spot Jeremiah. Photo by Rachel Alcantara
in the squatter settlement right before the Sucat interchange. The traffic it caused has gotten so infamous, everyone’s forgotten about the fire.
I’m not here to say that they deserve a home or that they don’t. For once, it’s not even important to me right now. I just want to share what I saw.
As I descended the Alabang exit, billows of smoke were already clouding the already polluted sky of the South Luzon Expressway. To my right was the Service Road; a narrow two-way street that housed a myriad of things, one of them the squatter settlement.
The firetrucks and election-ambulances (the ones that toss up portraits of the politicians that donate them) effectively sealed off three of the four lanes in our Hi-Way, leaving us drivers to bottleneck to the one lane. While we complained about the traffic, people outside complained about the loss of a home.
And I saw throngs - throngs – of people flood the already narrow Service Road, carrying effects and random bricker-bracker out of the fire. The ground was scorched, their houses were levelled, and for once – for once – I saw the bay from the Hi-Way. And the entire experience left me so jaded, maybe by virtue of its sheer randomness; the fact that it happened on a Saturday morning already stymied by this notorious heat and lazy aura. It was just so strange to see something like the fire come out of a day like this – a day without promises.
We’re just so distant these days, aren’t we? We just elected for a new government nationally, and the space between the car door and the burning wasteland of a settlement seem to be cross-dimensional. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad. That’s something for the politics to argue about.
I’m just here to validate the presence of an absence.
And where most people would see an extremely inconvenient turn of inconspicuous events (perhaps, even to the subscription of jingoistic fatalism), for once I thought: maybe these are the glitches in this system we live in, this frame of mind we live in, this modality of thinking we live in. Maybe a fire like this would allow us to – for once – wake up, “unplug” ourselves from the day-to-day droning of routine expeditions towards happiness. Maybe a fire like this would break us free from that omnipotent formula of Life: NORMALCY.
Maybe for once, the existence of humanity can be justified.
But if there’s one thing we can learn from living in this world, it’s that disappointment is apparently a prerequisite to survival. Ultimately, no one cared. No one cared enough to descend their cars, try to help out, give out a few bills or some water, offer a ride, whatever. I’m not even saying weshould, but we probably should. Or maybe we shouldn’t. Or maybe, (and this I think is more likely) it wouldn’t matter in the long run, because kindness and all the truisms that go with it are part of this great capitalist empire. Charity, trust, love, brotherhood, nationalism, kindness, honesty, culpability, responsibility…these are more than just values, these are markets.
Which probably explains why no one really cares about the fire; it’s just material possessions, what matters is we’re alright, we’ll get through this, etc. Maybe optimism’s helping the system make cash out of all of this. The point is, there’s no point – there’s no point in assuming changes in the system, we can only compromise to get the most out of what we got. In the end, we’ll still go do jobs that we probably don’t even like, earn money that we probably don’t even deserve and live lives that we probably don’t even appreciate. We all seem to be “plugged”, indefinitely, and we can’t even imagine a world where gasoline can be free, where we can give away our cars to complete strangers and we can hug and spread the love without any malice or fear of violence. The profundity lies in the irony of human mortality – precisely because we have nothing but opposing thumbs and a brain to mettle with, we have established ourselves on top of a food chain that we have defined. We could probably do more from this amazing natural advantage, but instead here we are; peddling cigarettes and candies sold by the piece, rolling 20 peso bills in between our fingers, standing poker-faced in front of the smoldering remains of our illegally-settled homes. The irony, my friends, is that we are already dead, but by sheer willpower we insist that we are still alive. The media has watered down our senses. The government has taken advantage of our immobility. Religion has reaped our souls in preparation for an end that we insist is more than just exaggerated common-sense.
But maybe, for once, we should place ourselves in the situation of those squatters who lost a home. Maybe they didn’t even lose much. Maybe relocation’s a good thing. Maybe not. But I think it helps us realize how we make a million choices, but we never decide for ourselves.
Maybe for once, we can acknowledge the presence of an absence.