Apec And Our Conscience

Due to working deadlines and my other commitments, I am writing a Friday article on a Wednesday night. That is usual anyway because I have to submit it by Thursday morning. If the theme of my article is about a live event such as Apec, I could miss out on later and more exciting news. Fortunately, though I mention Apec, there are more important things to think about that the Apec experience helps bring out.

Except for a strategic few, and I literally mean a few, Apec is not understood to have a greater meaning beyond the Philippines hosting an international event. The sad reality is that most Filipinos have a very superficial notion, or none at all, of what Apec is. The sadder reality is that no group, government or business or both together, can close that information gap carried by the majority of people struggling for their survival, or their journey out of that survival mode.

If Apec primers were disseminated to the common tao, would these have been read, discussed and understood enough so that they would have been more forgiving of an extra three or four days of traffic misery? Would the information had been interesting enough versus all the controversies, the scandals, the partisan bickering, and gory daily news? Because, by the way, there had been an information drive since last year about the Apec event we are now hosting.

Also, by the way, the miserable traffic conditions that many rant and rave about is not because of Apec; it is because of too many cars in Metro Manila, too few roads for those cars and the estimated 25 million or more Filipinos living and working in the metropolis, plus an obsolete mass transit system that defies all demands for modernization. Apec may add an hour or so of traffic during certain times of the day but was in no way responsible for the already miserable traffic conditions.

Three or four days of unusual traffic every 20 years is understandable, bearable, and forgivable; daily traffic jams are not. Hosting an important international event like the Apec every so often is to be envied; waiting for twenty years to change, upgrade and expand a mass transit system is hell. But without Apec, can our misery be brought to levels that can trigger mass noise and mass action? Without an INC rally to blame for traffic in Edsa, will people bother to know, and complain, that there are 33 or more malls along that same Edsa drawing millions of shoppers, diners and visitors daily?

An expat’s comments have been making the rounds of social media, quite positively accepted by many of my friends from Facebook. Let me quote a part of it that seems most relevant:

“The worst thing is I see a country that is pretending to be someone that it’s not:

“Cleaned streets, newly repainted structures, bridges, walls that haven’t been maintained for a decade, moved beggars, etc etc.

“Giving the Apec visitor a wrong image, an image that will benefit to the economy hopeful, but will forget the needy, or even the millions of workers that commute daily for several hours in a dilapidated commuting system, going home deprived of the minimum drainage system, safe side walk, proper electricity, water, etc. I also feel a part of the money spent to briefly look good could have been spent for a much longer daily use. Instead of pain, lights on the streets and sidewalks for example.”

On the contrary, this same expat needed the Apec to be listened to, to be relevant enough because of a current interesting context, because he is talking about the facial expressions of a historical poverty brought about by the exploitation by the powerful few of the vast majority. The point is, the poor are not valued enough, not until they die by the thousands in a calamity, not until elections, or not until a revolution. Because if they were, poverty would be the central theme and not a side issue, hunger would be the greatest scandal and not a quarterly byline when SWS makes its quarterly hunger incidence reports, homelessness and absence of security of tenure would make daily news.

No, poverty and the poor are not important enough, not to the elite and the economy it controls, not to the politicians who govern and make the laws, not even to religious institutions which can have great tolerance for an environment overflowing with the landless, homeless and hungry.

The fact is that Apec is a special representation of the global nature of politics and economics. The greater the dependence of a country on others, the greater is the need for global cooperation. Millions of Filipinos already travel, and they could not if there were no international platform for friendly relations among nations. Many more millions of Filipinos live and work abroad, then send $25 billion back to their families here. With that platform of international relations that groups like the Apec promote, there will be many more millions who will be jobless here and no 1.3 trillion in remittances. I am talking only of relationships that foster friendly engagement and not yet of economic agreements that can rise from an Apec event.

So, if it needs 19 world leaders to come here, with 19 trade ministers, with 19 foreign ministers and 19 senior officials leading 10,000 delegates to break into the news about traffic and poverty, so be it. I can only hope against hope (because I had hoped before, and lost), that those in social media who are agitated by the traffic and inconvenience caused by Apec, can persist with their complaints for our people who suffer the most—with or without Apec.

Because the suffering is not caused by Apec, because poverty and hunger have been there and not paid attention to, because the unfairness of it all should at least provoke us to examine our conscience.

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