Power of place and the lot of invisible folks
In one of my lunches with a good friend who is working in community development, while we were talking about our lower withholding taxes resulting from the newly passed TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) Law, she voiced the sentiments of her group’s partners in a remote, conflict-torn indigenous village in Mindanao.
Of course, she said, the way they magnified the consequence of the tax reform was by joking about how they would have to cut down on Coke, a sugary beverage that was imposed a higher tax.
Reading between the lines, the concern is undoubtedly graver and can be extended to communities that are experiencing the same predicament.
They are not salaried individuals; hence, they do not enjoy higher take-home pay. And worse, they depend so much on fuel for their sustenance. We can easily imagine the lot of our fishers and farmers because their burden eventually lands on our plates. But, for communities in far-flung islands and highlands, the same is not true.
Their plight can remain in the shadow of an “out of sight, out of mind” disposition.
We travel to live, work, trade, study, unwind, and avail ourselves of (social) services, among others. Hence, mobility and accessibility say a lot about how empowered we are to satisfy our wants and needs — and, if I may emphasize, our ability to achieve such in a supposedly “increasingly homogenous and borderless world,” a utopia in globalization.
In this regard, the TRAIN, ironically, could have a debilitating effect on the ability to actively and passively access opportunities—an issue of mobility and accessibility, of locals, or those described by the geographer Harm de Blij in his book “The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny, and Globalization’s Rough Landscape” as the “poorest, least mobile, and most susceptible to the impress of place.”
Mobility is about the movement of people and goods between activity sites. Simply, it describes one’s ability to reach places of interest. It can also be taken as social mobility, or the capacity of individuals to rise from poverty. Accessibility, on the other hand, is about proximity or how within reach these (places of) opportunities are.
To better understand the dynamics of mobility and accessibility, we can imagine the central business district, which is a compact unit of development. In a central business district, we usually say that everything is within reach, hence accessible. Now this is not true in an archipelago.
Certainly, Metro Davao is accessible to someone in Luzon only through enhanced mobility — a plane ride. In the same way, Makati is accessible to someone in Quezon City only through the Pasig River, which is now bridged by the MRT3, or road-based infrastructure that allows one to ride a bus or drive a car.
It is important to underscore the interplay between mobility and accessibility as an enabler of inclusion. Where accessibility is low, mobility ought to be enhanced to enable people to equitably reach (places of) opportunities. However, where mobility cannot be viably supported, accessibility ought to be improved to provide opportunities to areas that remain out of reach.
Having said that, I must add that the fate of locals who remain barricaded in their places of birth bereft of support for
accessibility, as a consequence of geography that cannot be viably bridged, is one of fight or flight. The former can intensify conflicts, and the latter can drive migration to urban centers. In either case, the plight of the poor is exacerbated.
As Harm de Blij would point out, “the confines of place continue to impose severe limits on human thought and action, engendering (and, in some cases, still intensifying) inequalities affecting individuals and families …”
By sheer circumstance — geographical, but often aggravated by an impaired appreciation of the physical landscape — generations of people are prevented from escaping the poverty trap.
To forget that we are an archipelago of 7,641 islands, with people far from being homogenous and a topology not at all borderless, is like deliberately or inadvertently casting an invisibility cloak upon locals in unheard-of islands and uplands.
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Eloisa Lusotan, 27, is from Mindanao and has been working in Metro Manila since 2012, currently as a project development officer at the Public-Private Partnership Center of the Philippines. She is working on a master’s degree in urban and regional planning at the University of the Philippines.
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