Gated communities, like jeepneys, are stopgap measures that became institutionalised and so ingrained in the national psyche that, as we see in the general tone of the debate surrounding this issue, people simply find it next to impossible to comprehend the cancerous nature of their existence. They are legacies of a succession of weak and inutile governments that ruled since independence in 1946. These governments had delegated all responsibility for building public social and physical infrastructure to the private sector — whether it be public transport, rescue and relief capability, education, and management of residential community and infrastructure services and development.
And so this is what we get — chaotic and haphazard development, administration and operation of just about everything to do with social and community development. The Metro Manila cityscape is dotted by vast swaths of inaccessible private gated communities. They are cancerous because they choke the life out of the city.
Gated communities today are to the challenge of coherent community development as jeepneys are to the development of a coherent mass transportation system. Both the gated community and the jeepney are short-term fixes that went on to become deeply-ingrained stains in the fabric of the society and are now hindrances to achieving much-needed leaps in development.
Residents of Metro Manila’s exclusive villages will justify the privilege of closing off and fortifying their neighbourhood against the bigger community by pointing out that the Philippine police lack the resources to secure their personal assets. But then stop and think about what this position on the matter of inadequate police resources means. Inadequate law enforcement is a public issue. More importantly, it is a community challenge. For all the platitudes and pretentious demonstrations of bayanihan exhibited by residents of limited-access enclaves in times of crises, at the very heart of their routine lives is a blanket refusal on their part to participate in the overall community as a matter of general habit.
Even more disturbing, most of Filipinos’ elected officials live within these gated communities. How then do you expect these officials, who have no real stake in the bigger community, to govern fairly and with the broader interests of the larger community within their higher set of priorities?
We wonder, for example: Why does the Makati Police suck? It is because the tiny elite of Makati society who have the wealth and influence to lobby for a better police force don’t really have a strong enough motivation to step up to that role. They simply build a wall on the right side of the moat and raise a private army to secure their domain — leaving the public police force to rot under the management of government officials elected by a half-brained electorate. Indeed, look at all those medieval towns that dot Europe — the way a walled castle or palace is surrounded by a town of humble houses. They are hundreds of years old. Yet the Philippine residential landscape pretty much mirrors those archaic community structures.
If I were a real activist, I’d campaign for the election of politicians who can demonstrate having true skin in the game — those who live the way the majority of Filipinos live and who are subject to the same public services ordinary Pinoys who live outside of gated communities suffer.
How, after all, can an elected official living in a gated community and enjoying the vastly superior security and community services it affords claim to truly understand — no, personally feel for — the plight of the majority of their constituents? For that matter, why would a voter even choose a person whose very lifestyle is hinged upon an ability to isolate herself from their voters’ ways of life? It seems many Filipinos fail to see that politicians living in gated communities can never have enough skin in the game played by most ordinary Filipinos. Indeed, they will never have the same sense of urgency to, say, improve police services — because they can afford to pay for their gated communities’ private security forces and afford to ignore what goes on beyond their personal fortresses.
Beyond the issues of dynasties and the scourge of “traditional” politicians, the very notion of voting for a person who as a matter of routine deliberately excludes himself or herself from the day-to-day challenges of their constituents’ way of life points to the fundamental flaw in how Filipinos wield the so-called “power” democracy has vested in them. Filipino voters should start wisening up and start electing politicians who are truly one of them, the ones who are not living a cozy life within these gated communities. When that happens, we may start seeing legislation that could see the advent of the dismantling of these gated communities.
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