I am sitting here, feeling inexplicably helpless and absolutely frustrated. I’ve just finished watching a show on the BBC called The Toughest Place To Be A Bus Driver: The Philippines.
The show features London bus driver Josh West and his experiences of driving a bus in Manila. The name is a bit of a misnomer as Mr West didn’t really drive a bus. He drove a jeepney. He stayed with the family of Rogelio Castro, a jeepney driver who lives in San Andres Bukid in a multi-storey house where he lives with his wife, children and grandchildren.
I always look forward to watching shows that feature the Philippines because I am always curious about how the Philippines is portrayed in documentaries. In most of the shows, the Philippines’ poverty is a known expectation and the Filipinos’ pioneering and persevering spirit is always an underlying fact (although, this is just my interpretation. There is always mention of how difficult life is in the Philippines and how the Filipinos cope). It sometimes make me whince when I see how things are in the Philippines and in the back of my mind, I worry about what people in other parts of the world think about the Philippines. I only worry because I want people to look beyond the negative press about the Philippines that is inevitable because of the inherent poverty that is experienced by a majority of Filipinos.
There was a brief mention of the Reproductive Health Bill, which is, I think, a bill which desperately needs to be passed into law. While the Catholic church may have objections to its passage, the fact remains that because the Philippines is a democracy, every person’s right to choose must be upheld. Every person’s right to choose whether to have contraception or to follow the Catholic church’s teachings should be established. The option has to be there. If it isn’t there, then efforts have to be made so that people are able to chose. I stand by what I always say: It is a greater sin to bring a child into the world and not be able to provide a decent standard of living for it. Josh West’s experience in the Philippines only highlighted the need for the Reproductive Health Bill to be passed. The people should be able to chose to have more children (and bring them into a life of consequent poverty) or chose to not have children. There too many children living in poverty.
I started crying when they showed people eating what was called a “pagpag” meal. People, mostly women, would scavenge into bin bags from the fast food restaurants in Manila and pick out uneaten or partially eaten meat from the refuse and take it home, clean the meat off (hence the term “pagpag” which literally means to shake of dirt) and cook the “reclaimed” meat. People would actually eat this and say that this is one of the best meals they could afford. It just broke my heart that people could not afford a decent meal—well, this might be a decent meal for them, but it wasn’t for me, because it came from rubbish bags.
What touched my heart the most is how Josh West recognised how lucky he was to be born in the country where he was born. Because he is lucky. He is blessed to have been born in the UK. He even said that if he had been born a Filipino, he may have been forced to live out the same life as Rogelio (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s how I understood it). People in countries like the UK should be thankful for small blessings: that their taxes work for them in a manner that is completely visible, they have free medical care, their medicines are free, they can claim benefits and assistance is available. Sometimes, instead of whinging, I just wish that people would try to see how other people in other countries live.
I think if they start trying to live in other people’s shoes, like Rogelio Castro, what they have will be enough.
Picture of Josh West – buzzyuk.com