Beatific Natural Scenery and Compassionate Christianity Interspersed by Grinding poverty and Ruthless Corruption
Filipinos, along with Jews, Russians and Chinese are amongst the most persecuted throughout recorded history, considering all races and nationalities which still exist to this day. The Filipino people are made up predominantly of Asian immigrants from Indonesia and Malaysia who colonized the islands at approximately the turn of the 1st millennium A.D. There were already native aboriginals, who still exist in tiny pockets but have unfortunately been demoted to the lowest rungs of society and often live a begging or foraging lifestyle on one of several small islands. These native aboriginal Filipinos are very short and slight in stature, rarely exceeding 4’6” in height (1.37m). The Philippines was Conquered by the Spanish conquistadors during the 16th century. But they did not willingly submit without a tooth and nail fight. The resultant skirmishes led to the Spanish adopting a metal collar as part of their standard armour. This was due to ambushing Filipinos, who would routinely jump out from the foliage in a surprise attack, decapitating an unsuspecting Spanish soldier in one fell swoop. Their weapons, although comparatively primitive, were very effective for close hand to hand combat and some are still used to this day in Escrima: The martial art of the Philippines.
On my first visit to Philippines in 2009, I spent several weeks with my extended family and then island hopping alone. The everpresent disparity between rich and poor was appalling. I recall visiting the presidential palace in Manila only to get refused entry due to lack of appropriate attire (I was wearing a vest and shorts). So walked back the way I had come. After what was only about 150 metres, I stopped halfway along a bridge and looked out to my right across the river which it spanned. The sight presented was one of abject squalor and pollution, made all the more appalling by its close proximity to the presidential palace.
Tiny shacks built on stilts lined each side of the river. The river itself was full of garbage and was infested with vermin. A gray silt seemed to suspend in its stagnating waters.image A couple of young girls perhaps no more than 7 years of age ran around me playfully. I asked them where they lived. They pointed over the side of the bridge. I looked down. There was what appeared to be no more than a shopping cart with a few makeshift plywood panels strapped upon wooden stilts. It seemed hard to believe that humans could inhabit such a construction which bore a greater resemblance to a makeshift chicken coop than a home.
Surprisingly, they seemed very happy, healthy and full of joie de vivre. I was touched and truly humbled by the deep sense of humanity encapsulated by the two little girls as I bade a cheerful farewell. Almost every time I got on a jeepney (an elongated jeep style hop on hop off taxi, remnant of the U.S. occupation during the time that the Philippines harbored the largest U.S. military base in Asia)image. Riding along in the back of the jeepney, it became clear we would have to stop at frequent points along the road to pay a toll charge to a man on the street. It was explained to me that this was a local tax enforced by the local politician. The men that waited on the roadside for jeepney handouts were often in a group. A group of ruffians to the casual observer. This ‘racket’ was not government regulated as far as I could tell and local inhabitants informed me that such rackets were run by family members or those loyal to the local politician. I had never witnessed such a farce before. It seemed to me like a step towards all out marshal law. Several times whilst making the trip to the neighbouring city of San Fernando, I passed by San Fernando airport. It stood out as although appearing to be newly built, it was derelict. I was told by a fellow jeepney passenger (who happened to be impressively fluent in English, and clearly well educated) that the airport was open several years ago, but had seldom been used. According to him, several flights were scheduled to run daily to the country’s capital Manila, however the local politician forced the airline to reserve 8 seats on every flight for his family and political allies. As the aeroplanes were small. They could not donate such a large proportion of tickets for the interests of the local politician and make a profit. So the airport remained unused for commercial flights. I verified this story with my family and other locals. They concurred. It was common knowledge. I envisaged a similar case occurring in my home country of the U.K. or any western country for that matter. In the west a politician would be committing professional suicide to even suggest such a farce. It would be like shooting himself in the foot with a mortar. image To get a foot on the political ladder in the Philippines you must be willing to put your life on the line. The higher up you go, the greater the death wish. Politicians running for government office typically require a huge entourage of security personnel and vehicles to go about their daily tasks. Any presidential hopefuls will be foolhardy to travel with any less than 5 armour plated vehicles up front and in the rear.
Despite the ubiquitous corruption and poverty that pervades the country. Filippinos are amongst the kindest and most generous people on the planet. During my stay with relatives, whenever a large family meal was prepared, kids from the neighbourhood would spontaneously turn up to join the queue of hungry mouths to be fed. Such universal kindness was second nature to all those in my family’s village and beyond.