I saw this YouTube video entitled “Disco” which asked “When was the last time you visited a cemetery?” (gk1world.com/discohopes) Strange name, strange question.
Actually, Disco is short for Dioscoro C. Pancho, a cemetery dweller in Lorega San Miguel, Cebu City, head of one of hundreds of families who have lived there for more than 30 years. The cemetery has since been condemned and those buried there relocated. In just more than two minutes, Disco relates how they lived in the cemetery but could never use it as an address because postmen do not deliver mail to cemeteries.
Disco and his family are among the first to have a dramatic change of lifestyle—literally. When the cemetery stopped being operational some years ago, the cemetery dwellers used the tombs as their sleeping areas. But starting last year, some 60 families became the first to occupy a three-storey condominium building in the same cemetery, courtesy of the City of Cebu, the congressman of the district, a few more individual donors, and Gawad Kalinga who inspired and built the first condo building for the poor in Cebu.
A few hundred more families are waiting for their own miracle, just as Gawad Kalinga hopes that the model of condo-living for the very poor will inspire government and business to combine their resources and build more. If there is such an example of inclusive growth for thriving Cebu City, none is more dramatic than Condoville 1 as it is now called.
The Cebu City mayor is an avowed people’s mayor who is not at all ill-at-ease in hobnobbing with the poor wherever they are. And the congressman of that district said he will re-file, with amendments, the Magna Carta for the Poor which his daughter initiated in the previous Congress. I wonder how this goes, despite being politicians, or because they are politicians, they are kind and generous to their poor.
I think the story of Disco became much more meaningful to me because of an incident last month that got me to answering an online article by a young woman. She defiantly, or proudly, claimed that she was among “decent” Filipinos who were “fed up” with the “arrogance” of squatters. The article was accompanied with a picture of squatters battling efforts by authorities to demolish their houses. Because it was an online article, there were comments of support from some readers of the article.
In my own blog, I spoke against the attitude that the young woman so proudly strutted with like a peacock displaying the real arrogance she ascribed to squatters. I did not condone taking what was not theirs, like land owned by others, but I did ask for understanding, explaining the poor had nowhere to go to survive. The poor are not the problem – landlessness is. I wonder how this goes, despite being young, affluent, social media-savvy, and part of the TV show, or because of it, she could not be kind and understanding.
Not having been born poor, not having been brought up in an environment where I had exposure to where and how the poor lived, I picked up the values of my social class, of the school that educated me, and was influenced by the behavior of the religious of the Church. I was not taught to hate the poor, but I was shown by behavior that we were not the same. It was as though the world was simply that way – the rich had land, the poor had none.
It was not until much later, long after I had finished school, long after I got married and pursued a corporate career, when I had my first and regular exposure to the poor. I met them in a rural area, an upland barangay in Quezon province. Actually, I did not just meet them, but lived in the same community with them on most weekends. It was a somber learning experience that has changed me forever.
My experience of those weekends spent in that rural barangay changed my life forever. It taught me that I, and others like me, were not at all representative of the Filipino. Funny, it even made me realize that whenever the rich minority of Filipinos would spontaneously and unanimously agree on any issue, the majority of Filipinos would have a different idea, often conflicting.
Land was something I always took for granted. I never saw my family struggle for land. And when I was old enough to see that the poor did not have land, I just thought that the rich provided their laborers with land where the poor could build their homes. How naïve of me then, assuming that what my haciendero parents did was what other rich people did, too.
Only in my late 30’s did it dawn on me that millions and millions of families, the vast majority of Filipinos, in fact, were landless. From then on, this reality simply became more graphic to me, especially with the advent of people power, of the return of democracy, and my own preoccupation about the future of a country where my children and their children would live.
It does not take much to understand the horrible landlessness of our people. All one has to do is to have a little interest in history to know how a wholesale landgrab dispossessed our people of their patrimony. This also explains why our government, without spending a centavo, eventually became owner of millions of hectares. All our government had to do was inherit the land from America, who inherited all these from Spain, the same land stolen from our forefathers.
What I am unable to understand is how a government, allegedly democratic and, therefore, of the people, by the people, for the people, can forget history so completely and feel no guilt in holding on to stolen property.
Governments from Spain, America and the Philippines actually made our people squatters. It is time to unmake that squatter-hood, time to return, not sell, what was stolen from them, time to give them their inheritance from the motherland, their fair share.