Daang Matuwid swept under the rug
Stefan Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is your financially crippled neighbor who habitually spends beyond his/her means on upscale appliances in an effort to keep up with the more affluent residents.  It is that one person in your group of friends who, despite being deeply in debt, still prefers to blow off what little savings s/he has on the latest gadgets, Starbucks lattes, and Zara outfits.  It’s your classmate who constantly hangs out with the rich mean girls of your batch and makes them drop her off several blocks away from her real home, lest they discover the dingy environs which have raised her.  Welcome to APEC 2015.

Lately, we’ve seen Lumad refugees swept from Liwasang Bonifacio and street dwellers confined in Marikina Boys Town, as if they were being quarantined for a contagious socio-cultural disease they do not have.  Perhaps it was the most practical way to leave our greenery vibrant — almost as vivid as the rainbow streaks in DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman’s hair.

This isn’t the first time it has happened, however.  The temporary facade we built around Imperial Manila actually harks back to 1974 when we first hosted the Miss Universe pageant, prompting First Lady Imelda Marcos to have the slums hidden behind a wall.  Fast-forward to recent history and we’ll see throwback photos of how the current administration took similar cursory measures in preparation for Pope Francis’s arrival.  It’s cold, hard, shiny plastic, as Janis Ian of Mean Girls put it, and it seems we’ve always embodied it as a people.

When plastic turns out to be natural

As far as Virgilio Enriquez’s Sikolohiyang Pilipino is concerned, the concept of hiya forms the basis of the traditional Filipino value we know as hospitality.  We’ve always been self-conscious of our images, whether personal or as a collective.  Our forefathers would borrow rice and a leg of pork from the neighbors, and even go much farther lengths just to entertain an alien guest.

Magnify this fixation 10 times and it becomes not so much as a hospitable act as it is a mere occasion of pagpapakitang-tao.  It was what Jose Rizal was taking a jab at in Noli Me Tangere.  In a heavily stratified nation like ours, I bet the saints would have been happy to see that the city commoners were being fed generously several times a year, thanks to debt-funded fiestas.

Preparing for Judgment Day

Granted that all eyes were on us, it’s understandable that this one-horse town wanted to get back on the map.  It’s not so hard to ponder why preparation was of utmost importance.  After all, there’s nothing exactly wrong with preparation per se.  What I fail to understand is why the administration made it appear that we citizens of the country weren’t good enough to be afforded half the gentility it lavished on foreign dignitaries.  While APEC leaders were being given the full VIP treatment, those who actually paid (and continue to pay) for every infrastructural development were held hostage in a concrete limbo.

I don’t understand why we were told to suck everything up for “just a few days” and put our faith in a vague promise of economic development.  It was a summit, not an awarding ceremony, and everything is still up in the air.  Meanwhile, we lose P2.4B to Metro Manila traffic jams daily, not to mention that we give away 32% withholding tax and 12% VAT for something that’s almost beyond salvation.  Thanks for letting Monday keep its reputation without designating alternate routes.

I don’t understand why we had to put up a veneer of cleanliness at the expense of our poor.  It was ridiculous to pretend that poverty was nonexistent in this country for a week only to open Marikina Boys Town’s gates the moment the APEC leaders left the tarmac.

I don’t understand why I have to be sickened to the core by all the fake display of opulence this week.  Or maybe I should be.  We all should be appalled that MMDA purchased Ducati bikes just for the event.  We all should be disgusted that the government decided to feed the delegates faux-haute cuisine (purple yam with biko roulade? Seriously?) in full view of its impoverished constituents.  We all should be aghast at how the administration had the gall to blow the dust off the antique silverware and take out the fine china from the depths of a locked cupboard for the first time because we were not deemed worthy to eat from them.

Lest we forget, hospitality can be independent of pretentions.  For a nation which is supposed to uphold truth, we seem to have lost our way along the Daang Matuwid.  It was, after all, recently split into two.

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Tweet the author @Watdahel_Marcel.

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