Time warp

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Friday, February 21, 2014

ALL it takes is a few pesos of change that allows one to somewhat enter into a time warp. A brief jeepney and bus ride into the hinterlands and outskirts of our cities here in Mindanao transport us to how it must have been like 100 years before. The dusty road, the rickety old houses, and general lack of economic activity amid the rustic scene are jarring sights considering that just a jeepney ride away is your favorite fast food joint, the malls, traffic, and neon lights.

I had this thought while travelling through the coastal road of one of the provinces of Mindanao seemingly left behind by time and opportunity.

And years of criss-crossing the island have taught me that there are many such places just at the edges of the few bustling commercial centers that dot this place. Here, time seemed to stop. And the same kind of harsh life during the time of the conquistadors is still apparent on the faces of the men and women that you see on the road.


There are few young men and women in these places, and if they are any, they cannot wait to leave. The laughter of children can still be heard around but it can be surmised that as soon as they reach the age when they could be gainfully employed or be sent abroad, they vacate their hometown for the city and elsewhere leaving behind their ageing parents to tend to the land if they are lucky enough to own a patch. On the faces of the old, are the harsh lines brought about not just by age but the weather-beaten and tired marks of a generation who worked on the possible bounty of the land only to be frustrated with every harvest.

In general, the land remains harsh and unproductive, and if they are of benefit they turn in produce below their capacities given the absence of irrigation, farm-to-market roads, and over-all support necessary to make farming worthwhile. The productive areas are usually those owned by a small sector with capital who can provide all the farming inputs and the economies of scale afforded by their sizable landholdings. But for the small farmer squatting on slopes and without access to machinery, it is a daily struggle of brawn, sweat, and tears as the changing weather of farm-gate prices and fickle seasons challenge their efforts every time.

Given the general absence of government support for this vital sector, it is no wonder that they have considered farming, the major industry that provides food on our table, as more of a gamble than a means of a decent and sustainable livelihood.

It is, indeed, easy to romanticize the countryside for its lush greenery and easy pace of life. We, who are, transient visitors from the cities who only appreciate the whiff of fresh air and welcome the natural hues of the countryside in our momentary visits. But it is different when you actually reside here. The fish catch has been dwindling in recent years, the floods from the uplands have also been incessant and unforgiving, and shrouding the rustic view of the Philippine countryside is a creeping fog of hopelessness and despair. Our rural areas feel neglected and abandoned in the era of trickle-down economics where the emphasis of infrastructure support and government attention has always been the cities where the votes are.

Our current notions of development also reflect this misappreciation of the importance of the rural sector in the viability of our national economy. We consider a place to be developed if there are retail outlets and malls. We herald the arrival of big superchains but fail to ask where the money for consumer spending will come from. We have a burgeoning service sector but no solid industry and rural economy to back it up. For decades now, we have been relying on the remittance of our gallant OFWs to shore up our economy in a cycle of dependency that in effect stunts economic development towards meaningful directions.

This is what happens in a country where those in leadership with vast amounts of discretionary power and resources is bereft of any outlook for national development. In the intramurals between the elite, which has been taking place since the birth of the republic, all the power of government is concentrated on a singular goal one administration after another; and that is how to keep themselves and their allies in political and economic power. This socio-historical vortex has kept us in a time warp of underdevelopment and backwardness so apparent in our rural areas.


(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 21, 2014.


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