Throwing out false strategies
The last two weeks saw an onslaught of boldly inconsiderate ideas barreling their way online through the Christmas season.
A government agency defended the P500 “noche buena” meal. The amount covered mystery meat ham, onion, and garlic-free spaghetti sauce, and enough ground pork to feed a hungry house lizard.
A private citizen finally received the much-vaunted National ID: a printout that the person had to laminate themselves.
And then there was the traffic: people waited hours to get a ride, were turned away by overcharging cabs, or arrived at the airport to the tune of NO TRANSPORTATION.
As always, there were the staunch defenders of government nonaction. One said that it wasn’t the government’s job to take care of everything, that people simply needed “diskarte”—street smart strategy. Just manage your expectations, budget, and time, the defenders said.
Diskarte is not evil. We’ve long used it to describe how we juggle tasks, convince people to give us what we want, or make money with side hustles and gigs.
When abused, however, to the point of absolving the government of its faults, diskarte puts the onus of progress on the shoulders of citizens. It is a weaponized narrative to make people believe that dealing with problems is their obligation and that the worsening problem is their fault.
Look deeper, and we find that the constant use of diskarte is that of oppression. Engaging in or encouraging people to just employ diskarte is a way to keep the country poor and needy, just the way credit-hungry government officials like it.
True, the job of nation-building is not the government’s duty alone. However, we, too, have to understand that there are layers to citizens’ rights.
Often, those who defend the government couch their arguments in polarized options: cars vs. buses, good vs. bad food, government vs. private services. While these are important, they are choices beneath much larger abstractions.
It’s not cars vs. buses, because no matter what, the government must ensure safe and efficient mobility. It’s not about good vs. bad food, because no matter what, the government must ensure long-term food security. It’s not about whether the service is government or private, because no matter what, the government must ensure that there is a framework for all services to work.
The diskarte narrative forces people to focus on the options, making them lose sight of the abstractions to which they are entitled. The government is responsible for ensuring that these abstractions, howsoever difficult they might be to understand, are addressed as a system so that citizens are assured safety, mobility, security, services, information, and freedom. The government provides the infrastructure to encourage the development of the options that fall under the abstractions. Citizens choose among the options, knowing that whatever they pick, they can do what they need to do.
This is the true diskarte. It is set against the context of a nation, not only the needs of individuals.
Let’s focus on the much-lambasted Atom Araullo tweet, where he talked about returning from a trip to find zero transportation out of the airport. Government defenders threw him a variety of insults, saying he was merely complaining, ignorant, unwilling to do a simple Google search—that he had no diskarte.Araullo, however, brought up a problem that is systemic in nature. He was talking about an abstraction: the need for mobility, which is tied to the economy, tourism, and health.
If you’re entering the Philippines as a returning resident, a transport-less airport is your reminder that your country doesn’t have a larger system that addresses the needs of all citizens equally, because it prioritizes those who own cars.
If you’re a tourist, a transport-less airport is your first look at a country that has long advertised itself as a beach paradise, with fun people and vibrant urban areas. Beneath the expensive campaign is a country that expects its citizens to find their own way in a city sprawling with dirt and danger. The transport-less airport is part of the lie of truth, love, and beauty.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that diskarte sounds suspiciously like the Spanish descartar. To reject.
Anyone forcing this word into the national consciousness is simply peddling garbage.
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