Friday, October 19, 2007

At the Hangar Market and Beyond

It is but an ordinary day here at Hangar market, October 17, 2007 at about half past twelve noon. The sky above us is grayish and forebodes a rather reluctant downpour amidst a humid air. This is a very busy place like no other. The small stage where the band BINHI will perform is occasionally surrounded by spectators who are mostly laborers: haulers, stevedores, vendors trying to sneek a little of their time to see a different yet familiar milieu in their time. This is where the foils of the earth seethe into growing and unkempt nails; into tonic muscles that reflect woven veins, dead-beat yet sardonically resilient. The smell of air undulates a deferential mixture of smoked fish, aroma of freshly picked and washed vegetables, the stink of the sewers, and the stupor of sweat. This is Hangar market; the heart of trade; trades of all kind. The place of payout for hard-earned work and produce.

The amplifiers worked to stir curiosity among the busy crowd; to attract each and every one in the market that something’s happening at this side, more than minutes of entertainment, this is to celebrate and dignify your labor: the fruit of one’s blood and sweat. Please come, please come. This event is simultaneously conducted nationwide to press the government to live up to its promise and to its covenant in meeting the Millennium Development Goals, one of which is the eradication of poverty in the country. The government pledged to this undertaking more than a decade ago. Four administrations bore witness to many reminders, events like this at Hangar market. It pledged time and again to eradicate poverty through institutional policies and hard-on statements of immediate action. Unfortunately, we’re here again to remind. Years have passed and the goals remained to be goals. Goals that are difficult to realize and achieve. The supposed timeline until the MDGs are reached is from 1990-2015. Previous administrations were able to cut poverty incidence by only single-digit percentages. Half of the population in the country is still living in poverty as of this year. They’re waiting for the Gods.

Why? Because there is no definite and sincere action from the government; only “motherhood” statements and initiatives. The current 10-point agenda of the Arroyo administration to eradicate poverty in the country is but a show-off; a metaphorical set of words perpetually inscribed on a tablet. Policies and programs adjunct to her agenda lacks any clarity and definitiveness. Programs being monitored by the National Anti-Poverty Commission implemented by national agencies breathe the ardor of traditional practices that could never be a rung to the fulfillment of poverty-reduction goals. What the country needs is an aggressive and motivated effort. Not mere mascots like Mang Pandoy and the Bangkang Papel sort that further annihilates hopes for a positive change.

But still, what will you get from a government which settles down at saying: “We have infused P1.5 million for the health care services of geographically isolated and depressed areas; P2.5 million in health care financing in the form of grants and subsidies . . .blah, blah, blah” (and more than a billion for the defense? Defense from what?).

And so here we are again. Reports say that this event has drawn more than seven million people all over the country pledging to end poverty. Here at Hangar market, the audience numbered at approximately 200+ individuals: mostly vegetable haulers, vendors, common tao or maggagawa as you may call them. Most of them listening intently to the music of BINHI while someone at a nearby stall plugged his ears with his two hands because of a newfound noise that stirred the latter’s usual life at the market. Another at the side was busy washing the soiled carrots and packing them in a transparent plastic bag. The woman peeking at the window of an old building is staring blankly at the skies. I looked up. The man standing beside me looked up, the others looked up. Our stares pierced the gray skies. After a few moments, BINHI ended the event with their finale song “Lalaya” which narrated the struggles of the Filipino people from the hands of the conquerors to the realms of poverty. BINHI sang the undying hope for freedom and the struggle that must be for its attainment.

As the sounds fade away, the crowd slowly dispersed until what’s left around the space is the small block of wood used as the stage and the inanimate words spoken before it that slowly drifted into the air like a feather dust blown by time. Hangar market was busy. . .busy until the end.