Homeless at home
After a year of controversial issues, from the 2016 campaign to the first six months of the Duterte presidency, it seemed inevitable for me to get drawn into the fray, albeit as dispassionately as I could. The partisans on both sides plus the trolls they employ and manage cannot help themselves but weigh in with their colored agenda. I am amused at how one side can call me a “yellow-tard,” a biased journalist (because I contribute weekly articles to the Inquirer.net) with the opposite side saying I am a shadow apologist for Duterte (because I sympathize with his concerns about a narco state).
Most readers read without knowing the background or context of the writer. They jump to opinions, speculations and conclusions with little understanding and even lots of prejudice. Writers are expected to either entertain or proselytize their views. Sometimes, writers can be naughty and can deliberately float balloons to see who will take pot shots at them – and how. It can be entertaining or informative for writers to watch their audience, too, and identify the crass, the gullible, and the mercenaries.
By and large, though, and years before the ascendancy of Rodrigo R. Duterte to the presidency, I had struggled with a personal effort to favor lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness. I struggle because there are hordes of reasons to complain, to point out the wrongs I see, especially the inanity or dishonesty of many who are paid by our taxes to serve us. Still, I have to move forward, as it were, to the next stages after the complaints, to possible solutions, to better the collective life. After all, it is easy to destroy and difficult to build.
I am so fortunate that I found causes to pursue, causes that transcend the contentious details of politics and religion of partisan Philippines. I am grateful that I opened my eyes to what goes beyond narrow self interests to what affects nation, or even the world. It is so wonderful to recognize the greater, not only the more intimate, because the mind and imagination go panoramic.
Sadly, though, the ugliness that surrounds us are so visible and palpable. Most of all, the pain of the suffering, especially the poor, become undeniable and disturbs all my comfort zones. First on that list is the homelessness of millions, of tens of millions, a state that is so unnatural that it angers me. The great difference between humans and animals is not only reason, not only speech, but a sense of permanence of abode. Animals scurry when humans approach and invade their natural sanctuaries. So do the poor who have no right to be anywhere in the Philippines, where secure and permanent domesticity is not recognized as a natural right for humans and citizens of the land.
It has been extremely upsetting to see day in and day out how the vast majority of Filipinos had been demoted to almost animal levels when they were denied, by mere circumstances of birth, the right to permanent abode. Abode need not be a house; it can even be a shack, a shanty. But the first primal security is derived from having a safe place where one has permanent rights. Here, too, it need not be ownership that can be financially traded, but rights of use with permanence. This, to me, liberates landless Filipinos from a curse of inheritance.
What adds salt to open wounds is the subsequent coping mechanism that the landless have to develop in order to survive. A perverted situation forces the victim to adopt more perverted behavior, even criminal. Filipinos, by law, who do not own, or have no permission from landowners, including public lands owned by the state, are forced to squat. They are human and cannot build abodes in the seas, nor are they birds that can use the sky and the trees.
Poverty has been the historical inheritance of all the poor in the world. But in the Philippines, the laws of our land decree squatter-hood. Laws says a squatter is one who uses land that others own and without their permission. Where in the Philippines can a poor person live when he or she owns no land? Who landowner, including government, gives permission to the poor to stay in their land? Squatters cannot but squat in the Philippines, and they cannot migrate either without a home address.
Seeing all of this has been a painful process for me. We have allowed feudal conditions to thrive centuries after the dominance of masters and slaves, of kings and peasants. It would seem that the intelligence of leadership had been completely neutralized by the sense of entitlement of the elite, all elite – political, religious, economic and even academic. The poor inherited their poverty from an ignorant humanity, but that ignorance has perpetuated itself despite serious advances in technology. It persists still in the Philippines because many of us have not raised the poor to even an approximate value we give our lives.
Contrary to the language of many critics, the elite today did not create poverty. But in no uncertain terms, they choose to let it continue rather than use their power, wealth and influence to dismantle it. It is truly difficult to give up one’s advantage in any field of human endeavor. This is why governments are necessary as mechanisms that can temper the superiority of the elite and empower the marginalized through policies, programs and resources.
Philippine governance revolves around the President, any president, and only less so around institutions. President Duterte had spoken out in clear terms from his first State of the Nation Address about his sympathy for the masa, for the poor. He is radical enough to understand what has never been understood about the basic unfairness of the past and present towards the less fortunate, but the biggest, sector of Philippine society. More than that, he can break protocol and level the playing field with that same radical nature. I wish, I pray, he will.