Poor, Starving, and Angry: Why The Right to Vote is Still Yours
Corruption is not the only thing to blame for the disastrous results of the May 13th Philippine Midterm Elections, which resulted in President Duterte’s stronger hold over Philippine politics with his allies winning the majority of 12 Senate seats. Systemic classism, elitism, and the after-effects of colonialism are major culprits, too.
TRIGGER WARNING: Child abuse, trauma, murder, neglect, domestic violence, drug abuse, addiction, depression, starvation, poverty
Written for the poor and exhausted of Mandaluyong City, Philippines.
You’re born kicking and screaming in a house the size of a shoe box while your uncle is shot to death outside; his brains, blood, and body laid out in the blinding sun for three days before the city’s clean-up crew scrapes his veins, residue, and soul off the floor.
Your mom’s a teenager and your istambay dad’s a deadbeat who’s good for nothing else except finding the best crack in Mandaluyong City. They met at the annual piyesta where your mom was hopscotching away her childhood while your dad ogled her ripeness with his twenty-something gang of misfits. They messed around in your Tito Boy’s tricycle, and nine months later you were born.
You grow up starving. You do not know what being full feels like. You stand outside local restaurants watching other kids eat. When Manong Guard sees you, he eschews you away with his baton because you’re dirtying up the storefront window and says you’re bad for business. You salivate at the thought of eating Jollibee fried chicken, buchi from Chow King, or mechado from the local carinderia. Most days, you come home hungry.
At home, your mom pours hot Nescafé coffee on a bed of rice so at least you’ll have sabaw. You eat coffee and rice everyday - sometimes only once a day.
To alleviate your hunger, you join your kalaros and instead of playing holen, patintero, or agawan base, you beg for money on Shaw Boulevard. From 4–7 pm, the best and brightest of Mandaluyong City are all stuck in traffic, so you exploit this form of imprisonment to beg for money. You make sure you put your sad face on — you realize they give you more when you do. Sometimes you run into foreigners who are terrified of you because you knock on their taxi windows and “break their bubbles” — and the hungrier you are, the harder you bang on their windows. Either way, the white men and women always look guilty and sad for you so they give you lots of money. In contrast, when you beg from your fellow Filipinos and you get spit on, laughed at, and waved away like an annoying mosquito. Sometimes you think begging is the only way anyone sees you and your pain.
Today you make fifty pesos [~$1 USD]. You inhale the smell of money because at this moment you are rich, and you don’t know when you’ll feel like this again. You take your day’s earnings home to your mom, but instead of buying you a meal, she uses the money to buy a bottle of Ginebra gin. You lie to yourself and say that this is the last time she will do this. By the time you’re six years old, you realize that the amount of last times is infinite.
When you’re eight years old, your cousin Ato teaches you how to inhale Rugby, an all-purpose contact cement. You realize your hunger goes away every time you inhale it; you fall in love with this substance because it takes away your pain. By the time you’re 10 you’re addicted, and you become just like your father. You worship Rugby like your mother worships Santo Niño. At night when your father is gone, your mother prays to a God who doesn’t listen. You don’t understand why she even bothers praying for your soul every night — you are all already in Hell.
During the days you are not begging for money or snorting Rugby, your mother forces you to go to public school. You walk to and from school where they teach you subject matter from recycled books dating back to the ’80s. They teach you about Filipino heroes who fought for liberation: Jose Rizal, Gabriela Silang, Andres Bonifacio. For a split second you hope these people can help you — but then you realize that they lived over a century ago. You are forced to learn English. Ms. Magsaysay teaches you the white man’s language and demands that you speak it at all times in order to seem “world-class”. It is the school’s law that you’re to speak English in hallways, bathrooms, classrooms — if they catch you speaking Tagalog, you get sent to the Principal’s office where you get beat with a bamboo stick. You hate speaking English because it feels abnormal; forced. You lose interest in school and wonder why you need to seem world-class if the only world you’ll ever know is the one where your dad’s a drug addict, your mom’s a drunk, and you’ll always be poor.
Your teenage years go something like this: You inhale Rugby. You go through a pack of Hope cigarettes a day. You drink Red Horse beer for breakfast. You drink your mom’s leftover Ginebra for lunch. You snort more Rugby for dinner. After dinner, you walk into your shoe box house and find your mother and father doing shabu. You go to your bedroom and try to practice your cursive, but you realize there is no money to buy lined paper.
At 15, you give up school because you finally realize that there is no point in studying for people like you in this world that wants nothing to do with you. The glutathione-worshiping elite doesn’t have room in their colonial circle for your brownness.
You’re 18 when the next election comes. Several candidates campaign in your city. You find it funny that they are now begging you for your vote. They do whatever it takes — sing an OPM hit, hire a DJ, spout false promises — you can name every marketing scheme out there and each candidate has done it. You want to vote for the candidates who have political experience, but you can’t understand what they’re talking about because they speak in English half of the time. You don’t trust the candidates who have an education because you believe that the education system is a business curated by the rich, something the elite wants to keep broken. You believe that the government and the elite are partners who utilize impoverished peoples’ backs, legs, and limbs to stand on for their personal gain. You know better than to vote for the guy who was jailed for corruption, but he made some funny jokes and promised that if you voted for him you’d be guaranteed a job in your local government.
You wonder why the rich can’t add up the facts, that you live in a pigsty with the people you love and the people you love are addicts, drunks, and whores. You wonder why the people in condominiums at BGC can’t subtract their elitism, colorism, after-effects of colonialism and help their own people because at the end of the day you are all brown and you are all Filipino and you all come from the land that supercilious men and women have trashed due to greed, corruption, and inability to comprehend that poor people are people, too.
And they wonder why the country is divided. They wonder why people like you are apoplectic and indignant. The alta sociedad is content to watch the nation sink as long as they are absolutely untouched.
Your twenties go something like this: You inhale Rugby. You go through a pack of Hope cigarettes a day. You drink Red Horse for breakfast. You drink your mom’s leftover Ginebra for lunch. You snort more Rugby for dinner. After dinner, you walk into your shoebox house and you, your mother, and father enjoy shabu. You inhale more Rugby so you can go to sleep. You steal from stores at the mall. Sometimes when you really need the money, you sell drugs. And when you’re in trouble, you pray to the God your mother prays to.
When you’re 25, your city holds its annual piyesta. You decide to go just to see what type of trouble you can get into that day; it’s boring at home and your life’s an endless vast of nothingness. Your cousin Ato and his gang of hooligans slither their way to you with a cigarette. You smoke it. From far away, you see a cute girl playing hopscotch. She looks pure and untouched. You think that it is almost miraculous that she comes from this Hell. You go up to her and introduce yourself. You make her laugh. She likes you. You ride the Ferris wheel together. She kisses your cheek. You kiss her back. You mess around on the Ferris wheel.
Nine months later, your baby is born kicking and screaming in a house the size of a shoe box to a teenage mom and a father who’s good for nothing else except finding the best crack in Mandaluyong City.
Christine Bumatay is a storyteller, social media professional, and Pilipinx culture advocate born and raised between Mandaluyong City, Philippines and the Bay Area. An alumna of USC's Public Relations program, she also has 23 years of experience in katarayan (RBF) and non-plastikan. She founded Sosyal Gal, an ever-changing digital landscape showcasing the thoughts and opinions of a Genzennial Pilipina living in California.
In her spare time, she enjoys voracious reading/eating, and responding to people on Instagram and Twitter. Find her hyphy work on Medium, Hella Pinay, and her mom's Facebook statuses.