Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Culturally, we're predisposed towards powerful emotional images. Images direct our emotions, our decisions, even our entire philosophy. Case in point: "Girl, 11, loses hope, hangs herself."

What could be a more powerful and more emotional image than that? In the midst of economic plenty and conspicuous consumption, Marianet Amper lived in a shanty without water or electricity, her parents get by on P200 per week, and despite her best wishes, cannot afford the fare to go to school. Thus, she hung herself.

Except that, when you read the fine print, it looks like the immediate catalyst was the P100 she couldn't get from her father for a school project. Does this subtext alter your perceptions at all?

Change the circumstances somewhat. What if it was a middle class girl, instead. What if, after her father refused her P100 (or P1,000 or what have you), and she killed herself? Would we still get the headline: "Girl, 11, loses hope, hangs herself?"

In my own street corner, this is what I see: children who scour garbage cans for leftovers and scrap; young vagrant mothers tugging at your sleeve for coins; toothless old women who hold out their hands for alms. Doubtless, you will have your own very real images but they pass you by, invisible, as yet more urban annoyances. These are the ugly realities that we face every day.

So why does it take the suicide of a hitherto anonymous young girl in some faraway place, over what simply might have been an allowance not given, for us to realize that yes, Virginia, poverty is real and poverty is tragic?

Is it because it was on the front page of the broadsheet, placed strategically along the news of payola and economic growth? Is it because it fits in the romantic image of our middle class minds of what it means to be poor? Is it because that stark image manages to justify whatever it is we believe in?

There are many beliefs we need to justify to ourselves and to others.

Girl hangs herself in the middle of multi-million peso bribery deals -- as if such high-level corruption were not already evil enough in itself.

Girl is second to youngest in a brood of seven -- we need population control (never mind that her five older brothers and sisters were already married and living on their own.)

Suicide girl refused services in church -- the Catholic church is callous and medieval (never mind that the services did take place in a side chapel instead of the main altar.)

But let me ask: beyond the emotional imagery, did Marianet Amper's death prompt you to take concrete and institutional steps to address poverty in your community?

I ask this because, in light of recent events, I read someone tearfully say: "If I had given Marianet the P100, it would have saved her life." How gracious...and how useless.

Even if you were to give away your entire life savings to a thousand poor families, it wouldn't solve the problem of poverty in your community, much less the Philippines. Unless your contribution goes to the support of an honest and effective institutional infrastructure, it will all simply go to waste.

And there's the rub. Culturally, we're predisposed towards powerful emotional images. But not so towards the real and difficult work that goes to the organization necessary to fix our broken society. We want a magic wand to make it all go away. "Now na!" Otherwise, we're not really interested: "Ang hirap kasi, eh. Trabaho iyan ng gobyerno."

So instead of substantial change, in a few weeks' time, we will simply move on to the next stark and powerful emotional image, except...darker! bloodier! more spectacular! more tragic! more dramatic! more heart-wrenching! and most importantly, more entertaining!

Because when you get right down to it, all this tearful chest-beating has not really been about Marianet Amper or about poverty in the Philippines. It's been about us. It's always been about us. We've been played and we liked it. And then, our appetite for drama sated, we move on.

Just like the time we howled over the execution of Flor Contemplacion. We've moved on, and we still send maids to Singapore anyway.

Just like the time we pleaded for Sarah Balabagan. We've moved on, and Filipinos still land in Middle Eastern jails.

Just like the time we capitulated to terrorist demands in order to secure Angelo de la Cruz's release. We've moved on, and still Filipinos sneak into high-risk prohibited areas.

And poor Marianet Amper? Just another footnote in our pathetic history, going the way of Mang Pandoy and the Bangkang Papel kids, in death abused more than she was in life. By us.

God have mercy on us.


  1. Corruption. I heard in news sometime ago that the president was calling on the congress to stop bickering about the corruption scandals and move on to solve pressing issues that concern the society in terms of infrastructure, etc. etc.
    Hmm. I wonder if most of today's pressing social issues, including infrastructure and education system, would still exist in its extreme problematic state if corruption didn't exist. Corruption is really the root of all social ills. Solve it first, or all of today's problems will be tomorrow's problems forever.

    Population Control. Why do we have such runaway population explosion? Do we really enjoy sex? That hot, sweaty tropical slittering of body parts?
    Or is there another conspiracy here as well? I will throw one out. Who are the two biggest business groups in Philippines? And do they gain from population explosion? Answers: Ayala and SM. Yes, they gain incredibly.
    Population explosion obviously leads to more people. More people means more labor supply, means lower wages. Or, as in compensating the dead, it's only 5,000pesos per head.
    These companies benefit because the costs of doing business is very, very low for themselves as well as their tenants (they are in labor intensive industries). But more importantly, and far less visible, is that they are able to amass their incredible fortunes due to rising real estate prices. Why do prices rise in Philippines when people don't have money? Because of population explosion. Even if they don't have money, they need a place to live. If they crowd into cities where they hope to get work, they squeeze the available land space. Consequently, the prices of all real estate go up. And the real estate where the Ayala and SM are located go up exponentially and relatively. They are wealthy landlords, basically. They leverage on their balooning real esate assest to octopus their way into practically all areas of Philippine businesses, squeezing out small players.
    If the gov't and the private sector are at odds over population control; that is, if gov't is against pop control for religious reasons, but the private sector is for it due to economic reasons, then you will have some sort of effort being made by someone somewhere to keep debating the issue. Here in Philippines, oddly enough, you really don't see this. Why?
    Do SM and Ayala want population control? No way. No sir.
    p.s. add to this list SM corp--they want the population to reach 1billion, so that more will consume their refreshing SMB. Walang Katulad Pilipinas!

  2. I meant San Mig corp :)

  3. Let's not call it population explosion. It's not a simple case of numbers. We don't mind so much if Ramon Revilla has 74 children (by different wives), but we do mind that a Badjao has seven. So ask instead: "why do poor couples have more children?" The answer is not in access to contraceptives but in evolution, something I will take up in a future post.

    I think you might be reading too much into the conspiracy, though. The corporations are mercenaries, true, but they take advantage of the situation rather than intentionally cause it.

  4. I don't know what you mean by evolution, but I didn't mean that the poor are ingnorant of the use of contraceptives. I realize its economics. In the minds of uneducated and those without hope, children offer an oppty for future money. I really don't think this is a "poor people" issue as much as "education" issue. Poor but educated people understand the need for pop control and desire it for their personal family planning. But since in Philippines, the poor are largely uneducated, you could say the poor have many more children.
    Educate the population, and the population problem may be alleviated. But then do some of us in power want the population and the poor educated? I wonder. I would bet not. We want the population and the poor uneducated. And those lower/middle class who beat impossible odds to become educated, we push them out of the country to be manual laborers in foreign countries (yes, nurses are nothing more than manual laborers--that is why people in developed countries don't want to be nurses!).
    We cater to the uneducated. We thrive on it. Look at the tv shows. How juvenile and without depth. And the mass inbreeding between the public servants and media personalities. They capture votes of the ignorant. So it's effective. But it sucks.

    No, the corporations don't cause population explosion, but they certainly take advantage of it and does nothing to lessen the problem. Large corporations DO have social responsibility to the community where they profit. But they certainly are not being responsible.

  5. A very insightful and well written piece Dom! Yes, it is frightful how we as humans are compelled only when there's drama and singular focus. and even so the extent of our action is laughable. Perhaps it is because the majority of us is well within our own degree of poverty.

  6. There's so much to comment on.....can't do it all now. But I will comment on one statement:
    "yes, nurses are nothing more than manual laborers--that is why people in developed countries don't want to be nurses!"
    This is not true.Nurses in the U.S. are highly paid because most Americans are lazy and too eager to spend their time getting drunk or high.

  7. I didnt mean to demean nurses. I was just lamenting how all the brightest from the poor/middle class are going into nursing and going abroad to take jobs that people don't want...instead of being given opportunities for professional jobs here in Philippines to improve the country and its people.
    I differ on nurse pay. Average nurse annual salary is about $40thou. Average secretary annual salary is about $30thou. There are nurses that make over $80thou per year in U.S., but that is a small minority in cities like Manhattan. But then again, the average salary of secretary in Manhattan is $60thou...
    So, it's a stretch to say nurses are highly paid.
    Remember, in the u.s. small one room apartment in NY costs about $25,000 per year! So, a nurse making $60thou per year pays 30% tax, leaving about $40thou. They pays $25thou for apt (maybe less if they share), then the high food/transp prices...you have nothing left over.
    I do agree that average American is lazy and getting high on something. But aren't we all?

  8. I was raised on the philosophy of "help if you can, but prioritize your family's well being first."
    We in the middle class irregardless of whether in the lower or the upper set, tend to be that way.
    Is this wrong? It's not really black and white.
    People enslave themselves abroad not for the sake of national interests, it's to make sure that they can feed their family.
    Honestly, how many working parents do you know that actually devote time to discussing national interests? If I look at this right, people tend to look at politics the way they look at showbiz, purely entertainment. Which is why we tend to react to emotionally tugging events just as you said. But in the end they are all just something to occupy the quiet time after a hard day's work before turning in for the night to get ready for another day.
    The core filipino family unit takes precedence over national interests.
    The bad side of this is that when your in power, it usually means enriching your family over making improvements for the country.
    Granted we need to change. But if the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of patriots and tyrants, are we willing to spill our own children's blood?
    Should we be a militant leader and risk our death instead of supporting our children? Should I be an honest politician instead of find ways to make sure that my children are more better equipped in life than I did?
    It's never black and white.
    But I am clueless at what to do, so I just stick to the status quo.
    Call me unpatriotic, but how can we be patriotic these days?

    In the end it just shows what our priorities are...

  9. Spidamang: well, now you're falling into the fallacy of the dramatic solution :-)

    Precisely the reason why I point towards institutional measures is because the problems we face are overwhelming for a single person. Unless we fix those institutions (and the philosophies behind them), we're not likely to get very far. And we'll simply move from one cruel spectacle to another.

    My point is this post is that it's time to move away from these dramatic but ultimately useless displays.

  10. I know. I was just trying to describe why we tend to be that way. ;)

    For the most part stopgap measures are really ingrained into our psyche. Sachets, 5-6, wowowee, squatters, MMDA vs. Vendors, Security guards with their drumsticks at mall entrances, "feeding programs", "tree planting programs", Wish Ko Lang, Pasaload, software piracy, loans to pay loans to pay loans, etc.

    We're all guilty in some way. We're all used to the temporary solution becoming the permanent solution which is why as you said, we move from one cruel spectacle to another.

    Dramatic displays are kind of like masturbation. Temporary gratuitous relief until the next time the urge calls. They also make you forget about coming up with the sought after permanent solution.

    Speaks a lot about our maturity eh?

  11. Sorry for unrelated post.
    In ABS-CBN la vendetta drama, Polo shoots and kills Mark Herreras in broad daylight in front of his house. The reason is he wanted Mark to stop entering his house (unarmed) to visit his daughter (a daughter he didnt know he had until then). I don't know who cleaned up the mess (the viewer is never perview to it), but Polo never sets foot in police station, let alone prison.
    Is that how it is in Philippines? You shoot and kill someone, and you are not even questioned by the police? And Polo's entire family witnesses the shotting, but acts as if nothing happened. Is that how the family is in Philippines?
    If not, why in the world ABS-CBN writers put on a show so grotesquely idiotic and insulting? And possibly entice the no-good-doers to go out and shoot people?
    Sorry, I warned you it's off-topic.
    p.s. I also think Marimar is the stupidest girl alive. AMong other things, billions and billions of pesos but she doesn't even hire a private investigator to check on Serio's past? Usually I can forgive stupid girls if they are sexy, but not even Marimar's sexiness doesn't excuse her incredible stupidity :)

  12. Don't read too much into it. It's bad writing, that's all.

  13. That was a very insightful piece, Dominique.

    Indeed, while watching the entire thing on TV, the only thing I could think of was "so the drama." That girl obviously had some serious issues, but her suicide was needlessly dramatized and overblown because...what? She was poor?

    Sensationalism.... I can see why that's a very viable piece of news to sell, and the media being a profit-driven business, I can't blame them.

    Poverty is a grass-roots problem. Some people say it's caused by corruption. Others say it is what causes corruption.

    I honestly don't know what to believe anymore. All I can acknowledge is that both are problems with no easy solution in sight.

  14. Public servants in national elective office have duty to provide unbiased service to the people of philippines. On the other hand, corruption results from biased, preferential actions.
    This is why in America, national elected congressmen and presidents don't even control their stock investments. They don't want any conflicts of interests clouding their judgments.
    In philippines. I just saw, back-to-back, tv commercials featuring the current gov. of batantas. One was Bear brand milk. The other was Ariel bleach, in which she claims she was leading actress and now the gov of batangas and recommends ariel.
    What's happening to this country? What if Nestle or ariel company gets invested to tax evasion or some problem? Will that governor act to deliver unbiased actions?
    And another senator appears in a slimming salon roadside billboard, claiming to have lost weight while just relaxing at the salon.
    These gov't officials must really think the filipinos are nothing more than stupid, ignorant, uneducated slaves to the rich and the powerful.
    Disgusting. Revolting.

  15. hi. this is way off topic but...
    how can i be a member of DCSC?
    i was googling my way to find the club's site
    i somehow ended up here in ur blog.
    i wanna learn more about my thru other doglovers too.
    my dog and i enjoy long walks.
    that is our only sport.

  16. We at Trinidad Greenhills Subdivision in Ma-a are predisposed at the moment to powerful images of losing our homes and entire village to flood and landslide in the future due to unregulated property development in the hills.
    We are exercising our right to defend our safety. We have brought our complaint to the authorities but it has become a wait-and-see game. We hope the Net can provide us the venue to make people listen. Thank you.

  17. Very powerfull write-up Dominique and valid questions you posed in this entry. Yes, I agree...... we should direct our attention to US and what role we should play to make a difference. I hope you don't mind, I like this entry so much that I have quoted you extensively in my entry at my blog, thank you.