You are on page 1of 10


Jack in the box

Social precarity in the Philippines and how it is coped with

ince a few years, social insecurity has again become an issue of discussion in the countries of the global North. Whoever wants to put it in more scientific terms speaks of precarisation or precarity. But looking back to the past (Fontaine; Schlumbohm 2000) or across the walls of the fortress of Europe, it becomes obvious that it would be more exact to speak of a normality of precarity (Normalitt der Prekaritt (Hauer 2005)). Today again, even the privileged groups in Europe (after a short phase of the Fordist welfare state) have to cope with issues, most people, especially migrants, women and people in the global South, had and still have to deal with in their everyday lives. In the countries of the South except for the East Asian and Latin American industrial nations informal, precarious working conditions have been the norm at any time in history. In most of the countries of the global South, however, the establishment of welfare state structures did not lead to a formalisation and standardisation of wage work. The majority of the world population has never been able to overcome the state of precarity (for more details see Planungsgruppe 2007; Hauer 2005). After a brief definition of the term precariousness, on which this article is based, survival strategies in the Philippines are described and the behaviour in the case of a crisis is analysed. In the second part it is tried to sketch cultural and sociopsychological patterns as possible driving forces behind these survival strategies. Finally, it is attempted to give an outlook on the significance of social movements for precarious persons.

After a brief definition of the term precariousness, on which this article is based, survival strategies in the Philippines are described and the behaviour in the case of a crisis is analysed. In the second part it is tried to sketch cultural and socio-psychological patterns as possible driving forces behind these survival strategies. Finally, it is attempted to give an outlook on the significance of social movements for precarious persons. The text has originally been published in German: Stehaufmenschen Umgang mit sozialer Unsicherheit in den Philippinen. In: Karl Husa u.a. (Ed., 2008): Ost und Sdostasien zwischen Wohlfahrtsstaat und Eigeninitiative. Aktuelle Entwicklungstendenzen von Armut und sozialer Unsicherheit, Wien, pp 217-232

life conditions. Groups with a low but stable income might still be poor, but as long as their survival is not jeopardised, they do not acknowledge their living situation as desperate, says BERNER (1997; p. 78). Moreover, precarisation or insecurity is generally only discussed with respect to its economical dimension (as insecurity of tenure) and here predominantly in form of abolishing guaranteed working conditions as well as a flexibilisation of wage work and of economic livelihood conditions. Precariousness, however, at least has two further basic dimensions: a political and a sociopsychological one. At the political level, a drop in the legal and institutional security can be marked. Across the world, social rights are cut down and the options to take a certain influence are eliminated. At the same time, public scopes and services, which were supposed

1. Precariousness What does this mean?

The development-political and socio-political discussion and practice predominantly concentrate on the combat of poverty. The terms precariousness and poverty are often treated as equivalent. But one does not necessarily have to be poor to be forced to cope with precarious life conditions self-employment and deregulated working conditions are only two examples. On the other hand, a life at the subsistence level does not need to be precarious. Those people being able to satisfy their basic needs through self-sufficiency, barter, modesty and/or reliable benefits, have relatively secure

Vandana Shiva underlines (with respect to India) that a life at the subsistence level does not necessarily induce a low physical quality of life. As long as the access to vital resources, such as clean water, fertile soil, genetic variety of plants and seeds is ensured, a low or even lacking (monetary) income does not need to be a problem (see: MAHNKOPF 2006; p. 823).

Jack in the box

to ensure (good) living conditions of individuals and the society as a whole, are privatised, leading to a weakening of the individual and thus collective ability to act. At the socio-psychological level, too, people have to cope with insecurity. The discontinuity of employment (casual work or project work) and local affiliation (migration) weakens the integration in social networks that are necessary for coping with the everyday life.

Environmentally caused precarious life conditions are significantly intensified by the Philippine po3 litical and economic system. This includes inter alia the following factors: Lacking food sovereignty for the majority of people due to the extremely unequal distribution of property (among others induced by the stagnant land reform); The overexploitation and pollution of natural resources (forest, soil, fish population) which has already led to decreasing yields in recent years and is heading to an exhaustion of resources; Privatisation and commercialisation of commons as a result of a neo-liberal economic policy, stepped up by structural adjustment programmes; Expulsion from (traditional) land (land seizure in Mindanao in the 20th century, today: land conversion, mining or logging); Loss of subsistence opportunities, particularly due to market-oriented economic policy, forcing more and more people to look for a job on an almost free, i.e. unregulated labour market; Lacking employment security and low income due to an absent development of a domestic economy and external shocks; both are mainly results of the liberalisation and world market orientation of the Philippine economy; There was hardly a chance for the development of a welfare state (social security and public services), due to public poverty, high indebtedness, low tax income and a political oligarchy that does not cater 4 to the interests of common people ;

2. Being affected
2.1. Natural vulnerability
The Philippines are particularly prone to catastrophes for geological reasons, as they are lying on the fringes of a tectonic plate. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are a frequent matter. The northern part of this archipelago is almost annually struck by typhoons. According to VICTORIA (2003) the Philippines belong to the worlds most catastrophe-prone countries, thus assuming that in the time period between 1991 and 2000 alone, about 96,907,837 people were hit by catastrophes. This figure suggests that many Filipinos are repeatedly struck by catastrophes. For the majority of Filipinos and Filipinas, says Greg BANKOFF, jeopardies and catastrophes are a common experience in life or simply accepted aspects of their daily lives. They are not seen as an abnormal occurrence, as often described by western social scientists (), but as normal daily rou2 tine (2003; p. 2). PAGE even speaks of a flood culture: Filipinos are regarded as being extremely adaptable and resilient which is partly based on the fact that we are used to disasters and other forms of crises. This definitely is a question of geography and not of a peoples fate, although some persons tend to declare such occurrences to be an Act of God (PAGE 2000; p. 93).

2.2 Political framework conditions create precarious life conditions

4 2

Eventually, a socially uncertain life is characterised by many real or impending smaller and bigger disasters. Hence, it is no surprise that some aspects of disaster research can be transferred to precarity research. As a rule, it is difficult to distinguish between natural and social causes. Many natural disasters are decisively influenced by human behaviour or their effects are made worse. For more details, see the example of the tsunami: AUTHOR; ECKHARDT (Essen 2005; pp. 5) and VICTORIA (2003; p. 65). On the one hand, the term common people goes back to Ivan Illich, but on the other hand, it also refers to the fact that in the Philippines deprived people are frequently called common tao, whereas in the (development) political or sociological terminology they are called poor or marginalised people. However, the term marginalised, although being common, would not be suitable for the Philippine context, as it refers to the fringes of social normality. In the Philippines, however, common tao is the normality, but a global middle class is the exception. To speak of common people

But what can be considered as abnormal, said the Filipino social scientist Jack Catarata in a personal interview in April 2007, are our predictions, preparations and reactions on such generally predictable catastrophes. Why do the Philippine harbour authorities send overcrowded boats out to the open sea, knowing that a storm is on the way? Why are inhabitants of low-lying typhoon areas not evacuated before the storm?

Jack in the box

Lack of legal security due to a corrupt system of class justice with prejudices against the poor. To be right and to get right are two different kettles of fish. These are only some facets of a system which the sociologist Walden Bellen has named the political economy of a permanent crisis, where instability () has become a precondition for everyday life (quotation according to FABROS 2006; p. 27). The massive migration to foreign countries is not only a result of economic poverty or of having better chances in the urban centres, but also a reaction to political insecurity. You never know what is going to happen to the Philippines is a common opinion.

cent) and have an own house or a piece of land (27 percent) (RODRIGUEZ 2005). Only seven percent of the people in the Philippines are considered to have a sufficient social insurance, the majority works without any form of social protection in the informal sector. The low production cost in this sector i.e. low wages and unregulated and extensive working hours affect the level of prices, which in most cases can only be afforded by the other poor. Many people try to keep afloat with casual work. The majority of these people has to face a precarious income that may change every month or even every day (for more details see: AUTHOR 2005). In the rural areas, living conditions are even more difficult. The wages are lower (although the possibilities for self-supply are better) and the unemployment rate is higher. Such conditions lead to a massive migration to the cities. Unemployment, however, is not the central risk situation, but underemployment. 42 percent of the employed people are considered as being underemployed. Even those people with an appropriate job are forced to practice moonlighting, like the badly paid teachers in public schools. In the private economic sector, this also applies to the female factory workers or office workers, because the minimum wage in the Philippines is rather the maximum wage, said Joshua Mata, General Secretary of the Alliance of Progressive Labour, in February 2007 in a personal interview, and many people even dont get a minimum wage at all. Often the whole family has to work, the children too. The poor people are not poor, because they dont have a job (actually they have too much work to cope with), but because they earn too little. As only one job does generally not earn much money, they need to do many things all at once. Cash is therefore only one component of their hanapbuhay (livelihood), self-supply (poultry keeping or growing of vegetables), money transfers from working migrants and other forms of reciprocity and redistribution play a by far more important role than in Europe. Isang kahig, isang tuka (scratch a little bit here, pick a little bit there) thats what this survival strategy is called in Tagalog. A more sustainable form of ensuring ones survival is to migrate to a foreign country. At the end of 2004 almost 10 percent of the Philippine population (about 8 million Filipinos) worked abroad. One fifth of the population thinks of leaving the country to look for green pastures abroad (not only for economic reasons but also because there is the wide-spread belief that life in the West is much better).

2.3 Different degrees of being affected

BANKOFF refers to a fact that is often neglected: Some people are more prone to disaster than others and () these discrepancies to a large extent are a result of relations of power (e.g. class, age, gender and ethnos), affecting every society (2003; p. 1). Also in the Philippines, employees of the informal sector are affected by poverty and precariousness to a different degree. Thus, the INSTITUTE FOR CHURCH AND SOCIAL ISSUES (2000) distinguishes between ultra poor, working poor and selfemployed poor, poor entrepreneurs and a precarious middle class. While in many cases shop owners have a bearable income and a perspective in life, this is does not apply to their employees and not at all to the large number of people working in the open air. When life or even survival conditions differ so much, the development of class- or strata-specific survival strategies (and also exploitation relations between the poor) is only natural. Extremely poor people do not have another choice than to live with the disaster, is the conclusion of an OECD study on survival strategies in Nepal, Peru and India (HARARI; GARCIA-BOUZA 1982; p. 22; also see: DURAND 2005).

2.4 Living in precarity

In 2002 the Filipinos and Filipinas named their five most serious individual worries: stay healthy (52 percent), finish school (45 percent), find a job (43 percent), have something to eat every day (29 perin Illichs sense is appropriate, as the subsidiary, full-home and far-off-the-market forms of living, Illich calls them vernacular, are expressed here (see Illich (1982) and Esteva (1995).

Jack in the box

3. Forms of coping
3.1 Collective self-help (solidarity)
Apart from the adjustment to a level of minimal consumption, according to LOMNITZ it is the exchange networks that ensure the survival of a large part of the population (1975; p. 70). In an environment where neither the market nor government protection and redistribution mitigate precarious life conditions to a sufficient extent, relationships and personal networks become the mainstays of social security. These (as a rule personal) relationships, where belief is the material that keeps these networks together (LOMNITZ 1975; p. 215), are characterised by the fact that they predominantly cater to the decrease of precarity. They do not follow the market principle of profit maximisation, but find themselves rather in a state of sharing. Thus, James Scotts findings about farmers and their strategies of land cultivation in societies that are constantly threatened by hazards can also be applied to these networks: they are mainly occupied with minimising risks instead of maximising added value (compare BANKOFF 2003; p. 5). Shared (or pooled) precariousness is halved pre5 cariousness. Credit and other co-operatives, too, predominantly follow the rules of reciprocity and 6 social protection. However, the network of loyalties, supporting the individual in his/her projects or even in desperate situations, at the same time commits its members to rendering solidarity and collaboration. The community of mutual support is an ingrained social norm, which is institutionalised in a strong inner feeling of mutual responsibility (utang na loob which can be translated as: internal liability) and the feeling of decency, embarrassment or shame (hiya), which is supposed to avoid the violation of such commitments. This social capital is suited to make up for a certain lack of material resources or

economic capital. Nevertheless, according to ALEJO (2003), these values should not be culturalised and acknowledged as being the nature of the Filipinos, as it is frequently done. These values are in the first respect reactions to permanent precarious life conditions that have turned into rituals. The most important and most reliable (but at the same time most binding) network is the (extended) family: In impoverished societies with minimal social and economic security like in the Philippines, family is the most significant guarantor to maintain those things necessary for livelihood and survival. This is even more important for the rural population, as formal social protection is almost not existent in rural areas. Moreover, the most various kinds of patrons are a source of social protection too. This group includes traditional politicians, big landowners, but also aid organisations and non-government organisations (AUTHOR 2005, p. 34-37).

3.2. Behaviour in a situation of crisis

Studies on the Asian economic crisis of 1997/98 have shown that help networks, provisional saving, diversification of products and similar supporting measures are in the most cases not sufficient enough to overcome bigger crises and shocks. In a situation of crisis it is also not possible to draw upon solidarity communities, as their members generally have a similar socio-economical background with a comparable poor living standard. That is why the mechanisms of mutual protection do not work in the event of a large crisis (e.g. serious illness), especially if the whole community is affected (drought, epidemic, crop loss or natural disasters). To take on (even) more work in the informal sector is also a difficult task. The informal labour markets are often saturated or actively closed by the people who are already working there. To compensate for lacking savings or insufficiently functioning social networks in a situation of crisis, households must be able to actively handle a crisis. With respect to the Philippines, various studies besides the strengthening of the above mentioned survival strategies have proven the following reactions on a situation of crisis: The variety or even the quantity of daily food must be restricted. The children must quit school, either because the school fees cannot be afforded any longer or because the children now have to render a full-time contribution to the family income. Women (or even the children) prostitute themselves. Means of production (such as machines, pets, or the last piece of own land), valuable objects (jewellery),

In the Philippines, there is a multitude of terms for mutual help (reciprocity), for example damayan (mutual help), pakikisama (co-operative) or bayanihan (help from neighbours). It is acknowledged as common sense that the Philippine (majority) culture is based on the concept of kapwa, describing what the Apostle Paul once wrote to the Romans: For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself (Romans 14:7). According to BANKOFF, even political organisations have ever since had the function of insurance companies based on reciprocity. Following BANKOFF this applied to all anti-colonial movements in the Philippines and today still holds true for the socio-eco work of political networks (2003; p. 5).

Jack in the box

which were supposed to serve as emergency reserve, furniture, pans and pots are pawned or sold. The poorer (also in human relations) the household, the more desperate is the situation. Who does not find a creditor in the family, has to turn to an informal creditor, charging an interest rate of 10 percent per month and up to 20 percent per week, as banks generally do not lend money to poor people without collateral. In an environment of growing social precarity, the feeling of insecurity among the privileged increases too. Especially their fear and insecurity (but also their fear of precarity) seem to call for measures protecting life, the quality of life and property and at the same time create an employment market for those people (respectively social classes and strata) they fear. In the Philippines, too, parts of the middle class are jeopardised to drop to the category of the new poor.

4. Culture of precarity
In the literature on precarity of the global North it is often assumed that precarity leads to discontinuity. As a result, survival strategies are developed that are anchored in the present, leaving behind precarious people without the slightest influence on the course of events (CASTEL 2005; p. 38). The gloomy view of the future resulting from it leads to despair and culminates in feeling demoralised, insulted, inferior and depressed. Nevertheless, it is now often cast doubt on the theorem of a culture of poverty, which frequently stands behind statements on precarity and poverty. The aspect of being active and still capable of acting is now more often put in the focus of literature about and written by Filipinos. People are not helplessly and passively exposed to poverty and precarity and to the totalizing power of structures of domination (CANUDAY 2007; p. 224) this could be the summary of the new method7 ological approaches. With respect to the Philippines, a lot speaks in favour of acknowledging people also as agents of their actions and accepting their (political) culture as basic resource of coping with life. They should no longer be considered only or predominantly as victims of structures and macro processes. Thus, the enormous mobility of poor people in the cities, for example, could be an evidence of this (JOCANO 1975; see also: LOMNITZ 1975). The manifold livelihood projects in which target groups of aid projects are involved are another proof of agency (ILLO; OFRENEO 2003). Furthermore, the fact that education (the own education or enabling the own children to get access to good education) is of utmost importance to the Philippine people must be acknowledged as indication of future orientation. It is a widespread fear of those people, who highlight the creativity of precarious people (and of the author of this article too), to be instrumentalised by neoliberalism. Such a professionalism, says MERK, that does not connect physical distress with its social, political and economical causes

3.3 A woman thing

Not only poverty, but also social precarity has a predominantly female face (ILLO; OFRENEO 2003). Women are represented overproportionally in the worse paid fields of employment of the formal and informal sector either as badly paid and scarcely insured shop assistants of the chain store ShoeMart, as waitresses or as day maids of the betteroffs. On the side, women work as homeworkers or prostitutes. Furthermore, it is general standard that women are the first in the family to go without food, if it gets scarce.

Due to the lacking public services, women are compelled to take on miserable work. In times of need, jobs that are generally offered on the market are often shifted back into the households. Only a few of these jobs are considered as male work, all other shifted jobs increase the workload of women.
In many cases it is inevitable for women to find a job in order to earn a sufficient income for their family. They have to fulfil this task on top of all their other family duties. If a man loses his regular job, the woman must find another informal hanapbuhay, as such an undertaking is not compatible with a mans manliness. Nevertheless, what the sinologist Astrid Lipinsky said with reference to China in the course of a discussion in October 2005 (not only) applies to women: Female workers do not see themselves as precarious, but as proud of being able to supply and protect their family.

The classical interpretation of the common people as being passive is still very frequent even in the Philippines: Historically, in the Philippines the rural poor are rarely seen as political actors in their own right despite their numerical strength and history of unrest. Instead, they tend to be locked into static representations portraying them as passive acceptors of change, that is how Jun Borras and Jennifer Franco have put it in their introduction to the anthology On just grounds (BORRAS et al 2005; p. 4). They respond: In the peripheries of the periphery, people are also articulating fragile new orders of difference and possibility. (ibid.)

Jack in the box

runs the risk of putting (...) a resilience in the focus of attention, which targets peoples ability to adapt to and survive traumatising conditions instead of concentrating on the avoidance of destruction (2005; p. 23). But to describe them as being helpless, serves the do-gooders well, such as government organisations, bourgeois elite and civil professional helpers, who like pretending to have no interest (in power) at all, what is definitely not true.

coming a victim of violence. They always say: This will not happen to me. I will have swerte. The economy of survival has penetrated the Philippine culture, leaving a greater tendency for taking risks and a widespread hang towards gambling, as it is reflected for instance in the enthusiasm for lottery and other games. This enthusiasm is often solely attributed to the craving for distraction and entertainment. But studies on the stampede that broke out during the first anniversary episode of the TV game show Wowowee in February 2006 tell another story. While those responsible at the television network GMA (Global Media Arts Network), too, claimed that they just wanted to light up the life of the poor, Sheila Coronel assumes that the massive rush on the game shows first anniversary event, which finally killed 71 people, was an expression of peoples deep desperation. A lot of Wowowee viewers lead such an atrocious life that they () would even cling to the faintest glimmer of hope offered by gambling. () Ask them and they will tell you they hope to win and not to be entertained (CORONEL 2006; p. 1). Another survival strategy is diskarte a slang expression meaning to manage, to fight through or to cope with something. A Filipina named Yoru writes in her blog: If you dont have diskarte, youll lose in this battlefield called living in the Philippines (). Of course, diskarte results from insufficiency of resources. But often, this even prompts us to look for other alternatives, thus our choices broaden and we can exercise our freedom in a suffocated context. I dont want stuffing myself with the canned-sardine-like passengers riding 9 the MRT, but do I have a better choice? For POLO und ESPIRITU (2004) election behaviour, too, is a form of diskarte. They cite a street seller as follows: We are not choosing a candidate for the country. We are making our personal inventions for survival and come to the result that the tactics of survival of the common people, the ingenious methods of how the weak take benefit from the strong in their everyday life, gives a political dimension to the daily diskarte of the silent majority.

4.1 Get back on your feet, be lucky and fight your way through
According to ALEJO (2003) the resources of the poor are not solely restricted to relationships. In his view, these resources also include strategies, memories, knowledge and wisdom and: having fun even though there is sadness around. Some forms of this cognitive capital will be described in the following: The image of a person who always bounces back is a central issue of how people in the Philippines describe themselves. Bangon (get back on your feet) or bawi (relaxation) are recurring concepts for coping with disasters, says ALEJO. He cites interviews with people who are (permanently) affected by floods. For them answers like We will recover after a storm or We will get back on our feet again are very typical (2003; p. 137). We cannot afford depressions, a Philippine friend once said. Wit, humour and taking it easy are acknowledged as typical Philippine mechanisms of coping with difficulties (PAGE 2000). For Filipinos, happiness isn't a goal: it's a tool for survival, Alan C. Robles wrote in the South China Morning Post of Feb8 ruary 20, 2005. Why do people stay in the vicinity of the active volcano Mayon? Why dont they move out of a multi-storey building that is in a bad state of repair since an earthquake in 1990? They refuse to move to another place, because [somewhere else N.R.] there is no secure employment and no secure land to settle down, ALEJO believes (2003; p. 139). And they are convinced that all will turn out well. The meaning of swerte or kapalaran (have inevitable luck) is a central concept for coping with ones life. For example migration: Those Filipinos working abroad are not aware of the possible danger of be8

4.2. Opportunity makes...

Besides optimism, swerte and diskarte, there is another attribute which is regarded as typical

Michael Tan analyses this form of cheerfulness (masaya) very critically in a column published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (German translation in: AUTHOR; WERNING (2006; p. 256).

Source: MRT (abbreviation for Metro Rail Transit System) is Metro Manilas elevated railway.

Jack in the box

Philippine: Bahala na. In pre-colonial times, the supreme divine being was called Bahala therefore bahala na (literally: just divine) is often translated as being resigned to ones fate. This attitude is accompanied by matiisin (capacity for suffering), resilience and trust in God (ALEJO 2003). I keep on saying, keep on praying is a popular saying in the Philippines. Bahala na has a strong contemporary orientation. More than half of all people questioned refuse to forecast their future, they often reply Bahala Na, says JOCANO (1975; p. 7). The Philippine anthropologist Michael Tan gives the following comment: If you are poor, you live in the here and now. Lacking the hope for a better future, you spend 10 what crosses your path. In a personal interview in February 2007, the law professor Barry Guttierez, who has for a long time worked as legal advisor to the urban poor, describes these poor urban people as being too much oriented towards the here and now. This has the effect that the urban poor are not able to organise themselves on a longterm basis and seek help with a legal adviser only when they have already received the eviction order. Just the most pressing issues are often recognised as problems. For the political scientist VELASCO (2006) the political actions of the poor are (mere) mobilisations for subsistence that are stopped as soon as a special goal is achieved. Filipinas and Filipinos only rarely make provisions for illness or old age. In many cases, however, they dont even have another choice than trusting that all will turn out well. A common and widespread attitude is that if you fall seriously ill, you cannot do anything. In this case, even the few savings are quickly consumed. If bahala na is considered as being resigned to ones fate (unimportant whether one submits to Gods will or to social structures), it must be seen in opposition to the activating features swerte and diskarte. But bahala na can also be understood as activating in the sense of divine providence or taking advantage of certain principles. To believe in ones own swerte can also make people daring, thus subjectively opening scopes for action. GUTTIEREZ sees an unshakable belief that whatever may come, we will make it. In a personal interview in April 2007, the Philippine social scientist Jack Catarata says: Bahala na can also be understood as accepting what is inevitable either in a positive or negative way. And to accept the reality, any psychologist would confirm

this, is a sign for a healthy state of mind. Different surveys support this view of things. In this case, a strong contemporary orientation and the feeling of being resigned to ones fate are rather strata- and situation-specific traits; an adjustment to a situation that does not leave any other choice. The common people do not generally seem to be resigned to their fate and passive, as the thesis of the culture of poverty might suggest, but in most cases they lack the opportunity to get active. The physician Jun Naraval assumes that even the extremely poor do have plans and dreams; but they are only able to implement these plans if they have the necessary wherewithal. If you offer them opportunities, they have many own plans or 11 are willing to take up suggestions. However, they believe (and they are right to do so) that these opportunities are much restricted, their windows of opportunity are not open but, if at all, tilted. For that reason, their dreams are of a more realistic and pragmatic nature: They dream of enhancing their economic situation through certain improvements, higher income or better social security. For decades, squatters fight for acquiring an own house on their own ground and with beaming eyes they tell you that they have paid off their loan prematurely.

4.3. Losers?
In most of the cases, only those people are in the focus of attention who are coping with their daily struggle for survival more or less well, but they get on, or even just those who are successful businessmen of their own affairs and are thus able to fulfil the neoliberal imperative of do it yourself. But apart from these admirable born survivors there are the people who have failed in their lives, those who were destroyed physically, mentally or psychically by their bad living conditions; those who completely dropped out or who are not succeeding in making their way through life properly. In the Philippines, too, there is only few information available about this group. Yes, there are alcoholics, drug addicts, homeless persons and others who are stuck in a negative cycle, says Jun Navaral. But a depressive reaction is the exception, suicides are rather known 12 from India. Violence is a common method to
11 12

Personal interview held in January 2007.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer of 13th January 2005

The most recent suicide rates (per 100,000 inhabitants) according to the WHO are as follows: Philippines (1993) males 2.5 / females 1.7 India (1998) 12.2 / 9.1 Germany (2004) 19.7 / 6.6 Source:

Jack in the box

cope with insecurity. If school fees can no longer be afforded and electricity is cut off, men beat their wives, says Naraval.

4.4. Adaptability
Filipinos and Filipinas are often compared with bamboo: tough, resistant and adaptable. But this adaptability also means to accept ones role. Nowhere else this attitude becomes more obvious than in the high significance of migration to foreign countries. It appears that many Filipinos have internalised the fact that it seems to be their task to supply the rich countries in the world with cheap or sought-after manpower. Those working at a call center learn the right accent, including the typical language mistakes Americans tend to make when speaking. In the caregiver course they get to know the western culture and lifestyle and receive the recommendation to always be humble and servile, says one of the course attendants in an interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (OLARTE). It is also reported of a student who was obviously not used to doing housework and who cried when she was assigned the task to clean the toilets. She was gently reminded When we are in another country, we are helpers but no longer masters.

a) Even with the most sympathy for an approach strengthening and empowering the single individual and despite all scepticism about a region, where state authoritarianism, favouritism and development dictatorship have a long and ill-fated tradition, it is impossible to ensure social security to a sufficient extent for all people without external support. In addition to the necessary democratisation of the political system, it is crucial to establish sustainable economic structures to create a national income which can be justly distributed and which suffices to finance the expansion of public infrastructures and social security for everyone. To turn away from the neoliberal development and political model should be the necessary logical conclusion which can be drawn from the many times proven disastrous social and 13 ecological effects of this approach. In a personal interview in January 2007, the political scientist Francis Lee from the Institute for Popular Democracy said that in the Philippines only the middle and upper classes want to be left alone by the government. But in defiance of even the most contradictory reality, the lower classes (the socalled CDE classes) firmly stick to the idea of an ideal state, which is supposed to render public services. Nevertheless, these segments of the population are realistic enough to know that the state fulfils this task rather insufficiently. However, the poor welcome everything offered by the state even if this is mostly done for reasons of patronage and therefore the accomplishments generally are below standard. b) As the current elite oligarchy will probably not change into do-gooders, only the common people themselves can become the main players of such a strengthening of the community and the enforcement of their rights. According to HARARI and GARCIA-BOUZA, the networks and self-help structures, whose significance has already been described, could be a root of future political activities (1982; p. 80). But right at the moment the individualisation of social problems (either in form of blame the victim or as individual forms of perception) and the habituation effect seem to be vastly spread in the Philippines. In this case, diskarte does not necessarily have to be seen as a positive thing, but it rather equals to getting accustomed to precarity (CASTEL 2005) and to habitualising the provisional muddling through somehow. In this context, Gregory Wil13

5. Outlook
DICA-WILLISON distinguishes between two methods, how to deal with disasters. Handle the jeopardy before its strikes (...) to prevent its development into a disaster (disaster resistant) or Handle the effects of a disaster (...) to enable the affected people to cope with the incident, adjust to it and recover from it (disaster resilient) (2003; p. 51). To empower the Filipinos not only to handle catastrophes, but to better avert at least social disasters, there are in my opinion two central problems: a) the strengthening of the public sphere and b) the formation of collective players, pursuing political strategies for a higher social security.; (as of September 2007). Also the results of the study on Poverty and Democracy by Dirk Berg-Schlosser and Norbert Kersting (London, 2003) show that the Philippine results cannot be easily transferred to other countries. It is false to generally conclude that a higher level of optimism is simply typical for third-world countries. This study does not only differentiate between countries, but there are clear distinctions according to urban and rural areas (p. 182).

For more details on the role of the government see: AUTHOR 2005.

Jack in the box

pert speaks of a neoliberalism from the bottom. The informal sector, says Wilpert, is a kind of shock absorber of globalisation and this is the function it fulfils in the neoliberal project of ruling from the top. But informalisation is also the practical result gained from those people affected by globalisation effects. Lacking convincing and feasible alternatives, they pursue a strategy of neoliberalism from the bottom (cited according to: ALTVATER 2006; p. 191). For that reason the precarious people develop such techniques of the self enabling them to get along or even be successful. JOCANO (1975) speaks of slum as a way of life. What the people in the North, who are used to the merits of the welfare state, still have to learn the hard way, is already common sense in the South: The framework conditions are defined as being constant and are accepted in this way by most of the people. Economical difficulties are acknowledged as individual problems and thus individual survival strategies are pursued. Instead of solving social problems, the core question is how to successfully manage personal problems and make productive use of them. This attitude is misused by the elite. Personally it can help you, but at the macro level it has bad implications, says Rose Chiong, a precarious NGO staff member from Davao City, in a personal interview in January 2007. On the question What would you most likely do in a permanently desperate situation? posed in an opinion poll in March 2005, 26 percent of the Filipinos declared that they would work abroad, 25 percent said they would pray and put themselves in the hands of God, at least 18 percent would think of toppling the government, 15 percent would become criminals and 11 percent believe in a lottery win. Only 5 percent think that protests against corruption and anomalies in the government would be successful (RODRIGUEZ 2005). Precarity does not much promote the development of a citizenship value. Again and again there are loud complaints that putting families and networks in the focus of attention leads to group ego-

ism (kanya-kanya) and nepotism in the Philippines. To strengthen respectively to maintain existing (fate) communities such as families, village loyalties, personal networks or the feudal system does not promote national social relationships. Isnt all that a sign that even extremely precarious societies cannot be easily governed, if there is such a high level of self-management? Or mustnt it rather be acknowledged as an act of political activity, when people occupy land to build their huts on it? Is it an act of opposition, if poor people do not let themselves be disciplined by a society in which they do not have any right of co-determination and which, in their eyes, is a second nature that needs to be manipulated and exploited like their natural environment in order to adjust it to their regime of survival? Where is the point at which a survival regime must be acknowledged as being opposing, under which circumstances can it be approved as political? These are only some questions waiting for an answer, which will be the issue of 14 another article. However, patience and tolerance have their limits in the Philippines too. If certain borders are transgressed, resistance will suddenly arise. One of the most important abilities for anybody who wants to work with the poor and organise them, says the sociologist Randy David in a personal interview in December 2004, is to anticipate the right point in time, when the maximum limit is reached, when it is enough. Ya basta! or Sobra Na!, like they say in the Philippines. Niklas Reese is a researcher at the University of Bonn and a lecturer for South East Asian Studies at the University of Passau in Germany. For over a decade he is a staff of the philippinenbro, a socio-political information center on the Philippines for the German speaking countries

This is the theme of the paper Too stupid to defend themselves? Commoners, Politics, Resistance.

Reese, Niklas (2005): Armut unter Palmen, Essen

Alejo, Albert (2003): Cultural Dimensions of Natural Disasters Research and Reflection on the Human Spirit, TAMBARA 20, pp. 131-150 Altvater, Elmar (2006): Ende des Kapitalismus, Hamburg Asis, Maruja (2005): Safety Net for all Times,

Reese, Niklas; Eckhardt, Stefan (2005): Die Flutkatastrophe - Natur pur? in: Dies. (Ed.): Verflutet noch mal, Essen Reese, Niklas; Werning, Rainer (ed.) (2006): Handbuch Philippinen, Bad Honnef Bankoff, Greg (2003): Cultures of Coping: Adaptation to Hazard and Living with Disaster in the Philippines in: Philippine Sociological Review, vol. 51, pp. 1-16

Jack in the box


Berner, Erhard (1997): Defending a Place in the City, Quezon City Borras, Saturnino M. Jr. et al. (2005): On Just Grounds: Struggling for agrarian justice and citizenship rights in the rural Philippines, Quezon City Canuday, Jose Jowel (2007): Bakwit Expanding perspective on the internally displaced persons in Central Mindanao, Quezon City (to be published) Castel, Robert (2005): Die Wiedergewinnung des Sozialen, Hamburg Coronel, Sheila S. (2006): Wowowee and the Women of 200 P. de la Cruz St., in: PCIJ iREPORT, Mar-Jun, pp. 10-15 Deica-Willison, Zenaida (2003): Community-Based Disaster Risk Management, in: Philippine Sociological Review, vol. 51, pp. 65-80 Durand, Frdric (2005): Was eine Naturkatastrophe zur Katastrophe macht, Le monde diplomatique, February Esteva, Gustavo (1995): Lat uns den Homo Communis feiern!, in: Ders.: Fiesta jenseits von Entwicklung, Hilfe und Politik, Frankfurt / Main, pp. 45-64 Fabros, Aya et al.: Social Movements, Quezon City, 2006 Fontaine, Laurence / Schlumbohm, Jrgen (ed.) (2000): Household Strategies for Survival 16002000, Cambridge Harari, Denyse / Garcia-Bouza, Jorge (1982): Social conflict and development: basic needs and survival strategies in four national settings, OECD, Paris Hauer, Dirk (2005): Strategische Verunsicherung in: analyse + kritik, 15.4 Illich, Ivan (1982): Vom Recht auf Gemeinheit, Hamburg

Illo, Jeanne Frances I. / Ofreneo, Rosalinda Pineda (ed.) (2003): Beyond the Crisis. Questions of Survival and Empowerment, Quezon City Institute for Church and Social Issues (2000): Managing Insecurity, Manila Jocano, F. Landa (1975): Slum as a Way of Life: A Study of Coping Behavior in an Urban Environment, Quezon City Lomnitz, Larissa A. de (1975): Como sobreviven los marginados, Mexico D.F., (199812) Mahnkopf, Birgit (2006): Globalisierung, Armut und Gewalt - in: Bltter fr deutsche und internationale Politik , No. 7 , pp. 817-827 Merk, Usche (2005): Transkontinentale Vernetzung, sp Olarte, Avigail (2005): Trained to care, in: PCIJ (Hrsg.): Nursing the World, Manila Page, Joy B. (2000): Metro Manila flooding: The sociocultural dimension, in: Leonardo Q. Liongson et al.: Pressures of urbanization: flood control and drainage in Metro Manila, Quezon City, pp. 85-96 Planungsgruppe (2007): Prekaritt??? Ist das heilbar? on site: Polo, Jaime Biron and Espiritu, Michael Francis (2004): Elections and the People's Diskarte, Rodriguez, Ces (2005): How poor Filipinos cope, Cyberdyaryo, 10th May Velasco, Djorina: Life on the Fast Track: Mobilizing the Urban Poor for Change in: Aya Fabros et al.: Social Movements, Quezon City, 2006, pp. 103-128 Victoria, Lorna P. (2003): Community-Based Disaster Management in the Philippines in: Philippine Sociological Review, vol. 51, pp. 65-80

Jack in the box