Reality On The Ground

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I am writing away from Metro Manila and the grasp of heavy traffic, vehicular and bad news. For too long, imperial Manila (now a burgeoning metropolis) has reigned supreme in the Philippines. At the rate things are going, that dominance will not go away soon. Despite the downside of living in a concrete and choked environment, the materialism that defines what success is to most people remains the powerful idea that keeps inviting Filipinos to Metro Manila.

The additional power of Metro Manila is that it is also the center of traditional media in the country. Media is not really about entertainment and news but about power. Media can make or break politicians and businesses. Of course, traditional media is owned and controlled by businessmen with political interests, or politicians with business interests. It could probably be more powerful than Congress itself for the fact that competition is fierce. I suppose that the comingled interests of politics and business in a country where feudalism and autocracy refuse to fade away graciously make media, politics and business interests natural bedfellows.

The eruption of social media, driven by indescribable leaps in technology and the innate desire of the ordinary to be somebody, is a factor that is changing the consciousness landscape. Definitely, there is democratization where numbers begin to count not only in terms of sales and votes but of active influence as well.

Inside the virtual world of the Internet, the world had shrunk in size and also has become more graphic. More and more, Filipinos are becoming aware of the world outside their communities, especially the poor who could not physically travel. This growing awareness whets the appetite, so to speak, induces people to desire and dream what had once been impossible for them. From these desires and dreams stem the effort to progress. From these, too, when deeply frustrated, will arise angry demands that will have great numbers powering them. Positively or negatively, change is the end result.

The imperialism of Metro Manila is challenged by the democratization of the Filipino, driven by technology and the Internet, and the awesome power of the OFW and foreign remittances. Of course, Metro Manila is not just allowing this to happen without trying to take advantage of almost $25 billion coming in from abroad from human capital. But a large chunk of foreign remittances are being sent to families in the provinces from where most OFWS and migrants come from. These remittances force development in the rural areas and motivate the big players of Metro Manila to participate in countryside development. This development includes Internet expansion that facilitates communication among families with members abroad.

It becomes truly helpful when a writer of opinions finds his or her way to the broader demographics of media and social media. The noisiest may not be reflective of national sentiment, and in my experience, they are not most of the time. Both in traditional and social media, the drivers of the noise are clearly from imperial Manila and from the older generations. They do influence more than their numbers but can often be surprisingly disconnected with the majority perspective and sentiment. Ordinary people can hear the noise but their priority concerns still determine their course of their lives. They may be influenced but nowhere enough to change their own lifestyles.

It has become a discipline for me to stay in touch with mainstream Philippines made up mostly by the poor and the young. It can be much more convenient to simply watch TV, read the newspapers, listen to the radio and indulge in social media. But presence on the ground is crucial. The poor and the young can be understood only in physical proximity. Their priorities are very visible and palpable when one is in their midst. It is this presence that anchors me to what I conclude to be more real, more representative, more Filipino.

Many times, many have been confused why particular issues can negatively impact national personalities, mostly politicians and public officials, yet Filipinos continue to be supportive of them. How often I have read opinion makers reach conclusions about how an issue or a series of issues have permanently damaged the trust and approval of key national personalities—and wake up deeply disappointed when enough of the public decide otherwise. I don’t think most opinion makers read transient sentiments wrong. It may be that they forget established patterns for the current, or shallow, issues. Opinion writers, professional and amateurs, can be swayed by their emotions, too.

Moving around Luzon and the Visayas in the last several weeks has especially grounded me while the Mamasapano controversy gripped the headlines and social media. Truly, it can be said that most Filipinos were affected and had strong reactions to the massacre. But I also witnessed the gradual easing of the heat as the poor and the young, the vast majority of the population, return to their established priorities. Mamasapano draws attention still, albeit less passionately, because the deliberations on the BBL will keep reminding us of the incident.

In the meantime, the reality of poverty for tens of millions and the passion of the young as adventure and technology captivate them remain powerful concerns that transcend momentary disturbances. A dynamic economy and stock market, too, keep strategic sectors less focused on the negatives and very much engrossed on how to take advantage of opportunities. I had visited Baguio, Bataan, Bulacan, Cavite, Albay, Sorsogon, Iloilo and Negros Occidental in the last two months. Clearly, daily life is not anchored in controversy but in the more mundane daily grind for survival or progress.

Not strangely, then, I cannot help but feel optimistic. The young and their excitement as they discover life and fantastic technology are infectious. Their optimism and idealism compensate for the belligerence or pessimism of those who contribute next to nothing except their acerbic commentaries. Yes, the future belongs to generations who want more, and will build more. It is they with their untarnished nobility who will finally rescue the poor and empower the marginalized. It is they who will own a future full of hope.

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