We know the hope that comes with the national mantra “Build.”
After that medium-term task is over and done with, the country’s fraying infrastructure will get a 21st century look and feel. Gone will be the grimy, antediluvian airports, the airports that for years have been the sources of our national shame and affliction. Gone will be the major domestic seaports perennially littered with copra scraps and reeking with the smell of year-old cooking oil. Elevated roads, modern and with multiple lanes, will dot Metro Manila to connect airports with toll roads, seaports with the South and North Luzon expressways.
The elevated roads will bisect through the heart of the populous city but up there and posing no hurdle to the regular traffic.
The jobs the building frenzy will create will be temporary. At the end of the day, the taipans and the tycoons and the conglomerates – the narrow band that constitutes the nation’s true oligarchy – will reap most of the profits from these big-ticket projects. Yes, they will. Either under the PPP as conceived by the Aquino administration or under the “ hybrid” financing being planned by the DU30 economic team, the oligarchs will be the big winners. But then again, the ordinary citizens are used to getting the crumbs and they will express a sigh of relief over the free-flowing metropolitan roads. They will not mind that their taxes subsidized the whole building frenzy.
For the ordinary citizens, there is no such thing as the soft bigotry of low expectations. They (it should be “we” as I belong to this group) expect very little from government. The yield from the building frenzy, trips that do not take three hours to negotiate 17 kilometers of narrow major roads, will be enough.
We know the horrific impact of the action verb “Bomb.” We now see this play out in the old city of Marawi, ideally a thriving center for Maranao culture but now reduced to Warsaw and Manila after World War 2.
What is there in Marawi right now, except for its failure to achieve true progress, create a breathing space for tolerance, and develop a true civic and diverse culture? And ease just to the slightest degree the intractable poverty and underdevelopment that seemed to have developed deep, deep roots in Muslim Mindanao?
As bombs pummelled the city to destroy the strongholds of the Islamic fundamentalists, the physical wreckage is both public and private, religious and secular. The wreck suffered by private property will take years to rebuild, given the median income of the city residents. Rebuilding of the mosques, unless the wealthy Middle Eastern countries come in and do the rebuilding, will take forever.
Budgetary constraints, and the fact that Marawi factors very little in the overall growth plans of the country, will not rapidly unleash the funds for the rebuilding of the public institutions damaged or destroyed.
More than the physical wreck are the deaths and the collective trauma of those who will survive the relentless bombings.
The horrors of “Bomb. Bomb” include the subhuman, the horrors that are seemingly very remote in the 21st century. Dead bodies abandoned in the hasty retreat to safer havens. Dead bodies feasted upon by dogs, for the lack of vultures for God’s sake. The occasional stories of heroism, Muslims saving Christians, get easily forgotten in the Mosul-like violence.
Even from far afar, the death and destruction in Marawi do not fail to stir the most detached and indifferent of hearts. What if it were us? What if the scene of the tragedy is here and close by? We are all from Marawi.
Marawi, Maute and martial law distract the country from the hopeful mantra of “Build.” While government, its leaders and its instrumentalities try not to display distraction and divided attention, the current preoccupation of government is the war in Mindanao, with Marawi as its epicenter.
Both chambers of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, are now preoccupied with the martial law proclamation, the legality of it, the solid ground for its declaration and the physical and human toll the declaration will tragically impact on Mindanao. The martial law declaration even threatens the already fraying relationship of Mr. Duterte’s government with the revolutionary left.
Before the Maute Group’s acts of violence became the national preoccupation, the country was on track to usher in its true “Golden Age of Infrastructure.” The momentum was there. The motivation to carry this out (one of the reasons is to make sure the DU30 administration will post better economic charts than Mr. Aquino’s) is there.
The financing stream, with some slight modifications, has been laid out. And that was the hardest part to structure.
The government is now caught between the hopeful and the hopeless. Men of my age have seen this tragic shifting between aiming for greatness and self-destruction over and over again.
The ordinary Filipinos? We are caught between the devil and the hard rock. Between martial law, a scary thing in a democracy, and ISIS-linked Maute Group and the unbridled mayhem that it seeks for its followers and the whole country.