George Orwell, who wrote “Politics and the English Language,” was dealt a second death recently. The main man of the Aquino cabinet, Jose Rene D. Almendras, apparently unmindful of Orwell’s warning that bad language does not send a message but suffocates, said this at the 65th inaugural meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines.
“We invite you to be part of the spatial and dimensional facet of poverty reduction.”
I don’t have Orwell’s brilliance in shredding pretentious and pompous language to tatters. But just the same, you know that this was English at its most sloppy construction and you can only cringe after hearing such words of technocratic phoniness. The brutal language, if you will, of the true apparatchik.
But the phoniness of the language was not the worse part. The supposed clarion call of nationhood that Almendras pitched to the top honchos of MAP, was a broken record, if not a fraudulent one. To help the government usher in a true era of inclusive growth, the private sector should invest in underdeveloped areas. Come on Big Man, you very well know this will never happen in this lifetime. That was all about spouting nonsense, words with no real meaning. First, some historical context.
The late Ka Blas F. Ople, a proud Tagalog, wrote many times about a Tagalog-Kapampangan empire that used to be the center of all things important to the country—be it in waging insurrections against colonizers, or blazing the trails in trade, culture and commerce. Ka Blas avoided citing a specific geography but he clearly suggested that the most important things in the country took place in the eight provinces that are the rays on the Philippine flag, with what is now Metro Manila at the center. Broadly, Central Luzon, Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog.
Now, if we move up from Ka Blas’s cherished past to the current setting, what do we have ? The answer? It is true until today. Most things are taking place in the region so loved by Ka Blas. And the sad truth is this: nothing much is happening outside of the said areas and a few growth areas outside it, Cebu, Davao included.
Dynamism, vitality and growth, sad to say, have not taken place and planted roots outside of these few areas from time immemorial.
Another sad truth is this: once we take away the GDP contributions of the eight provinces that are the rays on the flag plus Metro Manila (plus Cebu and Davao and a few others ), what would remain? A country as economically prostrate as one in the sub-Sahara.
Almendras, if he has any sense of context and history at all, would not be saying those words. They were empty and belonged to a wish list. From time immemorial, the Philippines has had a permanent sunbelt and rustbelt. The sunbelt, with apologies to Richard Florida, has always been the Tagalog-Kapampangan empire of Ka Blas plus Cebu, Davao and a few others. The permanent laggards, the rustbelt, have been the areas outside. The status of the regions, in case the Cabinet secretary has not noticed, has not moved for centuries.
Inviting the private sector to change things and create new growth centers of dynamism and sophistication was presenting a wish list of thiings that would not take place now, or within the next 50 years. It was spouting nonsense because there was nothing better to say. The private sector always piggybacks on government initiatives and has never taken the initiative in creating new zones of economic dynamism.
And what is the state of mobility in this country? It is about people from the underdeveloped area moving into Metro Manila or Southern Tagalog or Central Luzon to find jobs. Or, at the horrific version, to form criminal gangs. Even Mang Inasal has to move into the old empire of Ka Blas and challenge Jollibee to merit that P3 billion pay day.
What have fortified their niches as the most vibrant melting pots of late are areas such as Metro Olongapo, Metro Angeles and Mariveles City.
You know what binds these melting pots—they are all part of Ka Blas’s ancient and cherished empire. A 35-hectare, former dumpsite for hog dung in Angeles City, would you believe, is now one of the priciest piece of real estate outside of Metro Manila.
Whys is the stagnation of the depressed areas so crippling and cursed with longevity? Why is the dynamism the exclusive domain of a few areas, the same areas that started the Philippine Revolution? What conditions led to a country having a permanent rustbelt and sunbelt?
These are the questions that have to be looked into at the fundamental level. Rather than give speeches about impossible things and things that can only take place in a la la land, the Cabinet members such as Almendras have to start probing into the most basic questions.
Even politically, the environment has been discouraging for the laggard areas.
Researchers on the political gravitas of Central Luzon, have been coming out with this factoid. From the Commonwealth area to the present, here is the list of presidents from the region, which now includes Aurora: Manuel Luis Quezon, Ramon Magsaysay, Diosdado Macapagal, Corazon Aquino, Gloria Arroyo and President Aquino 111.
If we consider the entire cherished old empire of Ka Blas, we have to add Erap Estrada, from Laguna and San Juan.
Most Filipinos want growth to expand into the tough-luck areas that have been losers in the development equation from time immemorial. But we cannot make that dream a reality unless the state apparatchiks stop spouting nonsense like what Mr. Almendras did at the MAP event.
President Aquino can help speed up the reversal process. He should issue a Palace memo that would ban cabinet members from talking out of context and uttering spatial poppycock.