Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

You do not self-demolish yourself. You do not self-exile yourself. Urban poor communities are not depressed. There are no undocumented human beings. Low skilled workers don’t exist.

Self-demolish. To self-demolish is to voluntarily destroy a house or home and relocate to a safer place. But there seems to be no other usage for self-demolish other than to refer to the decision of urban poor dwellers to tear down their own houses. Self-destruct is different from self-demolish. Self-destruct is a negative idea but self-demolish is curiously presented by news reporters as a positive story. To self-demolish seems to be a responsible act: The poor removing their makeshift homes in private lots and danger areas; the poor finally agreeing to relocate to a less wretched village where they can’t be seen by tourists and credit rating analysts.

But self-demolish is an act of violence. It represents the victory of the oppressor over the oppressed. The true crime is the lack of decent housing and welfare services for low-income groups but what gets highlighted or sensationalized is the existence of ‘opportunistic, stubborn, and unthinking’ ogre families in private property zones.

But the poor are forced to self-demolish. They are constantly subjected to various types of harassment, intimidation, and abuse. Legal and extralegal means are used to expel them from their homes. Bulldozers and armed goons are always on standby. The aim is to weaken the fighting spirit of the desperate and angry poor. Self-demolition is actually the symbolic surrender of the poor to the violent machinations of land developers, speculators and the armed hirelings deployed by the State.

The alternative is to fight for housing rights, to resist demolition, to demand social justice. Anti-demolition not self-demolition.

Self-exile. Can you really self-exile yourself? For example, is Joma Sison living in self-exile in Utrecht? If he is in self-exile, it means he can return to the homeland anytime. A person in self-exile like Joma is perceived to be faking his misery. He is seen to have voluntarily exiled himself to live comfortably in a foreign country. But an exile is different from a fugitive. An exile is not a willing migrant. An exile is someone who faced political persecution and was overwhelmed by the coercive and unjust elements of the state. In the case of Joma, his passport was cancelled by the government which continues to equate his communist beliefs with terrorism, immorality, and criminality.

An exile can’t easily and instantly decide to end his separation from the homeland. He can’t simply declare that he is already rejecting his exile status. It’s either he abandons his political work or he waits for political reforms to happen first. Another option is that he contributes to the furtherance of the cause through letters, lectures, and other means. Jose Rizal did a lot of political and creative tasks during his exile in Dapitan but interestingly, and fortunately, the national hero was not accused of living in self-exile in Zamboanga.

The term self-exile is both inaccurate and inappropriate since it obscures the nefarious acts of terror unleashed by the state against exiled individuals. To write that Myrna Reblando went into self-exile in Hong Kong is to ignore the suffering she endured after losing her journalist husband in the Maguindanao massacre in 2009. She didn’t self-exile herself; she sought asylum in another country because she felt the government was not taking decisive action to protect her. She once complained that her official security used to work as personal bodyguard of the Ampatuan patriarch.

The church hierarchy excommunicates recidivist sinners. A sinner doesn’t self-excommunicate himself. Similarly, the state, not the self, decides who to exile in a society. Banishing someone from the community is an exercise of power relations.

Depressed. Perhaps poor people are really depressed which explains why their communities are called depressed communities. Should we name the enclave of the rich as happy communities? Perhaps ‘depressed’ is a derivation from the name ‘Great Depression’ in order to emphasize the economic difficulties experienced by the people living in poor villages. But the word depressed is still misleading. It has the effect of reducing poverty as a state of emotion and mind; and it explains nothing about the systemic roots of deprivation and marginalization in society.

Besides, rich people are also depressed. They in fact consume large doses of anti-depressants which means they could be probably living in depressant communities.

Repressed villages resist. Oppressed towns revolt. Resistance and revolution are natural and proper reactions of people who are repressed and oppressed. But what should be the correct action of people living in depressed communities? Why should they wage a fierce struggle if the medication for depression is mere behavior modification and some bitter (neoliberal) pills to swallow? In short, there’s nothing innocent and funny in the seemingly naïve use of the phrase depressed communities.

Undocumented. There are more than three million Filipinos in the United States, about 300,000 of which are said to be undocumented. Undocumented? Surely they must have passports, birth certificates, plane tickets, temporary visas, and other registration papers from the Philippines. They have baby pictures, ID photos, and family portraits. They must have at least one photo taken or their faces tagged in numerous birthday celebrations, wedding events, school field trips, office parties, and town fiestas. What they don’t possess is the precious green card to confirm their status as a legal resident of the U.S. But why should this single piece of paper override other proofs that a person has the right to exist in the community? To elevate the green card as the supreme document that determines if a person is documented or undocumented is to devalue other life-affirming activities and human interactions. How can a person live as an undocumented outcast when he is loved somewhere as a child, parent, spouse, brother, sister, and friend? The humanity and identity of a person must not be decided by the green card alone. A person’s self-worth must not be affected by 20th century categories like undocumented persons, unauthorized immigrants, or unregistered aliens. There can never be real equality as long as we perpetuate the racist and elitist mentality that some human beings deserve to be ostracized because they are supposedly undocumented. What needs to be amply documented is not just the residency and citizenship papers of immigrants. In the time of reckoning, what will be measured is a person’s contribution to the cause of humanity.

Low-skilled. A worker can never be low-skilled. Politicians and their apologists may be low-skilled but not workers. Even routine functions in an assembly line require specialized skills. Minimum wage earners are categorized as low-skilled yet their collective labor generates surplus profits for capitalists. In order to drive down wages, workers must be taught to accept that they possess low skills. Low pay for low skills. They are conditioned to believe through the schooling process that physical labor is done with little thinking and mental ability. Low-skilled workers merely follow orders from high-skilled superiors. The immediate effect is the downgrading of the real value that workers contribute to the economy while high premium is placed for the so-called intellectual labor. It is as if a manual worker survives the day without using his cognitive skills and creative abilities. The institutionalized impact is the sorting of individuals into low-skilled, middle-skilled, and high-skilled categories. Each segment is offered a set of opportunities based on the skills that individuals are supposed to possess. Low-skilled parents are most likely to produce low-skilled children. It’s the intergenerational curse. Beware: the unlucky low-skilled workers are high-skilled survivors, fighters, warriors, and revolutionists

Related articles:

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2 Responses to “You do not self-demolish yourself. Please.”

  1. I think these terms of degradation stem from the current economic and political structure. These are “symptoms” of how society really measures a person’s worth: not through his reasoning abilities, talents, and intrinsic good nature, but through economic technicalities such as how he or she makes money. And as long as this structure stands, there’s going to be blatant inequality and misjudgment among the people.

    fjord kaia

  2. Itong pananaw na ito ang mismong dahilan kung bakit hindi umuunlad ang Pilipinas. Higit sa responsibilidad ng gobyerno, ang responsibilidad ng magkaroon ng maayos na buhay ay responsibilidad mo sa sarili mo, sa iyong pamilya at sa bansa. Sa taong madiskarte, ikahihiya mo ang pagasa sa kapwa lalo’t higit sa gobyerno. Mali an isiisi ito sa gobyerno at palabasin na kalabisan ang sila’y palipatin sa ibang higit na ligtas na lugar. Unang-una, kung hindi mo naman talaga pag-aari ang lupa, wala kang karapatan na manirahan o magtirik ng tirahan sa lupang iyon. Wag mong isisi sa gobyerno na mahirap ka at walang sariling tirahan, sarili mo lang ang dapat mong sisihin – walang iba.


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