CERTAINLY there is more to the APEC Summit 2015 than the horrendous traffic and inconvenience, the Imeldific sweeping-under-the-rug of everything that is considered to be an eye sore by the alta sociedad government, the utter and absolute disregard for what it is that Metro Manila’s working populace will go through given already horrid road infrastructure and public transport now magnified by the need to pretend that things are fine.
We have been told by government: stay home, don’t add to traffic. They have told us: cooperate and understand. I get that. I get the sacrifices we have to make. And I understand that the whining has got to stop, if only so we can sit and listen and read about what it is they are getting us into with this year’s APEC Summit.
Yet it’s also clear that the complaints about traffic and inconvenience are at the heart of what is wrong with the APEC, given this government and what it sells about us as nation.
The numbers and Asia’s New Darling
Listen to the way foreign businessmen and “experts” speak about the Philippines. They talk about us the way the President speaks about us. They talk about our credit ratings, about numbers that meets “targets,” numbers that mean a new and improved Philippines. Poverty is at an all-time low, hunger has been almost eradicated, growth and development have been inclusive.
And yet all it takes is not even a whole different set of numbers – which exist by the way. What it takes is to look honestly at nation with eyes wide open. How many of us feel the eradication of poverty? Are there less street children, less vagrants, less beggars where we live? Are there less informal settlements on the roads we ply each day?
Government celebrates the decrease in unemployment numbers. Yet that doesn’t mean that people are not underemployed – working in jobs that do not match their skills because there’s nothing else. Those employment numbers aren’t a measure of how many of our workers are contractually employed, with no job security or health benefits, with low wages beyond the control of government.
In his November 16 speech for the APEC CEO Summit, the President talked about inclusive growth using the Philippines as a prime example of what can be done in the region. He said that our growth numbers have everything to do with inclusivity, which transformed the Philippines from “being known as the Sick Man of Asia to becoming Asia’s New Darling.”
But Asia’s New Darling is merely a label that’s useful for outsiders and foreign investors – just like those numbers are for guests and visitors who we entice to come to the country. These are only true in press releases and propaganda, only true in the minds of government officials removed from and in denial about the fact of poverty and hunger, need, and injustice.
According to the President, the Philippines is a prime example of how inclusive development has worked. Now, children are going to school because the conditional cash transfer program requires that they do so; not only are they encouraged to go to school, their families also have cash to spend for basic needs. It’s a beautiful cycle that empowers the poor and lifts them from poverty. The President said: “The initial results of our Department of Social Welfare and Development’s most recent assessment reveal that at least 1.09 million households have been lifted from poverty, which is roughly equivalent to 5.45 million Filipinos.”
Numbers, numbers. Rule #1 in the handbook of hospitality, Philippines-style: pretend the numbers and labels translate to reality.
Words, and inclusivity Rule #2? Spin spin spin.
According to the President, proof of inclusive growth is the changed attitude of Filipinos. He said: “<…> from being apathetic to perhaps being a little too demanding, which we believe to be healthy in a democracy, since it gives government motivation to be even more efficient. Perhaps our people’s increased participation is not too surprising, given that they have likewise seen this transformation in their lives.”
In one fell swoop – or one paragraph – the President gave guests reason to dismiss all complaints, all criticism, all demands from the populace as proof that this government has done its job well. In one fell swoop, everything we complain about, from debilitating traffic to contractualization, low wages to high taxes, is swept under the rug of “welcome to a healthy democracy!” and nothing else.
It’s all actually pretty convenient – and I dare say, quite well done. Because in this speech alone, the President does not only paint a beautiful picture of a nation changed in the past six years. He also already gives guests the words to dismiss us with. We complain about the traffic? Ah, that’s a measure of development. We complain about four days when we cannot get to work on time, and therefore get less pay at the end of the month? Ah, that is a small sacrifice compared to the great benefits that we have reaped from inclusive growth.
We complain about the APEC? Ah, that’s Philippine democracy for you! Bravo!
Hospitality on overdrive
Our hospitality is legendary – albeit a stereotype created for us by colonial masters. Look at these Filipinos, offering the last of their food, the best bed in their homes, when they already have so little.
But this government’s hospitality program for APEC 2015 is something else. It is sacrificing the people – our wages, our time, our energies – in order to make sure that the few guests and the powers-that-be are transported on time, are safe and sound. This hospitality program blames us for the traffic, because we did not stay at home, because we decided to go to work and earn our keep.
This hospitality program decided that we needed to hide the poor, paint our roads, plant some trees. It decided that the Lumad are an eye sore and should be hidden from view, and kept captive in one space. It decided that there should be no people on Roxas Boulevard, on the roads that lead to and from the hotels where the leaders are staying, it’s the only way to keep them safe.
Rule #3 on the handbook of hospitality: fake it ‘til you make it.