My Take On The Phils Part 2
I submitted my first article – My Take On The Phils – three months ago and this follow-up, written around
the same time, had been filed away and almost forgotten about since then. I was reminded of it today when I read the sub from Mike entitled "Thoughts on the Phils"
and thought that if this sub is to see the light of day, now is the perfect time.
As Mike rightly pointed out, Makati is world class in terms of office accomodation, high paying salaries and swish apartments. The impressive Greenbelt centres boast big brand shopping and many quality bars, eating houses and international restaurants. The downside is that the area is merely a speck in a truly enormous landscape comparable in size to the whole of the metropolitan Bangkok area… but unlike Bangkok is surrounded mostly by gross 3rd world poverty and dreadful pollution. If by chance your incoming flight to Manila is diverted due to airport congestion – in which case it will circle the city – you will see precisely what I mean! On behalf of the many millions of desperate Pilipinos – for whom NO-ONE seems to give a damn it needs to be stated… in stark contrast to the privileged few, life for the average person is terrible and literally unthinkable to anyone who has not witnessed it for themselves.
Of course there have been improvements made in the country over the last 10 years. Manila has a couple of new roads, there are several swish new shopping centres and some fabulous apartment complexes are currently being built (with names 'borrowed' from Donald Trump and Paris Hilton, no less!) though evidence of 'the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is nowhere more visible than in Manila which remains light years away from ever being a capital city to rank with it's Asian neighbours. I see little evidence of 'trickle down' and see the same squatter areas, ricketty box houses lining the main roads and many thousands of hardened faces with an ingrained look of desperation… all there just as before… and surely always will be. It truly is so sad and always leaves an impression that is hard to forget.
So come on Mike… get real. Calling party time in Makati when there is overwhelming human misery right on your doorstep displays a callous disregard for the gross and unending misfortune of the majority of Pilipinos… but then, that was my over-riding observation all over the Phils. If you are one of the few and have money then you are insulated and live comfortably. If you don't… sweat, filth, pollution, lousy diet, ill health and an early death is all you can hope for. But then, you DO know this, don't you, so I am left wondering just what was your motivation for writing as you did?
Of course in common with every country in the world, Thailand also has it's pockets of deprivation but I assure you… and it will become apparent on a first visit to the PI… there is a general contentment amongst the population in Thailand that is NOT shared over there.
Mike makes a point of criticising expats living in the PI. I have travelled extensively in the Phils and have met many European, US, Australian and British guys living in various places. I admit that some have let themselves go to seed (my first sub briefly touches on that) but in common with the recent inspiring sub from BKKSW about elderly Bkk long term residents, you would be surprised to learn of the interesting lives so many expats in the PI have also led… if you take the time to look under the surface. Age is not a crime and many are decent guys with interesting tales to tell. I'd offer this: it's often the younger guys who are the drunks, mongerers, predators and loud mouths. The older guys just want a bit of peace and quiet in their autumn years… should we deny or resent them for that?
Then, the Pilipinos. At first I was delighted to be able to mingle and speak English, but having experienced so much over the years I am afraid to say that in spite of undoubtably meeting many fine and friendly people, my overall opinion is not a good one. World renowned for not being the brightest of folk (this can be hightly frustrating, believe me) they lie with consumate ease and have a viciously parasitic nature. Cheating each other, short-changing, exploiting, resenting, envying, coveting, violence… you will either know about these things… or perhaps other readers can step in to fill the gap as I have no time to explain here. But have heard many hair raising tales, believe me – so maybe in a future sub one day – though I could fill a book! Bottom line is, and I know it might reflect badly upon me for saying so, I now find it hard to like anything about anything there – and I really mean that.
So here is my 'take' number 2, slightly modified today, but basically 99% unchanged.
Flying over the Philippines really makes one wonder how the current state of the country came about. You see hundreds of islands from the air (there are 7107 in total) surrounded by beautiful clean seas; there are mountains, valleys, forests and plains and some of the most fertile soil on earth. The sun shines, the rains fall. It's fascinating to to get a glimpse of life in remote locations… bamboo shacks between trees… no roads… nothing! Locals depend on fishing; there must be plenty to go around – yet it appears that people live a hand to mouth existence no different to hundreds of years ago. This is life at it's most basic and it looks very probable that many communities – in 2012 – still live without electricity!
Earlier last year I travelled for the first time in the northern part of Mindanao – from Cagayan to Valencia – and was amazed at the outstanding natural beauty of the countryside surrounding those towns. However, the centre of Cagayan is typically dusty, polluted and chaotic (though it does boast a shopping centre surrounded by modern restaurants, businesses and bars) and the road out of the city that skirts the coast for about 15 km before it diverts inland is drab, over-populated and suffocating. The city is situated right on the coast and when seen from the air it's difficult to understand why something hasn't been done to develop what surely could have been a spectacular marine drive. It appears that the city fathers, in common with most cities and towns I have visited, went out of their way to ensure that there would be no amenities provided for the public. It's just the way things always seem to be done here.
So, the poorly maintained National Highway parallels the coast you never see for 10-15 kms then winds up a steep hill inland and into an area of outstanding natural beauty. This is Delmonte pineapple country, where the landscape is fresh, lush and green. It's almost worth the trip to Mindanao to see it. You could imagine that you are back in Europe…. except that locals live strung along at the side of the road in dusty ramshackled coconut wood and bamboo huts, with the occasional property built from unpainted and crumbly concrete blocks. The lush countryside continues through to Malaybalay then on to Valencia, with it's backdrop of (mainly inaccessible) hills and valleys. Valencia should be a cute mountain hideaway but is in fact a nightmare of traffic pollution, smoking barbeques, noise and general filth. I kid you not, fresh mountain air in abundance surrounds the town while where everyone lives and conducts their daily lives, it is like the burning pit of hell! It's precisely at this point that you just – have – to – give – up!
Damn, I am reliving the disappointment I felt as I write…. Let's lighten up a bit! Surely there must be something to smile about? Well, the local lads have a great little wheeze up their sleeves which the authorities draw a blind eye to: take out the baffles from your 100cc motorcycle…. it then sounds like a 1500cc Harley!! Whuuu-wee! Most bikes – now ALL OVER the Phils are so modified…. the din is everywhere. You have to laugh that residents will put up with it! THOUSANDS of bikes competing in what sounds like a full-on drag racing circuit! Ooops, nearly forgot…dogs chained up 24 hours a day can get pretty noisy, though they have to bark very loudly to be heard above the din. Most commercial establishments play music and home sound systems aren't fitted with volume controls, it's either off…or full on! For example, it's 6.30am Sunday morning as I write this. I have been listening to motorbikes howling since 6am. Just 5 minutes ago a radio was switched FULL-on a few hundred metres away. Today's playlist so far has been: 'Que sera sera', then 'Moon River'…. and now as I write I can hear Englebert's 'Please release me'. No dogs barking yet, but the birds are competing hard against the radio, cocks crowing and….. yes, those growling motorbikes.
You have a sad situation where tens of millions of dirt poor Pilipinos are concentrated and crammed together in noisy, polluted and insanitary areas… in arguably one of (potentially) the most beautiful countries on earth! From the mountain town of Baguio in the north to the beautifully named Puerto Princesa on Palawan island in the south…. both are situated in outstandingly beautiful areas yet within the actual places themselves it's difficult to find comfort or peace…. and that applies just about everywhere.
Quick footnote: there is a glaring reason why the PH suffers such wide-spread poverty and that has to do with ownership of land. Ordinary folk are simply locked out of the system, it's all in the hands of the rich. Most farmers endure tenant status only, similar to the feudal system that existed in England before the agricultural revolution. This has been a highly contentious national issue for many years but nothing has, is or will be allowed to change. I witnessed roadside demonstrations while travelling through Mindanao about this very issue and just a few months ago passed a group of several hundred farmers and protesters who had marched over 100 miles to Cagayan to voice their complaints to local government. Needless to say, no change announced or expected. But the struggle goes on….
Mike, I am glad to hear that you and your pals are happy and living the good life in Makati. But remember: there are another 90-odd million excluded Pilipinos who would love to join you…
I don't like to say nothing – as I have been making a habit of recently – but when I just don't know enough about the country to comment or contribute something meaningful, I think it best to say nothing.