Fear more than envy drives much of the media and the middle class’ insult-laden rants and self-righteous outrage over the occupation of idle National Housing Authority (NHA) housing projects in Bulacan by the urban poor group Kadamay (Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap — literally, gathering of mutually supportive poor). Even the news reports in the corporate media, whether in print or broadcast, have repeatedly referred to the occupation as “illegal.”
Some of the most high profile practitioners have also denounced in their commentaries its supposedly setting a “dangerous” precedent, in the process echoing ultra-conservative and former coup plotter Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s similar declarations. Presumably from the middle class, incensed individuals have also used social media to describe the poor as lazy and their occupation of government housing lawless.
Trillanes, however, went even further. Pandering to what he and his military cohorts apparently believe is widespread anti-communism among the population, he also said that Kadamay is a “communist front,” that claim being based, he said, on intelligence reports from his cohorts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Trillanes alleged that because of Bulacan’s proximity to Metro Manila, the occupation by members of Kadamay poses a security threat because it gives the New People’s Army (NPA) a sanctuary from where its guerrillas can attack the national capital region.
If that analysis sounds dated, it’s because it presumes that the NPA will be attacking Manila soon, in the same way that the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB — People’s Liberation Army) tried to capture the capital in the 1950s in an effort to seize political power within the three years the old, 1930s Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) said was all it needed to take power all over the country.
The reestablished, 1968 Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has long rejected that strategy. NPA units have long been in the provinces surrounding Manila, including Bulacan. They have not launched any attack in the capital in over two decades, the reason being rooted in their strategy, reaffirmed in the 1990s, of winning power first in the Philippine countryside as the precondition for seizing power nationwide through a protracted people’s war — which in fact is already in its 48th year, counting from 1969 when the NPA was organized, to the present.
If the military, as Trillanes’ obsolete analysis suggests, is indeed caught in a 1950s time warp, it really has something to fear, and those fears help explain why it has to resort to the same 1950s and Martial Law era tactics of harassing members of “communist fronts” and even abducting and assassinating them rather than allow anything to disturb things as they have always been.
The Kadamay occupation has become an occasion to once more demonstrate how deeply embedded not only in the military mind but also in the middle class are fears that things might yet change to their disadvantage in a country that has resisted transformation for well over a century. The most common expression of this fear is anti-communism, but it has also been verbalized in claims that Mr. Duterte’s rescinding an order to dislodge Kadamay members from the Bulacan projects encourages anarchy and lawlessness.
Judging from their expressions of self-righteous indignation over the media, particularly the Internet, and from their allegations that they’ve been working hard to pay for their own homes, one can assume that the most outraged people over the Kadamay occupation are from the middle class, which in this country refers to those families whose monthly incomes, says an article in the online news site Rappler (“Who are the Middle Class?”), exceed four to 10 times the government-set poverty threshold income of less than P7,890, or from P31,560 to P78,900.
The same article says that there is an upper middle income and an upper income class before you get to the “rich” category, to which only 1.5% of families belong.
One can surmise that rather than those who have the immediately available means to purchase their own condominium units or houses, those most offended by the supposed ease with which the poor (those families whose monthly income is below P7,890) acquired homes by occupying NHA housing units have little disposable income and have to scrimp to get the money together for their own homes.
In any event, although there have been deviations from the norm, fear of change is apparently a middle class attribute. Among the reasons for this tendency is that the present order does offer them opportunities for both economic and social advancement, and also because they feel entitled to them (they went to college; they work hard). Although there’s a touch of envy in the rants against Kadamay and even in the generalizations about the poor over social media, they fear that the occupation may trigger a revolutionary situation in which they would lose the advantages they have gained through their education and hard work, even if they graduated from a fifth-rate college and file papers in some obscure government job.
The desire for order and stability as the condition for political and social predictability not only drives many middle class people to look down on the intractable poor. It has also led them to approve the use of the most extreme, ironically even unlawful, measures for the sake of public peace.
They’re also known as the petty bourgeoisie — emphasis on the word “petty,” most of their views being in that category. They inveigh against demonstrations because they tie up traffic. They voted for Rodrigo Duterte for his promise to end the drug problem and crime by restoring the death penalty. They still constitute the main support for the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, and they shrug off its cost in human rights and lives, most of which are exacted from the poor that they disdain, anyway.
They pine for a mythical age of near perfection they identify with the Marcos terror regime — which they supported in 1972, then as now because it promised order. Many professionals, clerks, small tradesmen, and other middle class people thought then, for example, that the regime’s imposition of a curfew and the arrests of protesters was a small price to pay for ending the demonstrations they equated with chaos in the streets. It took 14 years for even some of them to realize that human rights are more important than their convenience and comfort. But in their hankering for order as a supreme value, they’re currently at the forefront of revising the crimes of martial law out of the public mind.
No one should be surprised at the virulence with which many media people — themselves from the middle class — and middle class elements greet any initiative by the poor among us to improve their lot. What would be surprising would be media and middle class support for such revolutionary initiatives as that of Kadamay’s, as well as for other changes in a society in which a few have everything while so many have nothing — and are even resented for daring to fight for such basic needs as shelter. The middle class’ being one with the poor and their aspirations would truly be a class act. But that might be as futile a hope as the yearning for permanence.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
Published in Business World
April 28, 2017