Metro Manila Chokes

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

There was no INC rally, but traffic shot up the roof. Why? Because it rained. Tuesday evening was another horrible traffic experience, just two days after the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) waded into a decades-old active quagmire. As I write this a day after, I had just gone through a second round of reading social media posts and tweets.

Yes, there were complaints about the Tuesday experience, including one from an ABS-CBN staffer who had to go through five terrible hours from his workplace to Muntinglupa. Another, from a media professional who holds a strategic position in CNN Philippines, vented loudly (but civilly) about the failure of past and present administrations to have coherence and people-friendly development all these decades.

But hardly any of those angry, even uncouth, rants that were spewed against the INC. It did not matter that the INC does not cause horrendous traffic in Edsa, and nor does the rain.  It simply is because Metro Manila cannot carry the load of people and vehicles within its territory, not the way big business wants to chase profits, not the way politicians always succumb to what big business does.

The natural scapegoats are the corrupt politicians. Yeah? Who are they? Who are these politicians so corrupt that they would drive Metro Manila to serious cancer in at least the last fifty years? Can we name names? Because if, indeed, corrupt politicians orchestrated the state of deterioration of Metro Manila, I am sure we know their faces, their names, and their nefarious ways.

Well, I don’t think we can name names, not because we don’t know any, but because we know that the personalities in our minds are not the culprits. Yes, they may have been accomplices while in office, with terms short enough for us to forget many of them, but they could not have caused what Metro Manila is today. Precisely because their terms are short, and unpredictable, corrupt politicians combined could not have driven this metropolis to its knees, just because it rains in a rainy season.

So who, then? So, who, then, runs the country? Who has enough power to make even government follow its lead, or accommodate its wishes? What greater power exists in our societal life that even the most vociferous in social media cannot seem to blame in their usual acerbic and insulting manner? Who holds the country by its balls so that even the Catholic Church has kowtowed to them?

Ah, the answer is quite obvious but critics have to be very wary. In a dictatorship, one’s life can depend on the whim of the dictator. In a democracy, in a capitalistic state, in a free market economy, on who or what does life depend? The answer is one and the same – the ones who own and control the wealth, the ones who dominate the economy. Because without income, without money, a materialistic society cannot survive modernity as it is now.

Who owns or controls the wealth of our nation? Who runs our economy, not by elected or appointed position, but by the weight of wealth and control of resources?  They are not strangers, they never were. They may not be flaunting what they do with their wealth but they cannot hide from public notice, not when public life is too dependent on them.

Who can disregard the criteria of development? Who can go crazy building skyscrapers, malls, subdivisions even when the cities do not have enough roads, not enough water, not enough mass transport? Who has the power to squeeze what must be now over 25 million people in Metro Manila by concentrating what people need, what people want, only in an imperial territory?

Their businesses are everywhere; we patronize them. They are the employers of everyone, directly or through their subsidiaries, distribution outlets, and, most of all, through their products. They manufacture, they import, they market, they advertise, they donate. Only they can complete the other part of the corruption formula of briber and bribed. Without them, there can be no corruption in a democracy.

Anyone who is interested in understanding the power and resources of the business elite, the business dynasties, can simply check the Internet. The information there is voluminous, and quite detailed, too, if that is your need. Every year, international publications identify them and try to estimate and rank their net worth. That is very helpful, of course, but quite deceiving at the same time. Because the rich cannot be measured only by net worth but more so by what they can control daily through their businesses.

The politicians don’t scare us, not if I go by how they are skewered daily by anybody and everybody in traditional and social media. The laws don’t scare us, not if I go by how they are wantonly violated. The priests don’t scare us, too, not anymore, that is. They had their time but things are very different nowadays. They, too, have to genuflect before the altar of money.

In other words, if we are concerned about our way of life, the quantity and quality of it, then we have to confront the truth at who are those who can, and do, make a mess out of it. We can address the problems only if we are willing to address the root causes. We cannot blame corruption knowing there are at least two parties to it but play blind to the existence of one.

The saving grace is this, that only a few own and control the wealth and resources of our motherland.  Them being only a few, their transformation would reverse the tide of greed that has swallowed us all. If the top can develop a true concern for the mid and the bottom, just an approximation of the universal principle of “equal in worth and dignity”, the Philippines will be a wonderful paradise. After all, the one thing that the elite is not responsible for are our natural resources – and the Creator already loaded the dice in our favor.

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