Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Of Golden Tickets and Last Chances

Ginny was telling me last night to write about this tragedy, given the fact that we were all riveted to the television Saturday morning as the barricades in front of the entrance to the ULTRA stadium went down as the crowd surged forward, trampling those beneath them. This is where the first year anniversary of the television show Wowowee was being held. Wowowee, hosted by not-so-comedic comic Willie Revillame, is essentially a show where people win things: money, a phone call to loved ones abroad, appliances, etc. It's the miraculous Golden Ticket to the impoverished Filipino, a chance at a better life.

These people were mostly from below the poverty line. They were the ones who needed the next meal ticket, the ride home, the help from some higher authority. With the impotent government, the savior of the masses becomes television, and shows like this ABS-CBN produced segment is fuel to the fire, the source of hope (and capitalist investments) for those whose lives are negligible to many of us. We are only aware of their deaths because of the circumstances, which is why we mourn.

So what is our role in all of this?

Browsing the blogsphere for the past couple of days, one gets the sense of carnage and sadness not through the television screen, but in how individuals react about the recent tragedy at the ULTRA stadium. The TV is a medium for bandwagoning and the pushing of individual agends - the government, the TV station, the show itself - but here, in the little cyber-niche that we carved out ourselves, there is a sense of loss and grief that the Saturday audience of Wowowee seemed to miss out on. Are we that desperate and steeped into poverty that we are unable to properly understand death in all its aspects?

So now, we look for people to blame, as if to wash our hands off this. It was ABS-CBN's fault, it was the government's fault, it was the lack of bouncers and security guards, the impoverished crowd who waited outside the arena for days just to try their luck, their million-to-one shot at a better life. Is that the answer to the problem of poverty nowadays - join game shows, try our luck? Are the opportunities to have a better life a mere margin, with so many conditions: you have to have a degree, a good grasp of English or a foreign language, certain skills that cannot be attained without ready cash and training, lack of materials? We are always taught that education is the key to a better life. If that is so, then why is it that more and more doctors - properly trained, ten-years-of-med-school-type doctors are leaving this country, are stepping down the ladder to become nurses because there is more money there? Why don't we have more jobs for people who can, and will, work - who are equipped with the right skills set and the right education? Why are call centers more appealing than a career?

If not for anything else, the stampede at the ULTRA, where 74 people have died - women and children, the elderly, for the most part - is a reminder that we are lucky to be in the position we are in right now, and that we are a part in this greater problem of poverty in the Philippines. Leaving the country in search of greener pastures, when one knows full well the capacity for contribution, seems to me the coward's way out. We do not need to contribute to the problem, but there is a solution, somewhere. And it's not paying for the funeral expenses or the medical bills of the people in the crowd. These stopgap measures have to translate into long-term plans.

This is where our impotency, and our rage for something abstract comes in. Given this problem, what is the solution? How can we help? What can we do to alleviate poverty?

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