STREETCORNER SOCIETY (49)
Today is the nth SONA that I have heard since I became politically aware of what is happening to the county.
It will be another rite and ritual of our false democracy, with applause coming from the very people benefitting from our oligarchic life.
This applause among thieves is endless, and will be repeated, again and again.
The hegemonic center will remain the hands of those who do not have to work hard in order to live in heaven, this heaven on earth we call the Philippines of the rich.
From a meeting at one of the hotels somewhere near the hub of the economic life, to a light lunch exactly at that center courtesy of a friend who has been in this struggle for cultural democracy, linguistic justice, and diversity since the 60s, I decided to take a walk at those monstrous SM megamalls by Highway 54 (read: EDSA) just to see that kind of abracadabra these establishments of immoral capitalism have over the poor like me.
After this, I flagged a cab, and headed off to SM Mariquina to write there, recalling what could be recalled today.
And then I began to interview Cris Bogota, a middle-aged man (at 54) and a veteran of OFW life, and now drives cab for a living. He says old people like him do not have any place in OFW-land.
Manila-born from promdi parents, he knew Gasak the way he knows the back of his hand. Gasak, of course, is in the impoverished part of Welcome Rotunda, on the left side of Quezon Avenue when coming from the University of Santo Tomas and heading towards Cubao.
He told me of the real SONA, the real State of the Nation Address.
SONA or no SONA, the people of the streets tell us the real story of our everyday lives in this country.
From a meeting in a hotel lobby, to a light lunch at a club somewhere in the country’s busiest of the business district where the lives of the poor are decided by those with money and power, I ended up at one of the biggest malls of the metropolis, this abomination of anything architecturally magnificent.
It is just a rectangle of concrete boxes made majestic by the enchantment of goods the poor cannot afford.
At another store by Cubao, I glanced at a sale of a Nautica shirt, and it still had that abhorrent price tag, cut down to a sale price, at a little less than Php 4,000, the equivalent of a salary of a sales clerk for a month of back-breaking work that requires standing up for hours and hours on end to attend to the needs of prospective buyers.
I walked all the floors of the twin megamalls.
I have never been here for a long time, and I thought of understanding what magic these malls have of the poor, why do they come here only to feel more wretched, and what do these in that Bingo stalls up there are doing in the early afternoon hours?
What’s your name? That is me beginning my quizzing technique.
Cris Bogota. That is him, this cabbie who does not believe that this presidency has done something substantial.
What province did you come from? That’s me, always on the lookout for roots.
I am from Gasak. Born there. Reared. My parents came from the provinces, but I have never been to these places where they came from. I do not know any place except Gasak.
How is it like to live in Gasak?
Not the best of places. But one can live there decently. Just do not ask for something you cannot afford.
What do you think about this presidency?
From what point of view are you asking, sir? I have so many things to day. In fact, a while ago, a journalist going to the rallies interviewed me about what I think about the state of our life in this country.
What did you tell?
I told her about our becoming poorer and poorer. I told her too that not all the poor deserve to be pitied. Some are really capitalizing on their poverty to abuse what other people can give them, what the government can give them, what their miserable life can do to them. I have seen so many lazy people who are poor.
You mean this poverty that we see around us is something we blame on the poor?
No. What I am saying is that there are poor people who are doing all they can to get out of their poverty. But some are definitely not doing their part of a bargain.
The poor are poor because society has made it sure they would become poor.
Yes. But it does not mean that we have to depend on the governmet for all the things we need.
But what do you think of this presidency?
It does not make any difference. He has not made our life a bit better.
You believe in what he would say on the SONA?
I do not believe anything about what these people are saying. I have stopped participating in elections. It is a waste of time. You give the poor people 500 pesos and they will vote for you. That is how cheap our vote is.
What hopes do we have?
There is not much. We have to do what we have to do to earn something for ourselves. Like me, I have wanted to become an architect. But we were so poor I could not even finish a year of college. So I worked in construction. There I learned the rudiments of carpentry, of building something, of stonework.
It was a hard life, yours.
It was. I even went around with a sack looking for metal discards, bottles, anything you can sell afterwards. Do not tell me that the poor should just sit there and wait for government assistance.
You have come unto your own.
I spent years working abroad. In construction. I am 54 now, and I have done my bit of work abroad, saved up a bit for my children’s studies. Three have graduated from college. There are two left, one in third year, and another in second year. Otherwise, I shall be done with my obligations.
You do not look like your are 54 at all.
I smile a lot. I do not wallow in all these miserable stories. I just keep on working and working. And I do not sit around waiting for some other people’s mercies. I drive a cab on the side so I can earn for my children school allowance.
I want to hear about your view of our leaders.
Are they leaders at all? They are all the same. All cheats.
Look: in Gasak where I live, we have this beautiful and cemented road near our neighborhood. And they destroyed it so that they could put in new cement, new anything. Why do they destroy a good road when there are so many roads to be repaired, to be built?
And why so?
Ah, some people are making money!
What should we do?
The problem is that we do not have discipline at all.
Why do you think so?
Look at those traffic enforcers. All of them are greedy people. With just a little authority in them, all they do is wait for violators. They do not assist motorists so that the traffic flow will be smoother. Is that what traffic enforcement is supposed to be?
I do not know. You ply these roads each day.
That is what I am saying. Marikina was able to instill discipline among the people. How come this discipline cannot be done in other places?
And why do you think so?
Simple. You do not enforce the law equally, you have this problem.
Ah, the real analysts of this land.
Except that they are not in the corridors of power.
--EDSA, Las Islas Filipinas, 22 de Julio 2013/SONA Day