A galaxy filled with a hundred billion stars is a degenerate object. > Puma Tse
From primitive communal societies to colossal empires, the cosmos have long played a persuasive part in our observed world. How the cosmos is structured and how humans perceive this structure, have made a significant impact on human development. Our understanding of the cosmos fulfilled not only the practical needs of emerging societies, that of measuring time and distance but beyond that a far more collective pursuit of wonder–and in more contemporary times–conquest.
The only constellation named after a real person in recorded history is Coma Berenice which is Latin for Berenice’s Hair. Set against the background of the Third Syrian War, Coma Berenice’s story is founded on the promise of love and the virulent contract of divine favors. It is said that Berenice, then ruling queen of Hellenistic Egypt, vowed to offer her precious hair in sacrifice for the safe return of her husband (and biological brother), the pharaoh Ptolemy III Euergetes, from the battlefield. Though unclear if the offering was made before or after the pharaoh’s return, Berenice supposedly offered her hair at the altar of a temple dedicated to her mother Arsinoe and the goddess Aphrodite. Her hair disappeared the next day. The pharaoh was angered by this and sought out an explanation. Conon of Samos, the court astrologer, presented a group of stars to the pharaoh, Conon declared that Berenice’s hair is now among the gods and the stars for everyone to see. Despite Berenice’s offering and Conon’s fawning declaration, Ptolemy III Euregetes continued his warmongering reign before he succumbed to his natural death.
I used to commute every day; early morning and late at night. The four hours combined, stuck in traffic or lining up for a ride was the only time I could look up at the sky. Whenever I looked up, the view of the sky was always obstructed by a tall building or, more irritatingly, some celebrity’s grin plastered across a billboard. Eventually, one learns to familiarize themself with these obstructions, relying on billboards to tell direction, place, and even distance. Eventually, you acquaint yourself with the disruption, making sense of the skyscape, the long winding concrete, and drawing lines between Mall A to Mall B.
The very vein of engagement with these behemoth-like structures is the roads and highways; dictating the very dimension where these commissionable phenomena take place. Roads are not only designed to either grant or deny cosmopolitan access but to also usher destruction and boost displacement. Like an ever-flowing wave of concrete, roads and highways go through and above urban poor communities, through and above ancestral land, and through and above large swathes of agricultural land and bodies of water. Elevated highways cast gargantuan shadows on urban poor communities, while long stretches of expressways traverse the expanse of haciendas. In 2012, Farmers from the Farmers Alliance in Central Luzon (AMGL) condemned displacement efforts pushed by the construction of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union-Expressway or TPLex. Built as part of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s “super regions” program, and recommenced by Benigno Aquino III’s administration, the 80-km long expressway has been the cause of environmental damage and demolition of peasant homes in Tarlac. Uncoincidentally, President Aquino, who was in office at the time of the construction and project implementation, hails from the clan that owns Hacienda Luisita, a sugar cane plantation in the City of Tarlac spanning over 6,000 hectares. The fact that TPLex pierces through Hacienda Luisita is no accident.
Designed primarily to hasten the transportation of export goods and raw materials, the relationship between roads and agricultural land is transactional. Supposedly fashioned to close the distance between metropolis and rural areas, the design of expressways enacts exactly the opposite. The urban public’s engagement with vast rural areas becomes limited to passing by long stretches of concrete as they go from point a to b. This design pushes agricultural land and those who till it farther into the background, far too distant, and almost invisible to people who use these expressways. This distance warps the relationship between those from the metropolis and the rural areas. Elevated highways in urban areas also have a similar effect. With private vehicles making up most of the volume in traffic, engagement with urban poor areas becomes limited to passing by or through them, pushing them to the background. These areas seem almost spectral when traveling along most of the highways in Metro Manila.
A popular Filipino sitcom in the early 90s, Home Along Da Riles (Home Along the Train Tracks), depicted an urban poor family living along a railroad. The show would effectively poke fun at the constant tremors from the train or the makeshift trolley the family uses to travel along the tracks. Although distorted and made more absurd by its humor, the circumstances that engulf the show are far from fictional. According to the National Housing Authority, about 100,000 informal settlers reside along the PNR line (Philippine National Railway) from the nation’s capital of Manila to the Bicol region. In 2021, it was reported that three teenagers were killed as they were run over by the fast-moving PNR train. Coupled with this obvious precarity and morbidity of living under such hazardous conditions, equally or even more violent is the everyday threat of impending displacement and demolition that serve the interest of the local government or big business infrastructure that these communities face. Despite this, residents resist relocation while struggling for long-term programs that genuinely address their conditions. There is constant fear within urban poor communities that the working residents will be separated from their livelihood, the children away from their education, and the community divorced from their everyday practice, only to eventually be subject to worse conditions in undeveloped relocation sites, where they are both unfamiliar and unsafe.
After the destruction caused by World War II, the Philippines was in need of rehabilitation. Then-president Sergio Osmeña Sr. personally went to the United States to present the country’s situation to Franklin D. Roosevelt, effectively striking a pledge of full assistance from the United States on the rehabilitation and repair of the damage done by the war. On the basis of relief logistics, railroads, highways, and ports were repaired and built and industrial and agricultural processing plants were restored, all of which were to be paid for in debt to the United States, with borrowing power restrictions also imposed by the United States. In 1951, the U.S. and U.K. authored the Treaty of San Francisco which sought to reestablish peaceful relations between Japan and the Allied forces. Despite the atrocities committed by the Japanese empire to the Filipino people, President Elpidio Quirino sought to repair diplomatic relations with Japan after the Philippines ratified the treaty as the president granted pardon to 105 Japanese prisoners, 52 of whom are convicted war criminals. Later on, Japan undertook rehabilitation and recovery efforts in the Philippines. With the formation of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan facilitated the construction of road networks among other infrastructure projects in the Philippines.
When agreements between the Philippines and a foreign country are brokered, the cost of this foreign debt is immediately paid by way of maneuvering infrastructure and policy in favor of the foreign country’s interest. There is no bigger proof of this than the Philippines’ current foreign debt that ballooned to at least Php 13.7 trillion in 2021. This debt is owed mostly to the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and JICA. This large sum is justified by the planned acceleration of the Build, Build, Build development program. The Build, Build, Build development program is the infrastructure development plan of current President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. From the onset, infrastructure development has been Duterte’s priority, and as his six-year term comes to a close, the incumbent president is exerting all the resources to cement his legacy despite being in the middle of a health and economic crisis. Mark Villar, former secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways who spearheaded the Build, Build, Build program, is the son of billionaire, real estate developer, business tycoon, and former senator Manny Villar. Currently, the richest person in the Philippines, Manny Villar’s wealth increased threefold to Php 349.7 billion in 2021, at a time when the Philippines is suffering economic instability, increasing unemployment, and incurring massive foreign debt. This debt becomes useful in maintaining the sinister collaboration between foreign entities, local compradors, and bureaucrat capitalists.
As of writing, it is the third week of the campaign period for the upcoming 2022 Philippine general elections in May. One of the presidential candidates, Bongbong Marcos, is the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Predictably, Marcos loyalists point to infrastructural development during the late dictator’s regime to be one of their family’s crowning achievements. Unbeknownst to some, most of these developmental projects are still being paid for in taxes–36 years later. Many of them were ultimately proven to be used by the Marcos family for plunder and malversation. We should also put on record that these so-called legacy infrastructures of the Martial Law era were substandard projects, if not absolute shams.
The Marcos family has an almost full-proof hegemony over institutionalized culture. The family’s matriarch, first lady Imelda Marcos, gloats for sparking life anew to the country’s cultural landscape as she was appointed chairperson of the new Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1966. With financial aid from the Philippine-American Culture Foundation among others, her appointment led to the construction of the CCP Complex. The CCP Complex is primarily composed of the Tanghalang Pambansa (National Theater) and Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas or more commonly known as Folk Arts Theater but also houses numerous buildings including the Philippine International Convention Center, Manila Film Center, Coconut Palace, Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, Manila Broadcasting Company Building, and the Design Center of the Philippines. In 1981, tragedy struck the construction of the Manila Film Center, burying at least 169 construction workers alive under quick-drying wet cement after scaffolding collapsed. Modeled after the Parthenon, the Manila Film Center’s construction was railroaded to meet Imelda’s demands. She wanted the Manila Film Center to rival Cannes and be able to host an upcoming international film festival giving them a short time frame to complete the structure. Neither rescuers nor ambulances were allowed to enter the premises as security detail enveloped the site while the management supposedly prepared an official statement–the construction resumed. Despite the tragedy, the film festival pushed through. The infrastructural development that the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. undertook cemented the family’s legacy, both literally and figuratively. Despite the economic crisis brought about by the foreign debt incurred to produce the so-called legacy of the late dictator, the Marcoses are still firmly in power, reaping the benefits of stolen wealth and star-power zombified in concrete.
The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. > Karl Marx
In a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society like the Philippines, the threat of privatization comes with the threat of war. The whole of nation approach, in which the government seeks to mobilize every state apparatus, from military to media, combined with public-private partnerships means environmental destruction, displacement of marginalized communities, and violence toward any and all opposition. People from both urban and rural areas are too familiar with this, and there is no better contemporary example than the development of New Clark City in the province of Pampanga in Luzon. An extravagant attempt at creating a new metropolis north of Metro Manila, the development of New Clark City already saw itself leveling huge swathes of agricultural land while displacing 65,000 families including about 16,000 indigenous people. To add salt to the wound, the new Clark International Airport terminal and the New Clark City Athletics Stadium boasts designs supposedly inspired by Mount Arayat and Mount Pinatubo. Arayat and Pinatubo are both known scenic volcanic sites where many indigenous families find their home. New Clark City is one of the projects under the Bases Conversion and Development Authority or BCDA, a government agency tasked to convert former military bases into premier centers of economic growth. A development corporation that enforces public-private partnerships whose primary stakeholder is the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In an effort to attract foreign investors to what they are building to be a “resilient city”, New Clark City exposes the violence of what now passes as development within contemporary capitalism and the hostile and antagonistic forces that protect its agenda to continually profit from the exploitation and massacre of marginalized communities.
State developmental projects always boast to be a step forward towards modernization and a step away from decrepit modes of production. Proposals of inter-connected highways, multi-purpose buildings and centers, new cities, processing zones, and even automation across all infrastructure come with the promise of better living conditions and modernity, but in actuality, these projects enact the opposite. Instead, what these programs develop are ways for bureaucrat capitalists, landlords, and big compradors to accumulate more capital and profit by way of maintaining backward modes of production, harsh working conditions, and unjust wages. Because of these forms of exploitation, marginalized sectors are kept away from genuine pro-people modernization. Domestic and foreign capital continue to extract their most important resource, labor power all while exacting their lands of raw materials.
The flagrant co-existence of modern technology and backward modes of production is bleak. Farmers are expected and instructed to familiarize themselves with online banking and other seemingly “progressive” payment schemes while at the same time being paid slave-like wages and leaving them to use carabaos to till their land. This is the brutal irony of semi-colonialism and semi-feudalism. Attempts of modernization within the neoliberal machine remain fraught. Technological advancements, infrastructure development, and progressive programs that operate within this machine continue and will progressively keep people away from the wealth they make and the land they till.
Like the constellations and the stars that make them, infrastructure takes generations to change and shift, outliving the very kings and queens whose names they carry. The obtuse vanity of compradors, capitalists, and imperialists survive through the very infrastructure they claimed was built for the people. They claim the hard work of the peasantry whose labor extracted the raw materials to build these structures and the workers whose hands did the actual building.
Thank you to Chino Fajardo;
this design is much his as it is mine.
Thank you to Sara Rivera;
this text is much hers as it is mine.