In 1973, Josie Høgh left her childhood village of Ibayo, outside the Philippine capital Metro Manila, to work in Copenhagen. That was not the plan when she left, but she ended up settling in Denmark. Today, only one of her seven siblings remains. The others have migrated to other parts of the country or abroad. Ibayo no longer exists: the village has become the Santo Nino neighborhood in a noisy and densely populated urban area surrounded by an international airport, casinos, mega hotels and megamalls.
A couple of years ago, a private investor bought the last village's former farm and poured land. Now a large residential complex, Arista Place, has been built, surrounded by high walls and security guards and the student over the rest of the neighborhood, which is therefore in urgent danger of floods as the monsoon rains begin.
Josie and Ibayo's story I have described in the book Profession: Philippines. Women at work in Denmark for four decades, published in 2013. Now, geographer Arnisson Andre Ortega has examined the construction boom – an engine of "capital accumulation and displacement" – that is raging the Philippines.
Neoliberalizing Spaces in the Philippines. Suburbanization, Transnational Migration, and Disposition describes the transition from the authoritarian Marcos regime brought to a decline in 1986 and the current neoliberal order ushered in with the democracy icon Corazon "Cory" Aquino of the late 1980s.
"We Build the Filipino Dream," it says from builders making billions on thousands being expelled.
In addition to labor migration – and the entire industry of recruitment, training, reintegration programs and remittances that make up the infrastructure of migration – real estate has become one of the fastest growing markets in the Philippines. And the two economies are closely linked, Ortega shows.
Meanwhile, marginalized population groups are systematically displaced to make room for the fenced-in housing complexes, shopping malls and golf clubs that are not least marketed to Filipinos abroad.
When Ferdinand Marcos and his authoritarian Social Democratic-inspired and export-oriented New Society vision was overthrown by the citizens of the so-called EDSA uprising in 1986, the earth was perfectly fertilized for neoliberal ideology and conversion.
The new Philippines in the new "free" market society should, writes Ortega, be trained with the slogans SIPAG, tiyaga, pagnenegosyo: hard work, perseverance and entrepreneurship. An ideal homo economicus which could thrive in «a neoliberal terrain that demands individualism, privatization and the marketing of everyday life».
This “moral re-education” of the Filipino people has also resulted in a culture in which those who fail are mercilessly blamed for their own poverty. According to Ortega, this also means justifying the expulsion of poor from urban areas by construction investors.
"Entire populations are exiled as surplus," the author writes, and this particularly affects landless peasants, slum dwellers, and indigenous peoples.
Return and expulsion
Under Cory Aquino (1986–1992), land reforms were launched that, rather than real redistribution, created the conditions for land speculation and the construction boom – first by Special Economic Zones and other economic infrastructure targeted at foreign investors, and then by private housing. After a brief setback in the wake of the Asian crisis at the end of the decade, construction picked up speed again in the mid-2000s.
It was at this time that builders systematically began marketing new residential complexes directly to the Philippines abroad. Partly the so-called OFW's – Overseas Filipino Workers – on short-term contracts, and partly OF's – Overseas Filipinos – who live permanently abroad, but either want to return with their pension, make money on real estate investments or buy a permanent home that they can use during holidays.
The land reforms Cory Aquino had initiated had been reshaped and circumvented several times since, not least by re-registering land holdings from agriculture for other purposes, including construction speculation. The Aquino clan took advantage of this. Their 6-hectare land holding Hacienda Luisita was transformed into a listed company, where the farmers who worked for the hacienda, on paper, became shareholders.
A culture has been created in which those who fail are mercilessly blamed for their own poverty.
When the Luisita peasants in a protest in 2004 nevertheless insisted on their right to land ownership, they were shelled and seven killed. Since then, Hacienda Luisita Incorporated has entered into a number of public-private partnerships (PPPs), which have been another slogan in the Philippines in recent decades. These PPP projects include the Luisita Golf and Country Club with its housing complex, where one can "enjoy life in a peaceful environment" and security guards will probably have to make sure that the landless farmers who still claim their right cannot be heard.
The Philippine dream
In Josie Høgh's vanished village, the smallest unit in Arista Place – this «Asian tropical theme» residential complex – costs 2,6 million pesos (420 Norwegian kroner). In an area where the minimum wage has just been raised by a magnificent 000 pesos (four Norwegian kroner), to a total of 25 pesos a day, one does not have to be a mathematical genius to figure out that Josie's remaining brother will not 'upgrade his lifestyle ". Nor will it be Josie – for Arista Place has obliterated the last physical memory of the village she once left. In return, other OFWs and OFs have moved in.
"We Build the Filipino Dream", it sounds from builders who make billions that every day there are thousands who travel to make money, and maybe one day return – whereupon some others must be expelled. Either abroad, or further out into poverty and urban periphery.
As Ortega writes in Neoliberalizing Spaces in the Philippines: "The current construction boom rests on a flimsy foundation in an uncertain national economy and is intimately linked to theft from landless Filipinos whose dreams are shattered."