Wednesday, February 12, 2014

T, N56

Not Seeing Eye to Eye
Navigating the socioeconomic divide in the Philippines ( is hard to do )

January 2007 

 Written in: Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
Composition: I read this cool article. I replied to it. And I decided, "Hey! Wouldn't it be cool if I made that into a post?" So I did. 
                          Also, recalling an event from 7 years ago
Previous Post: What No One is Saying About Coke's Super Bowl Ad

I have a branch of my family tree in my maternal side who are, let’s just say, members of the top 1% in the Philippines.

Now, my Mother is fairly close to this side that they never let their obvious class differences get in the way of forming familial bonds. If anything, she was tremendously helped by this first cousin of hers in finding her first ever professional employment. Class was, and is, basically a non-issue. Even though I grew up in my Dad’s hometown – and consequently formed my closest childhood friendships with members of my paternal extended family – I still get along well with my Mom’s family who are “top one percenters”.

In fact, I would say that this is how I learned to navigate the Philippines’ complicated class distinctions and all the underlying material inequalities, lifestyle differences, and philosophical preferences attached to each of them. For my cousins in the 1%, I am closer to the masa¹ than anyone in their social circle; while for me, their cosmopolitan, sophisticated, globetrotting childhoods is something I either only have read about in books and magazines or seen through Hollywood.

One time, after having spent a weekend with my family from the 1%, I came back to my Dad’s hometown and got into a discussion with my paternal cousins – my childhood friends. They wanted to know what I had been up to, so I told them that I had spent the weekend in Metro Manila - specifically naming the gated community/exclusive village where I had stayed. Doing this was basically akin to name-dropping a place like Beverly Hills, CA - it was a place which was synonymous with wealth and the upper class.*

Elitista pala yung mga ‘insan mo duon?” ("So, you have elitist cousins, eh?) was the reaction.


I explained that they may be part of the "elite" – that I cannot deny – but I do not think they are elitist. In fact, far from it. They are pretty normal people! They are simply hardworking and have done all the right moves in terms of education, business, and investment. If anything, they also have a strong advocacy for social justice, are into Filipino arts, are big supporters of many charities, and are intensely nationalistic, with a real love for the Philippines. After all, they have been all over the world and could move and likely thrive anyplace they want. That they continue to choose to stay and contribute their economic, cultural, as well as intellectual capital to Philippine nation-building is a testament to their true dedication to remaining and being true Filipinos.

...which I find admirable not only in itself, but also because my parents dragged me out of the Philippines to migrate to Canada when I was 15. negative perception - that the members of the Philippine "elite" must therefore be inevitably elitist - was something which I remember very strongly and have kept with me from that exchange. And it's not just that being a member of the "elite" was being equated to "snobbish" or "uppity", it was in fact almost made synonymous with being "predatory" - as though anyone who made their fortunes in the Philippines necessarily did so through unscrupulous means and  corrupt tactics worthy of a Mario Puzo novel.

Fast Forward to today where I just came across this article titled, Sins of the Father: The Elite in Philippine Literature from The Manila Review by Caroline S. Hau. In it, she narrates Philippine society's long and storied relationship with the social and economic elite, focusing in particular with a quick survey of the elite's portrayal in Philippine literature, where she notes:
“Other than Rizal’s novels, however, there have been relatively few Filipino novels that focus on [the elite]. Most writers come from the ranks of the “middle-classes,” and their portraits of the elite reveal more about their anxieties concerning the elite than about the elite themselves.”
It was, and is, kind of a rude awakening, really. There I was, and here I am, being all idealistic and envisioning a Philippines that, though inevitably could not completely be classless, could nonetheless be potentially egalitarian. Yet my fellow masa¹ childhood friends would sooner vilify and make unflattering assumptions on the kind of human beings someone else could likely be, all based on socioeconomic distinctions.

Yet, I can not completely blame them. So entrenched is this view in Philippine history that it is reflected in its literature and films. Again, as Hau puts it:
This warrants a different kind of novel beyond current representations of the Filipino elite, perhaps no longer anchored in either a triumphant or tragic hero/ine, but one in which the character takes her place in a web of social relationships as one of a multitude. The epilogue to the novel that is the Philippines remains to be written.
I thus find it a bit odd that, in the issue of the 99% vs the 1% in the Philippines, I find myself strangely veering towards the opinion that it is the members of the 99% who perhaps need to be conciliatory, to give the benefit of the doubt to the elite ( quite the opposite of my leanings during the Occupy movement here in North America ), and to just be less judgemental overall! Much like Hau, I also would like to see the social narrative of the story of the elites in the Philippines to finally move away from the simplistic dichotomy of old.

Though, perhaps not so much for the benefit of the elites, but for the sake of the Philippines itself. I for one believe in the power of stories, as well as the self fulfilling tendency of clichés and popular notions and beliefs. I suspect - or perhaps I am hoping - that once you start changing the social narrative to something like,  "belonging to the top 1% is a noble pursuit and a privilege to be earned", then you just might rid it of those who got there through unscrupulous means and corrupt tactics.

Next Post: The Godfather's Party

Related Reading: Sins of the Fathers: The Elite in Philippine Literature, The Manila Review, Issue 4

¹ Masa = Literally: The Masses. It is a loaded term in the Philippines, the use of which is somewhat intentional, in that it can also can be a pejorative, as in "The rabble", "The poor majority". Note that I am using it to include myself as part of this masa, so you can't accuse me of being "elitist". Hah!

* no name = Yes, I know I'm being vague and avoiding the naming of anyone or anything. That's the point - it doesn't feel right to say their names. In any case, it doesn't matter. The point is all the same. 

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home