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THE 'REPRIVATE' OF THE PHILIPPINES | Or why Metro Manila continues to deteriorate
Rizal Avenue on a regular day. Like many places in Metro Manila, it reflects a mindset that disdains sharing responsibility in ensuring the best, productive use of public spaces for the common good. JOJO VITUG
The online news portal of TV5
Editor’s note: Jorge Mojarro, a Spaniard, is a PhD candidate doing research on Filipiniana. He has lived and worked in the Philippines since 2009, walking its streets, taking the LRT, and even enjoying the occasional basketball game with Manilenos.
One of the more remarkable things for expats when they come here is to observe that Filipinos in general rarely complain about anything. Mediocrity is the standard, especially regarding public issues, and Filipinos seem to have gotten used to it.
As an example, let’s talk about something simple: sidewalks, a basic public asset that facilitates mobility and the livability of a city. Except for a few areas, sidewalks are absent. Or if they do exist, they are occupied in very different ways. Streets for pedestrians are science fiction. The terrible consequence is that elders, small children, and handicapped people are excluded from the streets.
Some years ago, Dutch anthropologist Neil Mulders published a tiny but solid book in which he depicted the Filipino mindset. According to him, the main reason for the lack of social cohesion in the country is Filipinos make a very deep distinction between two spheres: the public and the private.
The private sphere belongs to the kin and friends, and utang na loob obliges one to reciprocate help, support, favors, and even money. The public sphere, on the other hand, becomes the jungle where anything is valid in order to bring commodities to the private sphere. Therefore, Filipinos tend to distrust other Filipinos in public spaces, lack of courtesy is the rule, and the much-touted bayanihan is blatantly absent.
Displaying a high social status then becomes essential in order to show power and to avoid rules.
Therefore, street vendors are allowed to occupy sidewalks and sell anything there. Some areas along Taft and Pedro Gil, for example, are literally not walkable and extremely dirty. I am not saying those people do not have the right to make a decent living. I believe, though, that they should move to proper stalls, follow basic standards of hygiene, and pay taxes.
Some barangay outposts and small police stations occupy entire sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road. Do local officials have the freedom to do in the streets whatever they want? What is the use of these outposts? Because young thieves are selling stolen smartphones at the corner of Pedro Gil and Adriatico St., right beside a barangay outpost and 20 steps away from a police container-like station.
Then we have the big companies distributing electricity: Their huge posts occupy free of charge big portions of the streets. It is time to demand from those oligarchy-run businesses to spend part of their profits for putting electricity cables underground, as what they have done in some areas of Makati, The Fort, and Alabang. The look of Filipino streets would change radically. But I am not hopeful that this will ever happen, honestly.
We also have the eternal issue of traffic, something that is technically easy to solve, as Benjamin De La Peña has proved in a series of articles on urban planning, but is permanently delayed due to the pressure of the public transportation lobby (buses and jeepneys) and the lack of vision of public servants. I wonder if there is any urban planner in any of the city halls in Metro Manila.
Let’s look at Pasay, particularly the Buendia-Taft intersection: Instead of forcing buses and jeepneys to follow the rules, authorities chose to dismantle big portions of sidewalks in order to expand the road. Bus and jeepney drivers are happier, since they have more space to do what they were already doing: loading and unloading people. The same happened on Maginhawa Street in Quezon City. These are clear examples of the short-sightedness of so-called public servants that has had disastrous consequences over the quality of the life of hundreds of thousands of people.
Lastly, we have the businesses (banks, restaurants, convenience stores, etc.) using the sidewalks in front of their establishments as their own private parking lots. People are deprived of a place where they can walk comfortably. Moreover, you will not be allowed to leave your car there unless you are a client. Again, as in all examples cited above, we have a public space used as a private asset. It is taken for granted that it has to be like that, but clearly is bad for the livability of the city -- not to mention its unfairness and illegality.
I used to think that Philippine oligarchs would be interested in improving the sorry state of public transportation for their economic gain, but I forgot to think about those with malls. Parking fees provide huge profits that would disappear with the implementation of a centralized and organized system of public transportation. Some of them also have investments in car factories. Moreover, one of the main reasons of the success of malls in the Philippines relies precisely in the horrible state of city streets. People in Barcelona, London, or Vienna do not choose to spend their free time in malls. What is the point of going to a secluded artificial air-conditioned box when you have nice beautiful streets with benches, trees, and cleanliness? The decay of Manila is the success of the malls.
The only long-term and workable solution would be the implementation of a system of city buses like the ones available in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Warsaw, Berlin, or Tokyo. Indeed, so many models to learn from.
Unfortunately, this will not take place because, for one, there are too many people taking economic advantage of the status quo. For another, given the current impoverishment of the population, the implementation of a quality system of transportation and its maintenance would require the total control of the government subsidizing heavily its functioning.
But it should not matter how much such a system cost because it would be cheaper than the millions of pesos Filipinos lose every day in the current dysfunctional situation and the priceless radical improvement in the quality of life of Filipinos.
Summing up, Filipinos do not show any sense of shared responsibility for public space. As a consequence of this particular feature of their mindset, the shared space has only become a place where street vendors, electricity companies, local government units, and business owners can do as they please.
The Republic of the Philippines should perhaps thus be referred to as the 'Reprivate of the Philippines' to reflect this apathy to the notion of sharing responsibility for public space. And this applies to education and health too. Sadly.
Spanish Writer Draws Fire for Exposing “Filipino Mindset”
In a classic moment of anger after being told “you have a pimple on your face,” Filipinos again cried foul against an article of a Spanish researcher living in the Philippines. Jorge Mojarro, whose article was published in Interaksyon (his being called “spaniard” in the article seems to reflect the antiquated thinking in our society) drew flak after he blamed the problems of the country on the “Filipino mindset.” He described the problems of improperly occupied sidewalks, traffic jams, lack of city planning and rampant commercialization (malls, etc.) as a result of this mindset. Of course, the butthurts would claim he’s insulting and wrong.
However, his summary sentence, “Filipinos do not show any sense of shared responsibility for public space,” is a very accurate explanation about how Filipino attitudes cause dysfunction in our society. It can be summed up in one acronym: KKK (Kamag-anak, Kaibigan, Kaklase or it can be changed into Kamag-anak, Kakilala, Ka-Close). I will define it this way: If you know someone, you tend to respect them. If you don’t know someone you tend to disrespect or even try to scam them. In Mojarro’s own explanation:
The private sphere belongs to the kin and friends, and utang na loob obliges one to reciprocate help, support, favors, and even money. The public sphere, on the other hand, becomes the jungle where anything is valid in order to bring commodities to the private sphere.
Unfortunately for the butthurts, this is true about Filipinos. Just think of our politicians: they give positions and pork barrel to their kin, friends and people they have utang na loob to. That’s their private sphere. The public sphere, they rob to get money for their private sphere!
As Benign0 sometimes quotes from Jaime Licauco, “A nation whose policies and rules are based on the assumption that everybody is a cheat and liar unless proven otherwise cannot long endure. Take a close look at our bureaucracy and its rules. It is burdened by elaborate and often unnecessary checks and balances so that nothing ever gets done in the process.”
A true humane, civilized and advanced society that is truly worth being proud of is one where respect is given to even those we don’t know. If some will retort that people in other countries are also like that, that is not true in a significant way. Think of the observation that when Filipinos go abroad, they follow rules and become more productive than in their home country. Part of the reason is the that the Filipinos have been taught to respect people that they don’t know. In other words, the “value” of KKK was been replaced with a true civic-minded, law-abiding citizen mindset. This is what we lack to a great extent in the Philippines.
Some may rail, “hey, KKK is not a value!” Let me explain that I mention it as a value that we actually practice. I apply the word value, because it reflects what we actually value: our kakilalas, our little world.
Others may rail at Mojarro with an ad hominem: “he’s Spanish, his society ruined our country!” But that is a stupid retort, since Mojarro is modern Spanish, not part of the older society that had already faded. He like James Fallows (an American) get slammed for being astute and observant, seeing the problem for what it is and giving solutions. Another is objection to his suggestion that parks are better than malls to be in, citing air conditioning and all that. But aren’t there some Filipinos who recall a better, more habitable Manila of old where there were many parks and fresh air aplenty?
Lack of respect for public space makes the Philippines chaotic
This is not to say every Filipino is a KKK practitioner. I am happy to see many Filipinos act respectfully towards people they don’t know and extend a helping hand. But the KKK attitude is sadly prevalent as well. The Aquino administration is the standard bearer of it and is perhaps the object of whatever snipes Mojarro had in his article. But let’s get to the point: unless Filipinos learn to respect even those they don’t know to a greater scale, and thus have greater respect and concern for the public space, we will continue to experience terrible traffic, high crime, high corruption and other problems that annoy us and even threaten our lives in this country.
"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher, 121-180 A.D.
Manila really is an ugly, dirty city. The first time there I fell into the wonder of being in a "wild west" type of setting, but after that, I realized how much I hated the pollution, traffic, noise, filthiness, and all the other crap that goes along with it. I had not thought before about the connection between the malls and the lack of organization of the city. That was an interesting point.
It's a country to be enjoyed temporarily, not lived in.
The whole entire country isn't Metro Manila, thank God. If it was I would never live there either.
Some guys who went to Manila and to Bangkok,tell that Bangkok is a first world city compared to Manila.
I can imagine what Manila have to be to put Bangkok as a first world city.
Some places i heard better if the foreigners are interested in cities and not the countryside are Cebu or Davao.
It would be dificult for me to live in Bangkok so i can't to stay in Manila after reading so much bad thing.
Maybe Chiang Mai,Udon Thani or Davao could make it,just what's important is to build a good social circle,having a decent girlfriend and when i'm on online dating website,the majority of women are from Bangkok or Manila..that leave less option to find one who is not from these cities.
Good thread here. Nuts and bolts.
"Pick a point and go to it."
-- Dr John Hunsucker, speaking about canoeing on Georgia's Lake Lanier, with its irregular shape, and 1000 miles of meandering shoreline
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