Ask Filipino immigrants: There’s no shame in relocation
It’s always easy to blame the poor. Ask a balikbayan who has visited Metro Manila about the informal settlers, and you will rarely hear complaints of how the national and local governments have not done anything to help them. Most balikbayan want them evicted because they are either eyesores or their place has become a breeding ground for criminals, or both.
The truth is most informal settlers are readily demonized either as “pabigat sa lipunan” (a millstone to society) or a mere political talking point during elections.
But let us not forget why informal settlers, or squatters as we call them, settled in Metro Manila in the first place: They left home in search of a better life. But unlike them, we Filipino immigrants in Australia settled here legally and we obey the laws. We pay taxes. We do menial jobs even though our diplomas read bachelor. We adapted to the conditions. We complain about the long trip to work, but that does not stop us from working. And even when sometimes circumstances thrust us into a life similar to that of a squatter, we don’t lose hope. We find support in each other in the Filipino community.
And this is the point where I part ways with the majority and some media in the Philippines which put emphasis on the “helplessness” of informal settlers as victims. This “victim mentality” may have created a false reality for many poor Filipinos. Thus, we have bred generations of hopeless and dreamless Filipinos who might have been productive citizens had they been given the proper motivation and education. Barring a dictatorship and another failed economy like the one we had during the Marcos regime, poverty should be no excuse for sloth. Of course, living standards in Australia are far better than in the Philippines.
I’ve heard Salvador Enriquez Jr.’s view that the solution to the squatter problem is to create economically viable new towns for the informal settlers, not just relocation sites. Only that he argued for his position on the premise that other countries have done it. But who cares if or how other countries have done it? What matters at least is the long-term solution being offered.
However, the way some militant groups, like the Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon, are reacting to the idea—injecting other issues, like calling relocation sites as all profit-driven programs conceived and managed by President Aquino’s closest allies—has not been productive. Nor is the inaction of some Metro Manila mayors. The temptation of a militant group or some mayors to appeal to the emotions of the informal settlers is for them simply too much to resist, they would rather stoke class warfare and division.
Let us remind again the militant groups as well as the mayors why these “poor huddled masses” are in Manila: in search of better lives. And this neither the militant groups nor the local mayors have provided them until now.
There is no shame in relocating. Ask Filipino immigrants, they know.
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