THERE WERE TWO major topics in the news this week, the tanim-bala scandal and the APEC Summit. The first is being dealt with by the Senate and other agencies, and has been discussed to satiation. The second is what I’d like to reflect on, if I may.
For almost a year now, the Executive has been agog with plans for APEC 2015. As the host, we should hospitably showcase “the beauty of the Philippines” and prove that it’s “more fun” here (but hopefully not by making guests run the gauntlet at our airports). All this is proper, and with our innate resourcefulness I imagine we can do this at a reasonable expense. Considering the calamities we’ve been through recently, government funding should rightly prioritize the hardest-hit communities in various stages of recovery.
Yet it is reported that we are spending Php9.8 billion on this party. That seems like a windfall to me. To put it in context, that’s about the cost of 1,000 upscale houses today. Ambassador Marciano Paynor, Jr., director general of the APEC 2015 National Organizing Council (NOC), assures the public, however, that this is but a “fraction” of what other host countries have spent. China, for instance, paid $95 million just to landscape the Yanqi lake environs in 2014.
“That is an investment. It is something that stems out of our own membership in multilateral forums…If we think that we need not spend all this money, then let’s not be members of the APEC, UN, or ASEAN and just be like a hermit kingdom.”
That’s a non sequitur; after all, no one is against membership. Some of us are merely saying a little frugality wouldn’t have been out of line.
I will not be attending any of the sessions. They say APEC is about economics and not politics, and I am no economist (I can hardly manage arithmetic these days). And so I will not be going to the PICC. In fact, I don’t think I will be going anywhere next week because most of the thoroughfares will be inaccessible to Metro Manila residents, though the APEC delegates and their staff will be able to freely roam our metropolis. I was supposed to conduct a workshop next week but I had to cancel it because Metro Manila is practically on lockdown.
And I heard on the lunchtime news today that the PNP is notifying those who live or work along Roxas Boulevard not to look out the window when a foreign dignitary passes by. PNP Chief Ricardo Marquez is requesting the “cooperation” of the public with this security measure which, he hastens to inform us, was also implemented during Pope Francis’s visit last January. Ah yes, there were no people dangling out of windows then, I recall.
I realize the security forces are being circumspect, but I, for one, am beginning to feel paranoid.
A certain Catholic bishop raised a hue and cry over the homeless who were offered Php4,000 to rent a place of their own during the summit. Malacañang has disavowed any effort to “hide” them just as they denied that several were “hidden” in a Batangas resort when the Pope was in town.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said:
“Iyong pagtulong po ng DSWD ay hindi po limited sa tuwing mayroong malaki pong event ngunit nakikita po natin itong pagkakataon na stimulant ’yung pagtulong sa kanila para makapag-transition naman po sila from the streets into dignified living quarters.”
The DSWD explained that this is part of their Modified Conditional Cash Transfer for Homeless Street Families (MCCT-HSF) that began in 2012, in which beneficiaries receive rental assistance from 6 months to one year. According to an Inquirer report, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman said that “under the training, the homeless would acquire a set of living standards different from the norm precisely because they had been living in the streets for a long time.”
I wonder how this “training” is done. I imagine the experience for these street dwellers would be akin to my being gently lifted out of my humble middle class home and given the wherewithal to live for a while in a posh subdivision which would, hopefully, “stimulate” me to want it forever and thus find a way to afford it. I truly hope they are spending a portion of the taxpayers’ money on helping these homeless find work and not just enjoy “dignified living quarters.” If the needy are able to earn an honest day’s pay, that would grant them dignity enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone, and the impetus for a better life.
I am reflecting on all this because APEC 2015 affects me. I have had to change plans, re-schedule appointments, and hunker down for what looks to be like a week of forced leave, and I’m not sure what it’s for. There have been meetings on SMEs and improved trade among partners, and so on, but how does this trickle down to me and folks like me?
Ambassador Paynor said, “So why shouldn’t we give it importance? Do the common people feel it? Yes, they do. Part of what this organization does is to enhance business.”
He says we feel it. I’m trying to feel it, but all I feel is the middle-class struggle to make ends meet. Do you feel it? (I’m only asking the “common people,” mind you, not the uncommon.)
I’m not against the APEC per se but I truly hope that all the expense and security and the hassle we are being put through is worth it. I wish something concrete may come of these meetings that we can experience and relish. There is nothing I would want more than for the “common people” of this country to finally reap the harvest they faithfully sow in blood, sweat, and tears.
Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.