Metro Manila, Cities of Broken Dreams

Metro Manila - Class Contrast (Photo by Benjamin Myers)

Metro Manila – Class Contrast (Photo by Benjamin Myers)

Learning about the Philippines is a mammoth task. There is simply so much to find out and not being a Filipino means everything is a mystery and you are naturally prone to much misunderstanding about what you are seeing. All you have to go on is your own eyes but still much of it is difficult to comprehend. You see poverty, then drive or even walk a short distance and you see malls with condominiums alongside. Walk a little further, you see people sleeping on the streets then a little further on you witness school kids in fast food restaurants with laptops and tablets.

You notice that not everything is what it may seem. There are many very decent cars on the roads, people eat in expensive restaurants and as you leave the building, you walk past children picking out plastic bottles for recycling from the bins outside.

You see so much poverty and then you observe the other extremes of wealth and a lot in between wealth and poverty. It’s not everyone who has neither time nor patience to research and we tend to ask questions of people we know here and start putting together a jigsaw. Naturally, what you’re told depends on the beliefs of the person you ask as everyone has their own perspective; it’s very easy to be mis-educated.

You notice a lot of haves and a lot of have nothings and you cannot work it out for yourself. This blog only touches on the edges of the politics as giving a more detailed account of reasons for what you are witnessing is beyond me. So I will give only a surface impression and explanation of what you see as a visitor. To try to go into the subject deeply and giving an insight based on what I have learnt is not wise.

However, I do ask questions and naturally, one of them is why there are many people in certain areas that sleep on the streets. Why are there so many people trading on every available little space and how come Metro Manila became so overcrowded?

The account I will give is based on what I’ve read, seen, and what I’m told. I do not pretend to be an authority on the subject, and wherever I am inaccurate, I welcome being corrected.

It sounds like a familiar tale for many capital cities, but for some reason the streets paved with gold belief has in the past been very widely held, and judging by the amount of people pouring into the capital still, it seems to be a belief still held by many.

In the provinces, work is scarce. This is being addressed with various livelihood projects, the building of more roads to markets and this has been going on for many years all designed to encourage people to remain where they are in the provinces. The last administration made great strides in starting infrastructure projects and some of the good work is still happening. Sadly, every time a new administration comes into power, perfectly decent projects and ideas are squashed for political reasons of not wishing political rivals to gain any credit.

Metro Manila has huge amounts of people here who originate from all over the Philippines, who came and are still coming to seek better work opportunities. The story often is that family members are encouraged to take their chances in the metropolis, and in many cases, the family left behind in the province thinks that their problems will soon be over, and the money they earn will help those back home. They set off to Metro Manila in the belief that jobs are easier to come by. Sadly and not surprisingly, it is simply often not the case.

So a brother or sister, even father or mother will leave home and arrive on the ferry from all over the archipelago, sometimes with nowhere to live and hardly a peso in their pocket. It’s not an unusual sight to see whole families making the trip with nowhere to stay and no money, and the street is their home till something better comes along. That’s only one part of the equation as often they have aunties, uncles, cousins or friends that will help them with somewhere to stay as they try to make their mark in the capital. The heat is on and over the coming weeks or months, they spend time learning that Metro Manila does not offer the dreams they hoped it held.

So it could be fair to say that Metro Manila is a capital of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. That sadness is evident everywhere you look. So many of these people have one hard existence but they persevere with their search as to go back home is an admission of failure, and having to disappoint the family that had such high hopes for them is a crushing blow for the returnee and the expectant family.

I mention these things because this is often the backdrop to what you are witnessing in the capital. As a further consequence, the overpopulation and demand means that the property rentals are higher and many who own property see this as an opportunity to make cash and rent out every available space often within their own house. One thing you always hear in Metro Manila is how good a business owning property can be. You are rarely short of takers and rents are high compared to the provinces.

So the result is people living in tiny little rooms, sharing facilities with other tenants commonly and it simply becomes an existence of work and sleep. Privacy is a luxury that many cannot enjoy. Many others don’t even have the luxury of a room and live in dormitories or bed spacers as they are locally known.

Obviously, not everyone’s a loser and some do get lucky and find a job. Some fall right on their feet and even find a decent job especially if they are college graduates. For the high school graduate, it’s very hard indeed as even the most menial of jobs sometimes require a college diploma.

Not only that, it seems that other qualifications are a standard also, such as being under 25, and what they term in the job advert as having a pleasing personality, which I believe has mixed meanings. When it states a pleasing personality is required, these jobs are not for males; there is a clue in there for you.

As a visitor, it can take you a long time if at all to work out what is going on in the internal organs of this collection of cities and in many cases, all over the Philippines. This is a part of the reason why Metro Manila has such a population problem as so many from the provinces have come here over the years.

Metro Manila is bursting at the seams, yet they still come ever hopeful and often ending up disappointed. It’s one of the many tragic tales of life in the Philippines, a country full of disillusionment and little hope for so many. What will stop them coming I don’t know, but if they believe that the capital is their best chance, it’s almost scary to imagine how hard life must be for some in the provinces. The Philippines is a beautiful country and not everything is as I describe it in this article. But the reasons for overpopulation in the capital is very much related to some long term failings of government, business and church over many decades leaving the provinces neglected and subsequently bringing a greater problem to the capital, overpopulation.

There are sunnier tales to be told about Metro Manila life and I fully intend to tell it as time goes by. I describe this situation mainly because a visitor cannot fail to notice the many problems around. Overpopulation is the main contributor to the shortcomings. It’s a question that many will ask. I’ve tried to answer it. It’s senseless to indulge in blame game. It’s far better to seek out solutions and make people aware of good things that are happening.

There are fewer unequal societies anywhere than the Philippines. You can draw your own conclusions from that. Nonetheless, there are efforts to address these problems and encourage people to remain in the provinces. The usual obstacle to progress and development as well as change is a lack of political will by all too many that stands for election for all the wrong reasons. Far too many politicians are from rich families that extend themselves into politics to further their own aims; the losers are always the people who foolishly elect them. This blog is intended to promote understanding and some basic explanations to visitors as to what they are seeing when they pass through Metro Manila.

To those that have accused me of painting negative pictures, all I can say is I can’t describe a flowerbed in a garden of weeds. There are some flowers in the garden of Metro Manila for sure and I will be coming to that. But when I set out to explain this city to someone who isn’t aware, then naturally overpopulation is possibly the most visible thing to the eye, and I cannot say the reason is because it’s so lovely, everyone wants to be here. I think sometimes that is what is expected of me and a non-rosy report gets frowned upon. All I can say to those people is “get real, Philippines.”

But change is slowly coming around. Real progress is far away. When the problems are removed from the eye, that’s when I can accurately say that things are getting better. It’s the people that have a will for change. A young and more aware population I hope will drive that change. Government isn’t quite on it yet and self-interest is still the main obstacle to change. The hope is that this young and disillusioned populace is starting to demand it. My other hope is that this will eventually bring about political reforms that benefit the people. Only time will tell.



Filed under Culture, Impressions, Manila, Philippines

4 responses to “Metro Manila, Cities of Broken Dreams

  1. fred santos

    I was a son of a farmer born in a bucolic rural. In our community knows each other and working in a farm harmoniously. I finished my grades school bare footed or sometime on bakya. With patience and hard work I finished my secondary education 21 kms away from home riding on a bus early in the morning. Time to come to college I asked my parents will go to manila to pursue my higher education working during the day and have a night school. In going home am just walking to save 10 cents on jeepney ride. In those days no problems about drug, crime is very low and no one molest you in the street. Because of my work am a messenger/utility man I can see not much squatters on esteros and other places this in the year 1963 last year term of Poor Boy of Lubao. Then the year of Mcoy came and incidentally am working in an office which is making the blue print of total electrification of the whole archipelago and describing all the sources of energies from Generating Sets, hydro electric turbine, coal fired turbines, building dams for electrifications and farming. Main Power Source were Ambuklao, Maria Cristina falls aside from Meralco, Visayan Electric in Cebu and Davao Power and Light. All of these will be integrated with a Common Grid linking them with other Sources Power of energy for a goal of Electrifying the country on Area Coverage with the institution and creation of Electric Cooperatives funded mostly by USAID, Japan and Germany. The Main Reason is to make available of energy required for industrial and commercial dispersal simultaneously with buildings of Ports of main islands for export/import influx. Naturally with the dispersal of factories and other commerce it will not be concentrated on Metro Manila. Some were build in Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Dumaguets, Cebu, Zambales, Bataan, in Bicol Region etc. this will follow the building of higher education and housings not totally concentrated in Metro Manila. And because of needed additional energy of booming industry in the blue print the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was instituted to make available power on the elecrification Grid up to Mindanao. All of these I observed it as an ordinary worker during the term of Mcoy. Please excuse me am not a politician nor promoting Pres Marcos. I just want to share some observations and experiences and am living a far distance thousands miles away to Perlas ng Silangan . . . Still in my mind of Questions. Did all of these since day one of Marcos have Master Plan to depopulate Metro Manila ? Did He also have a master Plan for Communications buildings all bridges and highways linking all islands in preparation for de urbanizations ? GOD BLESS THE PHILIPPINES


  2. Jorge B

    I’m from the middle class.Great article sir very inspiring and enlightening, I hope one day Manila will see the light.


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