Fifteen Minutes of Progress
By Krishna Magallanes
If you’re an Atenean who comes from outside the thresholds of the bustling, big-city life of Manila, then questions like “do you have wifi in the where you’re from?” and “if you’re from the province, why are you white?” may have been directed at you more than just once or twice by your Manila-native college peers. You may even be asked how on earth you can speak English so well, if you’re from Cebu, Cagayan de Oro or Davao.
Being a probinsyana myself, I can say with blunt honesty that it’s completely exasperating at first to try and explain that contrary to popular belief, most provinces do, in fact, have wifi, electricity, malls and supermarkets that carry imported food items like Nutella and Cheetos in their respective parts of this great archipelago. So no, we don’t “make araro” the paddy fields or take our carabao to school, and yes, some of us do get mildly offended when people assume that we do.
After the first several occasions in which people have hurled these comments at me and every other individual who speaks in slightly accented Tagalog, we have learned to eventually stop feeling affronted by them and instead accept that their seemingly derogatory remarks are born not from the intent to insult, demean or undermine, but rather from the reality that when people in urban cities like Manila say “province”, all that they really mean is “somewhere that isn’t here”.
Most people envision the provinces to be a picture of endless fields of green complete with rice paddies, crop harvests and the occasional carabao or two, which also isn’t completely false, because places in other areas of the archipelago do have some parts that aren’t as fully developed as it has the potential to be.
This generalization becomes problematic, however, when it begins disregarding the fact that although a lot of provinces do include forest areas and agricultural lands that are so characteristic of what many construct a “province” to be, in many ways, it is not completely backward or economically inferior to metropolitan Manila.
For instance, if I personally hadn’t already been exposed to Manila and the quick-paced, brisk and competitive lifestyle of its people, then I would think that my hometown of Cagayan de Oro is still the place to be. We may be missing the absurd traffic in massive highways like EDSA and services like the LRT and MRT, but we can compete in terms of urbanization and development since CDO does also have similar offerings like an SM as well as an Ayala mall that features high-end fashion brands like MANGO, Guess and Sperry Top-Siders among others. We have luxury accommodations in four-star hotels like the Limketkai Luxe and the Sedal Hotel Centrio, and we also enjoy food from Manila favourites like BonChon, Krispy Kreme, BreadTalk and yes, we even have more than one Starbucks branch. Moreover, with staples like S&R and a brand new and better SM mall under construction, it would seem like we’re not exactly lacking much.
In an economics-oriented point of view, the judgement holds that Northern Mindanao is becoming progressive with a booming economy much like that of Manila, though not necessarily to the same extent. According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, the province’s economy grew by 7.2% in 2014 compared to the 5.3% boost in the previous year. This was credited to the growth of the Industry and Services sector of its economy, which was preceded by the sudden and consecutive rise of big businesses as well as small enterprises in lifestyle districts of different cities in Northern Mindanao, like Cagayan de Oro.
I’ll be speaking from the wrong context if I say that all cities in various regions are exactly this way, but I will say that it seems true for my home city. Though there are fewer buildings that boast of being more than ten storeys tall and there is no need for toll booths, coding rules or LRTs and MRTs, we’re not as behind as most assume; we can keep up. Or so it seems.
The thing is, this “progress” can be seen on charts, graphs and statistics, but it is not always evident in the everyday lives of its ordinary people. Sure, we can have luxury hotels, fancy resorts and trendy, high-end fashion brands, but how many people in smaller cities like CDO actually patronize these?
The answer is: not many.
The only ones who do are the ones who can; those who would buy the same things if they visit the more urbanized areas where these brands first emerged. For instance, when Centrio, the Ayala mall in Cagayan de Oro, opened in October 2012, dozens of people lined up outside the premises to get into the new, contemporary mall. It was like that for a few months after its opening, but it’s very noticeable that even though people go into the mall, almost none or very few of them come out of the shops with anything in hand. When the clock strikes noon, most quickly leave and transfer to the more budget-friendly, “pang-masa” mall right across Centrio to have lunch there. Furthermore, though there’s a pretty good-sized Rustan’s supermarket in there, too, people would still rather go to public markets where the goods are much cheaper, especially during the holiday season. Even the popular places that people have raved about on social media and flocked in real life, like BonChon, Krispy Kreme and Fully Booked, are now relatively empty compared to when it first opened, and I doubt that the only reason is that they’ve been there long enough, and people have grown bored with them. You rarely see that happen in branches of the same stores in Manila. It’s like people here are just wildly curious about such luxuries, and once they encounter them and deem them out of reach, they retreat back to their old ways, and return to meddling through life the best way they know how.
I’m certainly no economist, but I am a member of that community. I’ve personally seen it happen consistently, and I’ve always wondered why it seemed like Cagayan de Oro still feels stagnant despite the new infrastructures and development that pop up every few months. It’s odd because so often, I learn from friends about so many new places to eat and shop, but when I’m home, it feels like nothing has changed; everything feels the same. Everyone is the same.
If my city truly has progressed and become more urbanized, then shouldn’t it be changed somehow? Not in the way that the highways look different, and the buildings look taller, but rather that all people live more comfortable lives, and not just the 1%. If we truly have become better, then all these expensive outlets and stores should be sustainable, and not just enjoy what seems like fifteen minutes of fame.
Right now, similar luxuries are available to us, but these are not always accessible for all of us, and this is the reality. I don’t doubt that many good things have come from the emergence of new industries and services in the region, but to some extent, it’s not enough; not until “progress” trickles down to the poor and marginalized. It’s not enough until they feel it, too.
This is not a criticism; it’s a challenge.