FOR the past 45 years, Manuel S. Abad and his family have rented the same house in La Loma, a densely packed barangay (or neighbourhood) in Quezon City – part of the sprawling twenty-eight-million strong Metro Manila conurbation.
The house is 60 square metres. The family of six share two bedrooms: making do with four bunk beds with some mattresses on the floor. Before this, as a child, he grew up sleeping in the same rooms, sharing the space with his four siblings and parents.
For many Filipinos – the decades after the People Power revolution of 1986 did not bring much in terms of progress.
“In the 1980s, rent was PHP500 a month. Now I pay PHP5,500. Today, it would cost at least PHP12 million to buy this house.” The 49-year-old Manuel works as a sales and marketing manager for a lighting company, handling OEM's for multinational companies like Phillips. Born to a lawyer and a mechanical engineer, the bubbly father of three sons and one daughter speaks excellent English.
“I had the privilege of going to private school. I was a good student and really enjoyed learning.”
“But when I was still in secondary school, my father retired. I had to find work to support myself. I wanted to go to university, but instead, I found contract work as an animator for shows like Dragon Ball Z and Sailormoon.”
Since then, Manuel has gone through several jobs, including a stint at the local barangay (urban government office). He had to change jobs (and in the process, take a huge pay cut) because of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“In August last year, Duterte issued Circular No. 4, which directed all presidential appointees to resign. He wanted to get rid of the bureaucracy of corruption and scrutinize all of them. My boss at the time was one of these appointees and I didn’t want to get dragged in, so I changed to the private sector.”
“Now I earn PHP45,000 a month. Previously, I was earning double that!”
One would expect Manuel to be less than approving of the controversial President Duterte. Instead, he turns out to be a staunch supporter of the combative politician.
“Having worked in government before, I can feel the change. Before Duterte, there was a lot of corruption in the agricultural industry. I know of one case where the product cost PHP5,000, but was billed for PHP750,000 instead! Now, it’s monitored closely and the corrupt are punished.”
I ask Manuel what other changes he felt since Duterte came on board.
“Five years ago, when I went from here to Makati, it took me three hours. Now, it takes one hour and forty minutes, because they now have more regulations for vehicle coding and have improved the flow by making the road a one-way street.
“I also now have a medical card. With this, I can go to a general hospital and get free consultation. If I go to the barangay, I can get free health services. It used to be difficult to get a card, but now anyone can get it within 3 days or so!
“It used to be so dangerous to go out at night. Now, I feel safe walking outside at night! The police are more active, the drug lords are afraid and there’s just more monitoring of the city.”
Speaking of drugs, I point out Duterte’s brutal campaign against narcotics – including the shooting of teenagers and children – provoking outrage in certain quarters. Manuel is measured, but unfazed.
“Filipinos are very religious, we don’t want to hurt people. I don’t want to say that the ends justify the means. But at a certain point, you have to consider the majority of the population.
“People have a right to live. But what happens when drugs undermine our own right to live, when they poison our children? If people are kept being told to change and they don’t listen, what then can you do?
“Some say his methods are drastic and unprecedented. But maybe it’s the only way to make things better: because we have tried everything. The past presidents, they’ve tried, but they’re afraid to offend people.”
“They are always after popularity. They want to be seen in a good light and they don’t want to affect the relationships they have with other companies or senators.”
“The oligarchs will always be there. Always condescending. But I feel that Duterte will stand his ground. If ever the oligarchs try to influence him, he will still consider what is best for the Filipinos.”
For decades, the same families have dominated Filipino politics and business – the Osmenas, the Cojuangcos, the Aquinos – the list goes on. For the man on the street like Manuel, the lofty promises of the People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship have yet to be fulfilled.
Manuel’s neighbourhood—known for its roast pork ('La Loma: the Home of the Lechon') reflects this dismal state of affairs. Over the years, the area has grown denser, with high-rises packing even more people into an already-crowded space. Moreover, even after more than four decades living here, Manuel still doesn’t own property.
“One of my friends wanted to get a PHP1 million loan. He was told by the bank he needed to place a one million deposit to get the loan! How are people like myself supposed to come up with that money? Financial inclusivity is dead in the Philippines.”
Against this backdrop of stagnancy, Duterte (despite coming from a powerful political clan himself), represents change – at least to Manuel and his family. Despite an 18-point drop in his approval ratings in a recent survey conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS) and growing doubts over the efficacy of the bloody anti-drug war, it seems that for many, Duterte remains their best bet for a better future—highlighting his need to deliver on this.
“I have four children. My eldest daughter is working at a call centre. My 17-year-old boy is in Grade 12. Soon he’ll want to go to university. He’s good with numbers and so he wants to be an accountant. I never got to get a degree.”
“On Duterte, I cannot judge the morality of the situation… but I can see results, and as long as I see my surroundings improve, then I will always support him.”
Indeed, Manuel was dismissive of the recent drop in Duterte’s ratings, telling me: “There are a lot of things beneficial to the Filipino people that are not being released. There is saying: if it’s not controversial, it’s not good news.”
“For my children’s sake, I have to believe in something. I have to have hope.” NOTE: Follow Karim Raslan on Twitter @fromKMR / Instagram @fromkmr