Tears of the Soil
In my column for Philstar Unblogged, I wrote of a certain sense of insensitivity for the flood and landslide victims at the eastern part of the Philippines, who suffered from great property losses and a loss of lives in the midst of abject poverty and the lack of help from those in the metropolis. Over at Tumblr, it unleashed the boogeyman some of us in the cities don’t like to hear at all: “imperial Manila.”
In a country where regionalism is the most overwrought premise for the seeming lack of national identity, it’s hard to deny that the big difference of “rich” and “poor” lies in where you are. There’s a big enough divide between the slums of Guadalupe Nuevo and the posh residences of Rockwell in the way of walls and gates, but that’s magnified exponentially when you’re talking about Albay, Southern Leyte and CARAGA, and the National Capital Region. The distance is not only physical and geographical, but psychological and emotional.
I think it was the philosopher Charles Taylor who explicated that all things bear a certain import that makes us care for them, that makes us all subject-referring and caring. One of those imports is place: of how near we are, physically and more importantly emotionally, to things we care for. Could it be that they’re so far for us to actually care? People seem to care more for the welfare of Anne Curtis’ family in Brisbane than a million Filipinos displaced from their homes to evacuation centers in the eastern regions of the country affected by landslides and storms.
It’s headline news, not the 450 families threatened by diarrhea in Camarines Sur for lack of potable water. Or in other news, the crops damaged in North Cotabato for lack of pest control. Instead there are the rapists, murderers, robbers, and social malcontents locked up in city jails making up the TV news teasers.
In a country where regionalism is often invoked to highlight the problems facing national unity, it’s hard to deny that the big difference between caring and not caring lies in where you are. As one protests price hikes for mass transit in Metro Manila, there’s a difficulty in capturing the problems of transportation in the provinces, where many people live without slipping tickets into the gates of the MRT station, let alone go to school or to work with worn and torn rubber slippers.
Urban (Manila) poverty has been dramatized in the way of instant noodles and watered-down portions of sardines, but comparatively little has been said in behalf of the rural poor who do not have access to proper healthcare, agricultural modernization, and vocational education. It’s a narcotizing lull, in any case: our continued, systematic desensitization to the suffering and poverty that takes place in a far-flung farm far away from Manila. The same societal drug peddled in the information superhighways of TV, print, radio, and the Web, that causes us to express pity and sadness for the tragic victims of Brazil’s landslides, yet little to none for the people of Barangay Guinobatan.
If that isn’t poignant enough, Germany provided P6M in aid for disaster preparedness to Albay: that’s six times what Southern Leyte donated to Metro Manila when the region was battered by Ondoy. A poor province, at that, marked by the suffering of rural poverty. The very same beneficiaries of that aid unknowingly denied the same favor to a storm-battered Northern Luzon, when donor fatigue set in when Manila’s skies were clearing up.
When regionalism starts to affect more than ways of life – in fact, when it starts affecting life to the point of catalyzing death and disease – there should be a sense of priority. Maybe, just maybe, I write this rant still embittered (if not depressed and generally pissed) over talks of Presidential Porsches and broadband sticks and blogosphere intrigue when the metropole could have been the source of talk to bring in aid and donations and Twitter-triggers to bring in aid to Bicol, Eastern Visayas, and CARAGA. Whether or not empowering local government units and decentralizing power and wealth from the great lighted, glass-walled center remains to be seen, if not seriously considered. Yet for now, if it indicts anything, it should indict the thing that makes us all human: our sense of care.
Which is, in many ways, framed by our sense of perspective.
* Art by Edgar Tadeo