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Commentary

Choosing people over golf

If the government really valued the millions of urban poor in Metro Manila whose jobs are essential to keep businesses and government functioning, then they would give up their golf courses and put up high-rise buildings as public housing for the poor — just like in Singapore — where the golf courses used to be,” declared Ka Mena, the leader of an informal homeowners association along an  estero  in Tondo.

Wise words from a strong woman. Golf uses up more land per player than any sport. Scandalously, over half of the golf courses within Metro Manila are government-owned: Camp Aguinaldo, Club Intramuros, Veterans, Villamor, the Philippine Navy and the Army Golf Clubs. Surely, the regular enlisted men and women who also need decent housing in the city would appreciate Ka Mena’s suggestion. Should we taxpayers be subsidizing the golf-playing by public officials, their families and their special guests? These courses are supposed to be public, but we all know who gets first dibs.

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Even if they play only before or after office hours, think of how much idle land that is in between, used only for the benefit of a tiny elite. That is hectares and hectares of land in Metro Manila that might otherwise benefit hundreds of thousands of Filipinos. A pair of branded golf socks retails for easily twice the minimum wage of a skilled laborer, or of the “endo” sales clerk who sells the astronomically priced merchandise.

Apart from golf’s undeniable pandering to the plutocracy, it is also terrible for the environment. Trees, shrubbery and normal vegetation died for the sake of those fairways. All that greenery is not even natural, since golf courses use a special grass. The UK nongovernment organization Tourism Concern estimates that in developing countries like ours, an average golf course needs 1,500 kg of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides annually, and consumes as much water as 60,000 rural dwellers.

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The pesticides and herbicides seep into the ground, poisoning any life that lies beneath the topsoil. Fertilizers contaminate the water system, causing toxic algae blooms. Parts of Metro Manila have yet to recover from the recent water crises and still experience hours of interrupted flow. With 90 million more Filipinos expected to swell our population in the next 30 years, potable water is certain to grow even scarcer. How much does maintaining sprawling golf courses contribute to the water scarcity in urban and agricultural communities?

One golfer who belongs to a private club sympathetically noted that most (honest) public officials, mid-level professionals and wannabe taipans-on-the-make couldn’t afford to play, unless on these public golf courses subsidized by our taxes. Ka Mena then pointed out that golfers most likely have cars, so they can drive to other public courses or clubs — not smack in the heart of the city — and preferably on their own time, too. Whereas, for lack of decent housing in the city, the poor laborer or office worker and student must suffer relocation to far-flung communities where commuting to work or to school becomes an added hardship and onerous expense.

When one weighs the right of Juan de la Cruz to decent housing within the city, against that of a few privileged Filipinos to an elitist leisure activity, the powers-that-be will likely say, it’s all par for the course. It is what it is, but that still doesn’t make it right, or just.

Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is a trustee of iHome-Greater Metro-Manila (formerly Habitat for Humanity-Greater Metro Manila), a nonprofit, socialized housing ministry for the poor.

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