This youngblood article of mine was published in the opinion page of the May 27, 2014 issue of the broadsheet, Philippine Daily Inquirer .
Almost a decade ago, during my grade school years, a typical summer day with my companions meant gathering together and roaming around Fort Bonifacio (now called Bonifacio Global City, but we usually called it “Kampo”). It would be a bit of luck if the sky was filled with cumulus clouds, which at least could reduce the threat of a torrid, almost deadly, atmosphere.
The main conflict of my character as a chief explorer of our group was how to escape the very sight of my parents because they always wanted me to stay at home and hit the books. I was thankful for the highly-popular afternoon show at that time (which was also their favorite), for it gave me the chance to run off as quickly as possible.
The narrow street leading to Kampo was near ours, so I had to improve my speed and agility whenever I learned that either my father or my mother was chasing after me. The street was sandwiched by rows of old wooden houses with thin steel roofs, and the murkiness of the water in the small canals indicated the presence of pollution in the urban area. But my mind and my body were already habituated to the stinky odors and the peculiar marks of a poor community due to my desperate goal of eluding these two “house cops.”
At the end of the street, my friends would be patiently waiting for me to arrive; exhilaration would grow among us as one by one we saw one other’s shadow. A challenge I had to overcome was climbing the enormous gray wall facing Kampo. It was a piece of cake, but honestly and ironically, up until now I still have a hard time climbing up to a sturdy branch of a small mango tree. I believe it is the adrenaline in our body that allows us to behave like ninjas even for a while.
After the struggle with the obstacles, without any more decision-making, we would automatically travel along the hot pavements and roads. Often we went up the hill and gathered wood and other materials for a tent. An inquisitive boy, I “hunted” for tadpoles and my favorite mollusks and put them in separate jars. Whenever a traffic marshal appeared, we would run as fast as we could, if possible ignoring all, even the itchiness inflicted by the tall talahib.
One time when I was caught, my excuse was that I was conducting an experiment for a science project. And I murmured to myself: “You’ve always been moving like a snail.”
A month after my encounter with the marshal—sometime around June—I did the same routine by myself. But this time, neither of my parents blocked my way, and they were no longer surprised by the jars of snails I brought home and stashed under the plastic dining table. (I abruptly stopped catching tadpoles when frogs began multiplying inside our compound. It was indeed a chore to try to drive them out completely.) As I keenly watched a snail moving to and fro in the miniature muddy environment that I had created, my father would tease me and laughingly say: “Snail soup will be your breakfast tomorrow morning.”
I actually never did a thorough study of these mollusks. I only observed them slowly flashing back and forth from the corners of my eyes for I was not an expert in malacology.
The years that quickly flew with the changing wind have transformed me into an older version of who I was 10 years ago. The hills where I had found the snails are no longer there. The grasses cannot anymore contain the small white butterflies I once chased and enclosed within my hands. In short, modernization began to revolutionize the area.
Recently I visited a park in Bonifacio Global City and my heart hopped with amazement and joy when I saw and observed a snail hiding itself behind a plant’s tiny, leafy stem.
Suddenly I realized that our country’s progress has been moving at a snail’s pace.
From all over the world, we have been crowned as one of the slowest in almost everything. We are known for having slow service in government agencies because of the employees being underpaid, and the long lines in their offices are obvious evidence. Who can forget the sluggish pace of justice for the victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre and their families, as well as those in other cases? And most of us may see a development in a certain part of the metropolis, but does that development include and benefit the urban poor?
Some of our not-so-honorable government officials keep insisting that our country is rapidly progressing. They also crow that the economy is improving due to the increments in our GDP and GNP, and that some surveys indicate that the poverty rate is declining. But we are saddled by the burden of thieves in the government, who, while professing to be public servants, are servants of their own greed and luxury.
Reality will always be reality, and the more we rely on statistics than the actual conditions of our countrymen, the more we deviate from the actuality of their conditions and their being trapped in a slow, chaotic society.
A recent piece of news is that the Philippines, with an average Internet speed of 3.6 mbps, is ranked the slowest among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and 155th of 190 countries in the world. Some of us who easily get riled by this type of connection express anger and disappointment through wordy rants and meaningful protests.
But I know that being branded as the “slowest” is no longer new to our ears.
I have wondered even before whether the snail possesses the virtue of patience because it has to take a long time to crawl from one side to another. I can see it also in my countrymen: that although we progress ever so slowly, like a snail, we still manage to adapt to our conditions and live. But I know that patiently waiting and thinking and acting like a snail will never be enough; it is the perfect time for us to find a long-term solution and speak up for our rights.
I am hoping that someday we will all manage to finish this race at the end of this empty street, but not anymore at a snail’s pace.