The thing with Pinoy social media, and I mean Facebook and Twitter, is that it’s an echo chamber. You know exactly what the bandwagon is like here, and if you think like the majority, it’s easy to give your followers your two pesos’ worth in 140 characters. You can then revel in the ego boost of retweets and shares and likes.
To some extent, this is all pretty petty and harmless. Half the time it’s merely kampihan
about who or what we like on TV or in the movies. Usually, it reveals an overriding taste that cuts across the social classes in Pinoy social media, and it’s an interesting display of the kind of popular culture audience there is at any given time.
Sometimes though, Pinoy social media and its celebrities decide to tackle the more difficult issues of the day. There is of course no way of doing that in 140 characters, without falling into the trap of simplistic analysis made even more simple by the realization that hey look! Pinoy social media agrees with you!
Early this month the demolition of the community in Sitio San Roque, North Triangle, brought out the fangs. There is apparently nothing like poverty and informal settlements to bring out the class character of Pinoy social media, and that is not to speak about the middle class and the rich who are there. Instead it’s to speak of the kind of ideology that cuts across social classes, the kind of thinking that trends the way Daniel Padilla, or Vice Ganda, would, the kind of mainstream bandwagon assessment of the more critical issues of our time.
That is, we talk about poverty, and what Pinoy social media becomes is matapobre.
The questions are insensitive to begin with, because they are merely rhetorical: Why are they being given P18,000 so that they may relocate, when they don’t even own the land their houses stand on? Why are the poor being babied? Why am I not cared for by my government, too?
Exactly within the 140-character-limit.
But of course these questions only reveal a particular kind of selfishness, a greed (maybe?), that is in the mere articulation of these questions. There is also just an ignorance about these informal settlements and the communities that are created through them, why they persist, how they will persist, what it says about us that we end up being matapobre the moment this persistent issue makes it to the news once again.
The story of informal settlements persists because government, and we, fail to do something about it. Obviously the iron hand of demolition is not—and can never be—the answer.
The truth is this: the people who live in these communities are the lifeblood of any city’s underground economy. They are your contractual workers: the construction worker whose hands built that building you call office, the factory worker who allows you to have your Coke every day, the janitor or janitress in your school. They are the jeep and bus and MRT drivers, the ones who make sure you get to work, the tindera who sells you your yosi, the salesgirl at the mall who helps you choose a pair of shoes.
They are the jobless too, certainly, and that is why a contractual worker can be easily replaced by the next person— if not by his own neighbor in the informal settlement. You don’t know you’re a mere cog in the wheel until you feel like you are the most replaceable member of that machine.
Yes, there will be those who are jobless as a matter of being lazy, as a matter of wanting to drink their poverty away, never mind that this will mean spending the last of whatever money they have. But of course these people exist in every social class, where we get drunk and splurge our money on getting wasted. We don’t get sloshed as a matter of hunger and poverty though, as we do for (a) that broken heart (b) this Friday night (c) one celebration or other, and (d) all of the above. We later on say: what a waste of money! But that’s because drinking is not the only thing we have going for us, that’s because when we get drunk it isn’t a matter of hopelessness or hunger, it isn’t a matter of escaping a lot in life that we cannot get out of, a poverty we are mired in.
The difference is so stark one would need to be blind not to see it.
Which sounds much better than ignorant, doesn’t it? Though certainly the two work hand-in-hand in making us believe that we are correct to criticize these informal settlers for being what they are. After all, blindness allows us to refuse that these people exist, we only see what we believe. Ignorance is what we fall back on the moment we assert that these squatters have no right to resist demolition because they shouldn’t be there to begin with anyway.
But where would they be otherwise? They would be part of the rural impoverished, instead of the urban poor. They would be statistics for a province, instead of contractual and informal workers in the city.
They would be voters for the local government anywhere they are. Which is to say that they have official addresses that are based on that informal settlement’s own address.
Which is to say they are registered with the barangay, if not the city hall; more often than not they pay some form of tax or another, official and otherwise. In many instances informal settlers have papers that prove they are in fact official residents of the spaces they’ve come to call home.
What we like to forget about these informal settlers is that they are not just the workers who build our cities, they aren’t just the workers who keep these cities alive, they are also and ultimately citizens. They are citizens who vote, and who provide our local officials with what might be called their bailiwicks come election season.
Were my existence made official by the local government itself, why would I imagine myself to have less rights than the next person? Why would I think myself an illegal citizen of this city?
But mainstream thought via Pinoy social media refuses to even arrive at these more difficult questions when it deals with the issue of informal settlements. It conveniently forgets to consider the depth and scope of the creation of any community at all, and the politics that informs and allows their existence all these years. It refuses to acknowledge the roles that the members of these communities play in the cities we have grown up in.
One can only be again reminded about how, while blindness keeps us from seeing, ignorance is just the refusal to understand.