Monday, October 30, 2006

To See Beyond The Surface

IT'S BEEN raining like crazy lately. And that might explain the certain dampness in my deadline-clouded view on such sunny matter as the Asean Summit in Cebu this December. Consider my recent column in the opinion page of Sun.Star Cebu:

Seeing Surgically

Facelift does it. Or so the City Governments of Cebu and Mandaue raise the stake for the self-esteem of both cities now in the craze for cosmetic tweaking.

So far, maddening has been the metro’s clockwork for extermination of all eyesores as the Asean Summit draws near.

Where have all the lunatics gone? Look, a monkey wrench has been flung at the idyllic lull of the city’s mountain barangays while City Hall goes on an overdrive to beguile the tourists and delegates who are set to come in droves for the December summit.

As reported recently in Sun.Star Superbalita, City Hall has been weeding out derelicts off the streets and dumping them at the city’s hinterlands. Some have been left to drift mindless through the farms and other deserted places, according to Sirao Barangay Captain Jesus Bontuyan who’s worried over any untoward tact his constituents might take against those wandering deranged in their midst.

What if the people, suspecting them either as burglars or ghouls, would gang up or hack them? “Motuo pa baya ang mga tawo diri sa amo anang mga ungo,” explains Bontuyan. “Mahadlok pud maglakaw-lakaw ang mga bata kon makakita anang mga buang.” (People here still believe in vampires and ghouls. The kids are scared to go out when they see the crazies.)

But for the summit’s host, nothing is more foolhardy than scaring our sightseers off their socks with the ghastly proofs of our Third World plight: the demented whose aimlessness might as well hold a mirror at the city’s desperate drive to wear the glamour of development on its tattered sleeve.

There’s something unhinged, indeed, about the obsessive slamming of doors against evidence of desolation while winking out the window for all the world to come over.

Pretty soon, in accordance with the suggestion of the president of the National Association of Travel Agencies, Cebu City Hall will deal with the beggars near the Magellan’s Cross “in a positive way” by letting the beggars wear original Cebuano costumes and putting up well-decorated horse-drawn carriages. Tourists who want to take photos will be asked to put some coins in a basket. “Even alms-giving can be given dignity,” he hoped.

Then again, would these frantic efforts to spruce up our surroundings be enough to make urban blight like water down the bridge?

Last we looked, the water crisis still screams while the flood threatens to get out of our garbage-clogged drainage in times of downpour. Roofs of squatters’ shanties in Sitio Paradise Island under the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge will soon be coated with green paint. But is this bright enough a prospect to wash away the fact of poverty staring in the face of tourists?

So far, criminality looks like it’s not letting up its mania to paint the town red despite the yellows layered on the city’s lampposts and sidewalk fences. And, sigh, it still takes a surreal imagination to daydream against the dearth of public museums or galleries and parks and spaces for promenade.

Unfortunately, no matter how earnest the energy to please our visitors, there’s no blinking away the myopia of our movers and shakers about urban planning and long-term agenda for progress. You bet, what our guests see is not what we get. (24 October 2006, Sun.Star Cebu)

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