State of no advancement

Today’s column is not about President Duterte’s scheduled, mandated by law, State Of the Nation Address but since everybody is focusing on SONA speeches and reviews, it seems illogical to swim upstream or against the current, especially when the other available topics are generally limited to the Delta Variant or the weeklong rains and an earthquake that combined to remind us of the End Of Days.

So what do I mean about State Of No Advancement? If anything the past week made me realize that our country has had no advancement in governance and public service in the last 6, 12, 18 or 24 or 34 years after EDSA II. Last Friday and Saturday evening I saw in the news two undeniable proof or evidence to support my claim. First were the reports of flooding in many parts of the country but what caught my attention was the constant flooding in parts of Pampanga-Bulacan, not to mention Metro Manila. Year in, year out we get to watch reports about flooded barangays, towns, etc. and one would think that 34 years after the EDSA Revolution and six presidents later there would have been enough mayors, governors, congressmen and DPWH secretaries who would have done something to stop the flooding. Please don’t tell me it can’t be done because I married a citizen of the Netherlands where a large part of the country is below sea level but never “under the sea” as in the song or a seasonal muddy version of Venice. They solved flooding and managed waterways through focused engineering and innovative solutions in their urban development.

Last Saturday, a friend from Pangasinan mentioned to me about certain barangays that were flooded and that the only answer has been to place sand bags or raise and elevate the ground or the roads, but this ends up redirecting the floodwaters elsewhere. When I spoke with MMDA chairman Benhur Abalos, we discussed the need for more porous areas all over Metro Manila that has literally been cemented all over, thereby preventing the rain water from seeping into the ground. I have made this suggestion to several MMDA chairmen in the past but just like the suggestion of putting up dedicated motorcycle and bicycle lanes with protective barriers, NOBODY is listening! We also talked about seriously rehabilitating waterways and major rivers but it seems only San Miguel Corporation has seen the need and the long-term benefits of dredging the Tullahan and Pasig Rivers.

The second news item that caught my attention was the numerous reports of evacuation of residents in danger zones such as those living illegally on top of waterways, shorelines and other flood-prone areas. First and foremost, the presence of these families in those locations is clear proof that the local barangay officials and mayors have turned a blind eye to their illegal and life-threatening residency on top of or along waterways and shorelines or continue to allow their precarious existence in exchange for block votes come 2022. By their own admission, the residents state that they have lived there and grown families there, so it’s not a recent development, it’s been going on for years. So again, there is no advancement even on the simple matter of relocating families to better locations.

The videos and interviews of families, particularly in the Tondo area where people were nearly washed away by strong waves but refused to evacuate for fear of losing their ONLY place to live, is a clear condemnation of any and all government officials who have not done much to impact “homelessness” or the severe lack of decent, safe housing in the Philippines, particularly in many metropolitan cities. Year after year, an average of two major fires hits the Addition Hills in Mandaluyong and burdens 200 to 600 families. Year after year, fire hits Tondo, Pasay, Pasig, etc. and always the residents build back never better while the national government does nothing to address either their safety or their need for better housing facilities. Hell! The government does not even give them construction material to rebuild because they are “Illegal settlers.”

Yes, many local governments conduct relocation efforts but mostly because private property owners or corporations put in the needed money to cover the costs of eviction, demolition and relocation. But often it is not what we call a proper process where families end up in a much better situation and quality of life. They are dumped in the middle of nowhere often without running water, metered electricity, paved roads and access to transport, work and government services. Most of the time they are passed on like refugees or vote expanders. How is it possible that the national and many local governments keep praising private developers for building planned communities but never undertake such development programs for the D&E economic groups?

The answer is because no government and set of legislators in the last 34 years to date have taken “squatters” and really poor families seriously. Everything has been about temporary solutions and passing the buck. There has been no advancement in the mentality of leaders and no advancement in real honest-to-goodness compassion for the poor and “homeless.” It is not even about being “anti-poor” because that would mean that the poor are being negatively recognized. What we have in this Society Of No Advancement is an attitude where we do not recognize poverty as an involuntary condition, existence based on survival instinct. Perhaps this is why we are cursed as a Society Of No Advancement. Why should God bless us when we do not care for the least of these?

“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14: 13-14

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