of biblical, there is a new outrage fad making waves. It has to do with something about Manila written in Dan Brown’s new book Inferno.
Good timing indeed! Netizens have gone back to clucking about the latest Xbox incarnation, their pet peeves with their respective telco and internet services, and/or the infernal traffic jams of Manila. So maybe this new fad topic should at least get people’s sights back onto something relatively more important — the wretched state of the Philippines’ capital city.
Apparently, one of the characters in Inferno was portrayed as being traumatised by a visit to the Philippines and described the sights to behold in its capital city as akin to running through “the gates of hell.” Furthermore, as ABS-CBN News reports…
The description of the city is from the first-hand account of one of the fictional characters, the messianic Dr. Sienna Brooks.
Brooks, who has been working with humanitarian groups, went to the Philippines for a mission to supposedly feed poor fishermen and farmers on the countryside.
She expected the Philippines to be a â€œwonderland of geological beauty, with vibrant seabeds and dazzling plains.â€
Upon setting foot in Manila, however, Brooks could only “gape in horror” as “she had never seen poverty on this scale.”
She said her â€œdark depressionâ€ flooded back, with pictures of poverty and crime flashing through her eyes.
â€œFor every one person Sienna fed, there were hundreds more who gazed at her with desolate eyes,â€ the book read.
One after the other, the book described chaotic Manila: “six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, horrifying sex trade.”
The book described the sex industry as consisting mostly of young children â€œmany of whom had been sold to pimps by parents who took solace in knowing that at least their children would be fed.â€
â€œAll around her, she could see humanity overrun by its primal instinct for survivalâ€¦When they face desperationâ€¦human beings become animals,â€ the book read.
Indeed, another outrage fad in the making, perhaps. But then the reality that Manila is in fact a dump has long been recognised by Filipinos and foreign nationals alike.
Much of the folk who tweeted and blogged about what they thought were the “important issues” during the election easily retreat from the banal nightmare that is Manila into the airconditioned bliss of their favourite Starbucks or Coffee Bean store. Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak. When the issues are out of vogue and out of the media’s radar as well, one easily falls back into the warm embrace of consumerist self-importance. This is probably the reason why a tidal wave of denial and pretentious “indignation” is now rippling across the Philippine chatterati. The whole idea that Manila is a dump consistently comes as a shock to Manila’s Starbucks crowd.
The Washington Post reports that “Manila officials [are] hounding Dan Brown” about this so-called outrage…
The chairman of metropolitan Manila, Francis Tolentino, wrote an open letter to Brown on Thursday, saying that while â€œInfernoâ€ is fiction, â€œwe are greatly disappointed by your inaccurate portrayal of our beloved metropolis.â€
Tolentino objected to the â€œgates of hellâ€ description, and to Manila being defined by what he calls terrible descriptions of poverty and pollution.
He said that the novel fails to acknowledge Filipinosâ€™ good character and compassion.
â€œTruly, our place is an entry to heaven,â€ Tolentino said. â€œWe hope that this letter enlightens you and may it guide you the next time you cite Manila in any of your works.â€
So now Brown joins American actress Claire Danes among others in a long-growing list of people considered persona non grata in chi-chi Manila. As we recall, Danes’s own observations were pretty consistent too…
[In 1998], Claire Danes came to Manila to film Brokedown Palace. After returning to the states, she made several not-very-flattering remarks about Manila in the pages of Vogue and Premiere magazines. Specifically, she described Manila as a “ghastly and weird city,” said that the city “smelled like cockroaches”, and noted that “rats were everywhere”.
The whole country, led by the Manila City Council, was immediately inflamed and up in arms. There was a major move to ban all of Danes’ films in Manila and her name is now considered synonymous with “Ugly American”. Very few politicians or commentators were brave enough to note that Danes’ comments were basically accurate and that something badly needs to be done about the state of the Philippines’ capital city.
You just gotta laugh. When truths are sugarcoated or outright denied as a matter of policy and social convention, what you get is not very surprising: a society that does not learn. So Manila pretty much stays the way it is except that this sameness grows bigger, noisier, and smellier every year.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.