As I enjoyed my steaming cup of peppermint mocha in a Starbucks branch somewhere in Mandaluyong, I could not help but overhear the conversation from the table behind me. They were probably my age, at least mid-20s or younger, and much like every coffee table conversation right now, they were talking about the upcoming national elections.
“Why let the squatters vote? Kung tutuusin nga sila ang may kasalanan kung bakit nananalo ang kurakot e. Mabilis kasi mabola ng mga pulitiko,” exclaimed one of them. “Pano nga naman uunlad ang bansa kung ganito kabilis makaupo ang trapo? Konting bola lang parang ewan na,” said another. Their banter went on and on. Uneducated, tax evaders, burdens of society, lazy, filthy, criminal. They described them as the useless drudges of Philippine society: the very reason why our country stays the same. The worst part of it all, deep inside, I agreed with them.
We have now found ourselves a darker depravity than that of racism, where we have started to discriminate based on economic standing. In a world where money talks more than gender, race, or background, this has become the new means to divide the superior and inferior, only now people find more concrete and persuasive means to justify it, and unfortunately, people, including me, have become part of it. However, in the end, these facts which we so believe about the impoverished are no different from the facts about blacks being inferior to whites. They hold so little truth, and more of hate in its place.
The poor do not choose to be poor. They do not choose to live in slums, nor do they choose this way of life. They do not choose to become the victims of a bumbling social system, nor do they wish to suffer the inadequacies of their lives. They do not choose to be taken advantage of by opportunistic and malevolent entities, to be enslaved, to do the things even we cannot fathom doing. They do not choose the lives they have. We can all say that they made their choices. And maybe, some of them do have the choice. What of the others though? What kind of choices are left if death and suffering is all that awaits them should they refuse? Some does not represent a whole, and generalizing them is no different from racism or stereotyping. It is easy to take the moral high ground, only if you don’t get the short end of the stick in life. It is easy to judge when we never look back and judge ourselves.
To vote is a constitutional right. It is the right of every Filipino, a right that our heroes fought, bled and died for. It was not just us who feel like Illustrados simply because we were born privileged and met with a better start. No matter what school we came from, what high ranking job we hold, or whatever royal bloodline we came from, we have no right to strip others of anything, especially their rights. We should have evolved past that. After decades of fighting for equal rights, and countless wars against oppression, we still find ourselves in the same predicament, only it takes form in a new way. We have been taught not to be better than other people, but better than the past mistakes of history. We are suppose to be the new generation of compassion and understanding, not the reincarnation of hatred and discrimination of ages past. Such things exist because we let it, we justify its existence, and we deem it as a norm. We have let it fester in ourselves. We think so highly of ourselves, and so lowly of them. We have come to hate our own people. We have become the very cancer of society.
These are words that I say to myself now, for I too carry such a depravity, I too am an arrogant privileged. Now I bask in the hypocrisy and share of it all and the shame. I only wish I stood up that day, and told them, as much as I tell myself, these words that you, dear reader, have come to witness. I wish I had stood and told them they haven’t an inkling of idea who these people are to judge them so, and they do not have to right to take their choices away from them. Life throws them very few good choices. What makes us any better to decide for them?
In the end of it all, General Luna says it the best: May mas malaki tayong kalaban –ang ating sarili.