Manila, November 3, 2012
By Alfredo Barahona
Manila is a beautiful place, but it is full of contradictions. I am here to participate in the meetings of the World Council of Churches’ Global Ecumenical Network on Migration (GEM) that are being hosted by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). Both are long-time KAIROS partners.
I feel as if I have landed back in Central America. Unfortunately it is not just because it is hot and humid. Instead, it is because of what I see outside the airport. The short ride from the airport to the Legend Villas in Mandaluyong City where the meeting is taking place is enough to help you understand why so many people leave the Philippines to work in foreign countries as temporary migrant workers. Signs of poverty and injustice are visible along the highway and underneath the massive billboards that advertise a life style that is out of reach for the majority of the people.
By the size and sheer number of neon signs you would think the municipality is wealthy. But if that is true, it certainly is not reflected in the day-to-day lives of the people of Manila.
Just outside the airport’s door, men and women compete to get you a taxi. A young woman asks if she can get me a taxi. Politely and with a smile I say “no thanks”. I was hoping someone from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines or the World Council of Churches would be there among the huge crowd to greet me. She follows me and asks, “Do you have company?” I say, “No, but my friends are waiting outside”. That was wishful thinking, as I knew the chances of someone being there were not good. After all, I arrived two hours late. I craned my neck in the hope that I could spot a sign with the letters “WCC” or NCCP”.
It was already dark and I couldn’t see anything. A man with an official looking ID badge hanging around his neck follows me and insists on getting me a taxi. At this point I felt overwhelmed and caved in. He pulled out his walkie-talkie and called a taxi. I had to pay and tip him in advance.
Before leaving the airport a police officer stops the taxi and asks for the driver’s ID. The officer then walked towards the man with the walkie-talkie who I suppose is the driver’s agent on the ground. We drive behind the officer very slowly. The driver looks at me and with a sarcastic smile says, “He just wants money”. Sure enough, with a hand shake, the man with the walkie-talkie slips some money to the police officer. “It is the price for protection”, the driver adds. When we reach the Legend Villas the driver smiles and asks for a “little something” for himself as well. I am a bit apprehensive about what I will see and hear tomorrow when I get up, go out and meet with people. That is, if I can sleep at all. I am tired, but there is a 13 hour difference between here and Toronto.