To the anti-squatters: Let them eat cake!
When the French queen Marie Antoinette was told that due to the increase in taxation the poor had been left starving, unable to buy even a loaf of bread, she had notoriously said, “Let them eat cake.” While the legitimacy of that anecdote is in question, it is standing testament of how oblivious the corrupt French court, led by Marie Antoinette’s husband King Louis XVI, was towards the plight of her citizens.
The rest is, quite literally, history. The abuses of the court birthed the French revolution, helmed by the slogan “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.” After the storming of the Bastille, the revolutionary forces captured the king and queen, tried them for crimes against the people, and sentenced them to death. Up to now, France is free of the monarchy.
The past two paragraphs are not everyday knowledge talked about in the Philippines. If you are starving and you do not have enough money to feed your twelve children, you wouldn’t care about French history. However, the story of the French revolution is taught in our high schools and in our colleges. Not directly, sure, but what college graduate can raise his hand and say that he has never read or at least heard of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities or Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables?
It is therefore quite peculiar why it is the middle class, those who have had the luxury of education, those who have read Dickens or have watched the recent Les Mis film, those who have cheered on the heroes and idolized the ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, that condems the actions of the impoverished sectors of our society.
Recent news has highlighted the issue of squatters, a derogatory term used to refer to those who erect cardboard houses on other people’s lands. For them to be evicted, the owners of the land have to provide them with an alternative place to live, and, in the case of the government, new housing constructed by volunteer groups such as Gawad Kalinga.
This move towards government-sponsored socialism has been met with severe backlash from Philippine society. The outrage expressed by most people was how come these, to use their terms, ne’r-do-wells, hooligans, good-for-nothings, are given free housing from the taxpayer’s money, while they, the middle-class, struggle financially. They claim that the government is babying these poor people. They chant that the squatters are abusive and arrogant.
It is very ironic. These middle class citizens, those who work cushy entry-level government or corporate jobs, have forgotten. By worshipping the capitalist beast of the West, fresh graduates put on suits and ties and start working for US-based companies, those that line Pasig and Ortigas and, well, all cities really in Metro Manila. They think they make good money, when in fact Western corporations are so grateful for low wages in Asian countries — or, why did you think they were outsourcing in the first place?
They’ve prostituted themselves to the West and they’ve had their first paycheck. They think they’re rich. They think they’re better than everyone else. They’ve forgotten that they were once probinsyanos; they rode carabaos, they swam in creeks, they played patinetero. And now, safe from the blistering tropical heat, they watch from their windows as manong mantataho braves the agony of the sun or as manong drayber takes another circle.
This is not to disparage the work done by the middle class. I’m sure it’s important (to someone). But you cannot play the lazy card. Manang labandera works too. Manong constru works too. Manong guard and manong janitor from your company work. And they work as much, if not even more so, than you do. Try, just try, to lift the taho cans for a day. Try to construct buildings as you are carried sixty feet up with nothing more than a rope. Try to pour coffee, clean tables, mop up vomit for a day. Then take a look at how much you made. It’s at the very most half of what you would normally take home. Now budget that for eight people.
If you play the education card and show your diploma from your prestigious UAAP school, that is also equally meaningless. You graduated. Congratulations. You are not special; you are lucky. To graduate elementary is fortunate. To graduate high school is an honor. To graduate college is a priviledge. Education should be a right for everyone; sadly, it is not. Because when your family of twelve can barely afford to eat, fuck Shakespeare, let’s buy tuyo.
If you play the taxes card, first of all, congratulations for paying taxes. But we all do. Or haven’t you heard of VAT?
Taxes go towards the government and (ideally) back towards the people in the form of government services. In a perfect world, this includes socialized services such as medicine, education, and livelihood. That is the reason why we have public hospitals and schools. But a good part of the responsibility of a government is to safeguard the lives of every citizen. EVERY citizen. That is why European and American countries have welfare and employment insurance, to recognize that everyone may not be financially capable at all times, and to provide assistance. Why then is the government given a hard time when it is doing its job? That is the role of the state (well, at least ideally).
And, finally, if you really want to play the abusive card, be very careful of who you accuse with abuse. Yes, I agree, there is something abusive.
For example, a nation that has forsaken its children. A people that forget. In grade school, we are taught “nationalistic” values such as bayanihan, wherein when one person needs help moving, everyone in the barrio lifts the bahay kubo. A culture that treats the poor as dirt, that dismisses their anguish as laziness, that mocks their hunger, that glorifies their pain. Where is compassion? Where is empathy? Where is that Filipino nationhood that we all seek to build? Or are they just empty statements for Facebook statuses?
They are squatters and they are poor, let them get jobs!
They are hungry and they are poor, let them eat cake!
The middle class that had the opportunity to read Dickens and Hugo, that have condemed Versailles, are now the Marie Antoinettes of society. They do not understand. This is not abuse. Because what part of they are the victims of daily abuse is so hard to understand? When you see the house where all your children have grew up torn down by demolitionists — no, this is not abuse. This is not arrogance. This is rebellion. This is revolution.
Would you side with your countrymen and raise a flag for liberte, egalite, et fraternite? Or would you prefer the sweet fall of the guillotine against your neck?
- Bianca’s Classy Trash Talk Against Squatters… (jcc34.wordpress.com)
- Squatting syndicates victimizing real squatters (opinion.inquirer.net)
- Manila Squatters in anti-yuppy riots (thefreeonline.wordpress.com)