by Mong Palatino
As host of the 2015 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, the Philippines has vowed to provide a spectacular and warm welcome to world leaders, investors, media, and all participants of the annual meeting. Interestingly, the world famous Filipino hospitality will be offered to our visitors sans the residents of Metro Manila. The government has declared a weeklong holiday and it even reminded the people that it’s better to have a long vacation in the province than to stay in the city. With main roads declared closed to the public, government work suspended, offices on reduced hours, businesses and commercial establishments closed, and classes cancelled, APEC delegates will arrive and stay in a different kind of Metro Manila. Perhaps it’s a kinder and more livable urban center but ordinary residents will find it strange and unreal.
Some are defending the temporary metro makeover as necessary to make our guests comfortable, but others are asking why the government is unable to commit the same quality of service to our people.
Is it also proper to showcase a Photoshopped version of Manila? Is it ethical to modify the truth about our situation? Should we highlight only the good, the happy, and the Disney version of the country?
APEC delegates will learn many things during their brief stay in the country but they will also fail to experience how to live like a true Metro Manilan.
Below are some of the everyday kalyeserye happenings in Metro Manila that APEC delegates are going to miss:
EDSA’s notorious ‘parking lot’ traffic
APEC delegates will not be able to confirm news reports condemning Manila for having the worst traffic problem in the world. They will have no need to allot two to three hours each day in order to reach the conference venue on time. They will not endure an hour of traffic for a measly 5-kilometer distance of travel, especially if traversing EDSA, Roxas Boulevard, Quirino Highway and other major thoroughfares. Through the APEC lane, delegates will swiftly pass through EDSA and other major roads in the central business district. Their efficient ‘traffic app’ is courtesy of the police escort who will magically give them a fast ride in the city center.
MRT-LRT rush hour
Who needs trains when 200 BMW cars are available for APEC delegates? Besides, would we risk international embarrassment by encouraging delegates to use the MRT-LRT? Or even inspect it to see how far development aid or government funding goes in this country. They will easily notice the defective escalators and elevators, locked bathrooms, and dilapidated train coaches. If it rains, they might even experience the rain leaking through the trains. For the adventurous first time travelers, they might want to try a train ride. They will not experience the long queues outside and inside the train stations, the pushing around for ‘survival’ or the tightly-packed coaches where all have learned to give up their ‘personal space’ (had we any concept of it)—all being testament to Filipino resilience and perseverance, if we are looking for anything positive about the situation. Fortunately for the APEC delegates, classes and work are suspended during the APEC week so there will be a substantial decrease in the number of train passengers, while there is also news of train operations being suspended or shortened during the APEC Summit. They might not see our infamous trains after all.
Road and drainage repairs
One cause of traffic in Metro Manila is the non-stop road and drainage repairs in almost every part of the metropolis. A cemented road this week will be covered with asphalt the following week. And when road improvements are almost over, the same road is excavated for drainage expansion; or in the case of Manila, the laying of foundation for the establishment of a so-called Wi-Fi City. The incessant repairs are rampant during months nearing election period until before government spending ban, which many Filipinos believe to be a source of corruption and election funds of incumbent officials. APEC delegates will never experience or understand the connotation of this inconvenience.
The homeless, street children, and sidewalk vendors
During the visit of Pope Francis last January, the homeless and street children mysteriously vanished from the streets. A month later, the government’s social welfare agency confirmed that these people were brought to a ‘family seminar’ in a spa resort outside Metro Manila. Today, the same agency is providing rent money to the homeless. Manila’s street vendors and other entrepreneurs of the informal economy are also indefinitely displaced by the APEC summit. Sidewalk vendors are also experiencing dispersal from the police Highway Patrol Group for reasons of clearing alternate routes (despite some having permits to operate), coincidentally benefitting the clean up campaign of the social welfare and traffic agencies in time for the APEC Summit.
Urban poor villages
The shamefully elitist, Imeldific approach of ‘beautifying’ Metro Manila is still surprisingly a standard procedure of the government during international events. If demolishing an urban poor enclave is politically unpopular (elections are only a few months away), the tried and tested option is to hide the slums with painted walls or billboards. Remove the sight of poverty by making it invisible or colorful.
Lumad protest camp
The Lumad have been evicted from the Liwasang Bonifacio freedom park. APEC leaders and investors will not be able to see how their development projects (read: development aggression) in Mindanao are destroying the lives of indigenous peoples. They will not understand how the greedy pursuit of super profits is robbing the Lumad of their lands and future. Instead, they will leave the country with the impression that large scale mining, expanded plantations, and tourism-related land conversions are eradicating poverty in the countryside.
The police said they will strictly enforce the ‘no permit, no rally’ policy. But activists are expected to defy this anti-democratic imposition. How can they ban rallies in a nation that made ‘People Power’ popular in the world? And how can they stop the people from expressing their sentiments against the monstrous legacy of APEC? However, we expect that the police will brutally ensure that rallies are not held near the APEC Summit venue. This is unfortunate since rallies will serve as an alternative platform to present the real impact of APEC on ordinary people. APEC leaders will only cite meaningless statistics while rally participants will testify how APEC prescriptions have weakened the domestic industries, undermined the agriculture sector, worsened contractualization in the labor sector, and eroded the purchasing power of consumers. Finally, APEC delegates will not be able to witness the creativity and militancy of Filipino protesters.
Manila public markets
The historic public markets have been demolished already. The rest are struggling to survive because of looming privatization, intense competition from supermarkets and mini-malls, and lack of government support. Because of lopsided trade deals, public markets today are flooded with imported or smuggled goods, including agricultural products. Philippine-made products are becoming harder to find. Soon, even fish will be imported because of the amended fisheries code, which bans commercial fishing within municipal waters. Native souvenirs and delicacies are increasingly being bought in specialty shops, expo events, and big malls.
The ugly photobomber Torre de Manila
Majority of APEC delegates will find time to visit the Rizal Monument in Luneta. When they see Torre de Manila, they will probably not think of it as an eyesore. They might even describe the unfinished condominium as a sign of progress. APEC delegates are mainly tourists who would not immediately appreciate the cultural importance of Rizal and our seething disgust against the national photobomber.
Kotong cops, hulidap, budol-budol gang, riding in tandem
During the APEC summit, the crime rate will go down. Either the cops are on full alert against street criminals or the petty uniformed criminals are busy protecting our honored APEC guests.
If what the APEC talk, agree and sign on are truly for the development of its member countries, it is extremely ironic that the underdevelopment and maldevelopment of this nation’s capital shall be hidden from view during the APEC Summit in the Philippines. And we have not even looked at the situations of the regions outside Metro Manila.
On one hand, the leaders of big economies must know very well that their businesses here have siphoned the natural resources of this country, along with it the uprightness of most of our leaders. Their interests in this country have brought on this underdevelopment. But with all the makeover the Aquino government is doing, our foreign visitors won’t get the slightest picture.