When the Not-All Speaks: On Kadamay and Liberal Philanthropism

I had two distinct experiences with Gawad Kalinga and their brand of granting free housing to the urban poor. In the first instance, I was able to participate in a GK integration program for the recipients of housing in a former squatter’s area in Parañaque which was improved through GK funding and programs. Aside from the usual feeding program for the children, the highlight of the program was a series of talks led by Catholic groups. The talks centered on traditional family roles and their importance in a peaceful family and community. The roles of the father and the mother are emphasized in the most Catholic way possible; the father works and the wife attends to the matters of the house. In addition, sexual ethics are discussed through a series of obscene analogies: men are like firecrackers; if you don’t light a firecracker up, they tend to explode almost immediately; women, on the other hand, are compared to an electric iron which needs to be plugged in to heat up (it sounds more obscene in Tagalog: kailangang isaksak bago uminit, isaksak which either means to plug in something, to stab someone, or the act of penetration in sexual intercourse). These values are taught to the recipients of housing with the intention of making them prim and proper citizens, dissuading them from leaving their new houses and put them for rent and squat elsewhere. In the second instance, we took a more hands-on approach, helping other GK volunteers in constructing the houses; we did everything from carrying sacks of cement to mixing cement and so on.

There is nothing special in this instance aside from the fact that participating in a GK volunteer activity is always a venue for other parts of society to do good deeds. Participation has some sort of cultic appeal to it. The volunteers, donning specially made volunteer t-shirts, designer denim pants, and original rubber shoes, come to the sites with the expectation of being welcomed by a throng of poor people cooperating with them in building a better community. This is embodied in the typical appearance of a GK village: dolled up single detached houses with neon or bright pastel colors on the outside, unpainted walls on the inside, and each house looking the same with a few plants to adorn the house and the community perimeters. GK promotional material always painted these communities as an evolution from the dense and unorganized communities formed by squatters to the proper communities with a sustainable sense of communal identity.

Gawad Kalinga (despite its growth as a religious to a more secular group) is the typical response to urban poverty. The rising number of squatter communities in places near business districts and urban peripheries posed a challenge to both government and private sector. Real estate investment has been focused on the development of more gated communities and high-rise condominiums, appealing to both high income executives and middle class yuppies who can afford government loan programs to procure affordable housing units provided by private real estate companies. Hence, all the development of subdivisions and condominiums in Southern Metro Manila and the Southern Tagalog cater to those people who are employed in regular desk jobs or for the burgeoning class of small time digital entrepreneurs.

Clearly, the people who are employed in casual, contractual, and manual labor do not have a place in this system. Since contractual labor (or outsourced laborers) does not oblige companies to grant securities for its employees, the rampant employment of casual labor in the city made it impossible to have a sustainable financial capability to be able to eat three times a day, let alone afford government loans for housing. Furthermore, past attempts at relocating the urban poor to mass government housing has constantly failed, being far from sources of income. “Why would I live in a subdivision, if I’ll starve just to pay the bills. I’m a squatter, but it’s quite clean in our area” said one squatter I encountered. To understand the mind of a squatter is to understand the constant state of emergency these people experience, having to live with no stable income or stable means of employment.

Kadamay comes as a whiff of fresh air into the dynamic of urban poor politics. Typical liberal attitudes regarding the urban poor is condescending. Liberal politics restricted their political organizing around NGOs and Local Government actions, made to be dependent on either more blessed members of society or to scraps of welfare doled out by local government politicians at crucial times of elections, even the author of Governing the Other necessitates that a proper democratic approach to the poor is to understand their rationality and have it represented by civil society groups that best suit their ways of thinking. In short, liberals only see them as recipients, victims of circumstance, victimized by their own lack of education and economic capabilities. The bourgeoisie, therefore, see themselves in the role of intervening in this order and granting all sorts of humanitarian aid to these people. Such attitude stops at the religious concern for the victim; the victim has to remain one in order to be helped, he has no right to self organization.

Kadamay’s occupation of stagnant housing projects in Pandi, Bulacan breaks this system of victimization. One should only hear Senator Antonio Trillanes’ remarks on Kadamay as a haven for communists and members of the New People’s Army, citing its security threat or Sen. Tito Sotto’s demand for reconsidering the President’s decision for giving them the houses, citing it as a beginning of a terrible legal precedent for other occupation of stagnant government housing. Such remarks show how Kadamay’s actions attempt to break the vicious circle of liberal philantropism that acted as a stopgap to the country’s lack of welfare programs. Hence, what they did is highly traumatic; the once group of people that are seen both as rabble and recipient of bourgeois kindness organized and took what they think is proper for them i.e.  the simple dignity of being able to live securely.

The ideological consequences of Kadamay’s occuption is overreaching. In an administration bombarded with the criticism of its violent drug campaign, one can hear everyday the clamors to stop Extrajudicial Killings of suspected drug addicts and pushers and a call for due process in the prosecution of drug suspects. Ironically, the same people who deplored and denounced the administration’s violent drug war in favor of legal due process also favor the planned violent dispersal of Kadamay members in favor of due process in the granting of housing projects. Hence, one should rephrase Max Horkheimer’s famous quote “whoever does not support Kadamay in its occupation of stagnant housing projects, should also remain silent about the violence of the war on drugs.” In issues like this, the mettle of the so-called millennial political renaissance is tested beyond the confines of its condemnation of other issues that it saw easy to address.

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When the Not-All Speaks: On Kadamay and Liberal Philanthropism

Dutertismo and Neo-Phrenology

Whenever President Rodrigo Duterte justified the war on drugs as a violent offensive against drug addicts and drug pushers, one cannot fail to notice the following argument: based on the observation and studies of scientists and psychologists, constant drug use and addiction damages the brain and decreases its size, wherein any form of rehabilitation becomes impossible.” The argument is solidly based on an assertion that the size of the brain, greatly affected by drug addiction, is the sole evidence for the impossibility of rehabilitation and re-integration into normal society. What we get here is an attempt to provide justification through some form of quasi-phrenology, a neo-phrenology, albeit based on the size and shape of the brain to determine the attitude of a human being.

Phrenology returns as a justification for the distinction between normal and the abnormal, the decent and the indecent, marking the human being with an inevitable physical quality that determined his place in society. Duterte’s neo-phrenology shows the core of Dutertismo as a category of political exclusivity, forming the backdrop of the politics of the drug war and not simply a moral issue. Through the reduction of the addict to the less than human entity with a reduced brain size, what enters to politics is a determination via the formation of a biological category. In this case, the addict loses its humanity through the loss of possession of a brain, short of the normative category for being human. Between the normal and the reduced brain sizes lies the difference between two pre-determined roles. The decent human being is everyone who is not an addict; humanity under Dutertismo is seen from a fundamental point of exclusion. Through the determination of the addict as a category of exclusion, acting as the obstacle for the process of a law-abiding society built on discipline, we encounter the obscene underside of Dutertismo’s project of universality.

Duterte prides himself as a friend to the left and the right that any politics as such is to see that “we are all Filipinos.” Such universal distinction only applies to those who are determined as outside the category of exclusion. The present administration’s attacjment to the law is that of a pure fetishistic disavowal. They know precisely well that the law demands due process, but nonetheless the requirement is lifted so that those who follow it to the letter can enjoy the freedoms it guarantees. Duterte’s “Filipino” is not its citizens, but the other to whom he designates his absolute belief in believing more than he believes in himself. The relegation of confidence and loyalty to the other that believes more than I believe forms the justification for impunity and justification of all forms of police violence and legal excesses.

To say that Duterte is the embodiment of the loss of the rule of law completely misses the point. His administration is the law’s obscene underside that any drive to the universal category of citizenry and the normativity of the law is founded on a prior category of exception. Under the present administration, the addict is the homo sacer at its finest, even worse he isn’t even human nor a sacrificial lamb for the satisfaction of the (legal and national) gods. Through this exception the administration sees itself justified: what it murders are not even human nor will be considered human, but an obstacle that needed to be plucked out in order for the organic unity to be whole. The repression of struggle (as class struggle or the creation of dividing lines) is built around this exception so that organic and holistic unity can be achieved. Fascism in all its brutality will not come with the hatred for a race, but in the mythology of the pseduo-universality of the citizenry. The ideas of the enlightenment are turned on its head.

Dutertismo and Neo-Phrenology