The Hungry Man at Ortigas Center

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I saw him yesterday, clutching his stomach near the parking lot at The Podium.  Moments ago, I saw him seated at a flight of stairs near Robinsons’ Galleria.  Tomorrow, I think I’ll still see him in that faded white Crispa shirt, blue shorts, worn slippers… and still clutching his stomach.

I see scenes like this all the time, but never in the seeming opulence of a place that’s supposed to be the headquarters of multinational corporations and agencies.  Here you have San Miguel Corporation, the Asian Development Bank, JG Summit, call centers.  At every corner, there’s a MiniStop, a 7-Eleven, or a Starbucks.  Nowhere else in the Philippines – not even in Makati – would you see the kind of wealth that speaks of class and sophistication.  Yet nowhere else would you be so maniacally depressed to see scenes like that hungry man sitting there, pale and sunburned, wondering if there is any salvation to be met in starvation and sheer exhaustion.

I kind of wonder if class structures are meant to be oppressive.  The truth is, they’re not.  Much about the harmony of society is defined and made possible by the fact that we are unequal.  Your economic standing is the Noble Lie of capitalist society; you’re meant to be in at least one of the many different striations of “rich,” “poor,” and that arbitrary substrate called “the middle class.”

It is when these structures start to become oppressive, when their blatant obviousness slaps you in the face, that you see what injustice is made of.  It is when you start to contrast what was once taken-for-granted – and see the stark difference between the haves and the have-nots, that injustice is supposed to move you.

Too bad, it doesn’t have to.  It doesn’t have to be moving, considering that this hungry man is not alone.  Millions of Filipinos are just like this man, only they’re not surrounded by skyscrapers and opulence and coffee-swilling underpaid employees of corporations.  It doesn’t have to be obvious when his image is drowned by business suits and crisp polo shirts.  It doesn’t have to be unjust, when there are so many other injustices in the world to piss you off besides his grumbling stomach and his pale, lined face.

But then again, what can I do?

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