The upside to having a President like Rodrigo Duterte is that we are finally weeding out the elitists among us. And I don’t mean those who think that Duterte is so bastos, is so not a statesman, is so not President-material because not disente. No, this is beyond just some good ol’ Liberal Party campaign elitism. This is its more evil, less apologetic, more insidious twin. Elitists who even imagine themselves to be pro-poor, because they feel for them and wish to empower them, because they speak of the plight of the poor and the inequality in society.
Yet in this time of Duterte, they cannot for the life of them understand why the urban poor might deserve decent housing, and neither do they care to talk about farmers disenfranchised from their lands by big business and oligarchs. In the time of Duterte, they cannot agree to the end of contractualization, neither can they deal with the pro-people rhetoric and policies of the best and most rebellious in his Cabinet.
These are the same people who stand against the drug war because kawawa naman the poor!
Apparently one can care about the poor being killed, but not care at all about how they live.
Duterte does right by the poor
It was on April 5 when President Duterte, regardless of double speak, told soldiers to let Kadamay keep the idle homes they had taken over in Pandi Bulacan. Homes that had no running water, no electricity, many of which had no toilets, no doors, no windows. There were no trees in this housing project, the heat was unbearable, the winds carried dust painful to the skin and eyes.
The urban poor who were informal settlers of Bulacan had seen these idle homes when they went to Pandi for relief goods after a storm. They then decided, as an organized collective that has fought for their right to decent housing, have gone through the processes required by the National Housing Authority (NHA), and have held dialogues with housing authorities time and again, that they would take over these homes that no one cared for – not the intended beneficiaries, not the present government, not the past government that had wasted public funds on homes declared by PNoy’s friend, NHA General Manager Chito Cruz, to be “unsafe and unfit” humans (Inquirer. net, 28 Mar 2016).
Certainly, the elite and privileged sector did not care for these homes. That is, until members of Kadamay took these over, and President Duterte did right by them and let them stay.
Elitism versus Kadamay
But the claws of the elite were out from the start, insisting that what Kadamay did was illegal, that they’re disrespecting due process. Recently, given media spin and headlines that decontextualize what Kadamay members have said, many have painted them as ungrateful and demanding: they already have homes, how dare they ask for access to water and electricity, and even employment!
Yet there is nothing extraordinary about the urban poor’s demands. Access to affordable water and electricity is a right, and all of us deserve jobs that are stable and secure. These, along with housing for “underprivileged and homeless citizens” is enshrined in the Constitution.
The elitism that has taken over discourse on Kadamay does not care much for rights and the Constitution though, as it focuses instead on a vicious attack on the poor that paints them as demanding, ungrateful, lazy people. Not only is this about a refusal to look at the information already available about Kadamay and its years of engaging with anti-poor government policies, it is also a failure to see how this perspective about the poor is precisely the problem.
It is this privileged perspective that has allowed for anti-poor government policies to prosper all these years, which is what has brought us to this point. It is this privilege that allows us to spew rhetoric against the urban poor, questioning their collective action and their demands on government, because why can’t they work hard like the rest of us?
Privilege and blindness
We forget that “the rest of us” are also born to this privilege, and this includes those of us who could afford to have our rights to education and self-determination respected, because we aren’t worrying about being homeless and jobless, we are not concerned about where to get potable water, electricity, food. We are not paralyzed by poverty, not reduced to a footnote in the bigger narrative of nation.
It is this privilege that allows us to believe in notions of persistence and ambition, where we assert that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed. Yet for the majority who are poor in this country, equality is an illusion. It is this majority who are born with the odds stacked against them, who suffer through systems that keep them where they are.
Privilege is what would allow us to see that the injustice against the poor is not about what the poor fail to do, but about the conditions created against them. Privilege teaches us to see beyond our own lives, it affords us the ability to do research, to listen, to learn from lives that we cannot even imagine living.
To insist that the poor are like us, just lazier, just less persistent, is to refuse to use this privilege towards understanding and compassion, towards seeing bigger pictures and drawing broader strokes. It is only in soap operas and Pinoy melodramas after all that the poor rise from the ashes on hard work and not much else. Privilege equips us with the skills to see this fairy tale from a mile away.
Elitism is when we choose to be blind. ***
Published in The Manila Times, April 23 2017.