Unlike when I went to China, I landed in the Philippines with very little knowledge of the country’s history, or political or economic situation. What I knew about politics was what was published in US newspapers, which was very little, and what I knew about the history of the Philippines was from a course I took on imperialism in Asia as an undergrad. (And the only thing I remember from that was reading Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart.)
Working in news, I have a strong desire to “catch up” with what’s going on here. But it’s not only about catching up — it’s about getting multiple views on various subjects. So while I’m here in Manila, I will periodically post stories I find interesting about the Philippines, or book recommendations. You can ignore them completely, or read along if you find it interesting.
Right now I’m reading The Anti-Development State: The Political Economy of Permanent Crisis in the Philippines by Walden Bello (and many co-authors). The book dissects politically motivated economic decisions that have left a vast number of Filipinos living below the poverty line. It is highly critical of government initiatives that have been touted as the “way out” of economic troubles — particularly the deregulation of practically everything and Cory Aquino’s agrarian reform program.
My last choice, from A World Connected, an organization looking at the effects of globalization on the world’s poor, are two stories about micro-finance initiatives in urban and rural parts of the country. The first story is set in Tonda, a slum that is practically a stone’s throw away from the U.S. embassy on Manila Bay. I haven’t been to Tonda, but I read about it almost every day when I get to work and read the day’s news advisory. Tonda regularly shows up as a location for one of the day’s police stories — usually about a shooting/stabbing/other violent crime. The second story focuses on the country’s rural poor, which in my humble opinion, lead better lives than the urban poor, even if they live on equal or lesser amounts of money.
Although the topices of the stories from A World Connected are just as depressing, I thought they had a optimistic bent — and that’s probably why I enjoyed them so much. It’s also good reading to get an idea of what it’s like to live in a city/country where the divide between rich and poor is a very visible, tangible part of everyday life.