Pagbag Anyone? Fresh From The Dumpster.

In Philippine slums, meat scavenged from dumpsters feeds those short of meals and hope. Consuming pagpag, as it’s called, leads to stunted growth in children, and heightens the risk of acquiring hepatitis A, cholera and typhoid.

Do you ever get the feeling we’re losing? Here we are nearly six months into possibly the most deadly pandemic ever, our world is spiraling to oblivion, and we’re all partying. The beaches are choc-a-bloc, young people are raving like there’s no tomorrow – they could well be right! – and our politicians are behaving like the common cold has gone a bit rampant this year and caused a few inconveniences.

What’s the major news items of the moment? The grief of people who can’t go on vacation, or might have to quarantine for two weeks when they return; the poor old airlines struggling to make ends meet because no-one can use them anymore.

Sidelined are the thousands, possibly millions, now without jobs and little or no means of support. Government handouts are for the few who fall into the rules. In France hairdressers, beauty parlours, small everyday businesses not in the hotel, holiday, or catering industries, are unable to claim anything for their losses despite customers not spending on such luxuries because they dare not, or were not allowed, to leave their homes during lockdowns.

It’s not just in France. In America the great one-off roll-out of $1,200 per person was great to receive in April or May. It was two weeks wages for the average American. There’s been none since – three or four months later.

Yet Americans can count themselves lucky, the French should be ecstatic. There are many parts of the world where this pandemic is causing so much additional financial hardship a little suffering in the West is something of a luxury.

Asia is particularly hard hit.  The Philippines, home to nearly 107,000,000 people with roughly one third living below the poverty line pre-Covid-19, has been badly affected. American-owned call centres are one source of income for the more fortunate Filipinos. Ten hour shifts through the night, with one day off a fortnight unpaid, is standard work practice. For that they earn around 12,000 pesos a month. It sounds a lot, until you realise 12,000 pesos equates to fractionally over €200 (US$245; £188) per month, or €0.87; (US$1.03; £0.79) an hour. Even that’s above the minimum wage of 375 pesos/day, as declared by the present “freely-elected” dictator of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.

Most shop work and general factory work is minimum wage, which for an eight hour day equates to under 47 pesos an hour, or €0.82 (US$0.97; £0.74) or €33 (US$39; £30) per 40 hour week.

The so-called civilised nations of the West continue to grow fat on the hard labour and often near starvation of the Filipino people.

Below is an image of a typical street in Jasaan, on the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Ramshackle housing, corrugated iron roofs that stifle in the intense heat. No air conditioning here. Most residents are lucky if they have an electric fan.

And THAT was all before Covid-19 struck.

Duterte ordered a complete lockdown, with instructions that anyone breaking curfew should be shot.  Thousands of Filipinos were thrown out of work as shops, factories, call centres, all shut down. Food distribution was patchy at best, reliant on often corrupt local authorities who lined their own bellies and kept the best for themselves. For most Filipinos there was no food, no money, and an imminent prospect of starvation. Many lost electricity when bills were left unpaid.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte slums it here, in the presidential palace:

They call them dumpster divers.  Duterte has threatened to have them shot. They eke out a living collecting items thrown into rubbish bins.

They sell or exchange what they collect for food or other essentials. On average they may make 1,000 pesos a week (€18; US$20). That was before Covid-19. To stay safe from Duterte’s gunmen the dumpster divers worked at night. Now, with a lockdown curfew, even being seen on the street could fetch them a bullet. [1]

It’s so easy to forget the starving people in the world. They’re just statistics. We shove them firmly to the backs of our minds and concentrate on how bitter we feel at not having had the vacation we’d hoped for, or where the next rave party was going to be. Even the pandemic itself is brushed aside as we flock to the beaches and leave our litter behind on the sand.

In the Philippines, or many other places, that litter could possibly be worth a peso or two. It might provide desperately needed milk for a baby, or sufficient to prevent a child from dying from starvation.

Do you ever get the feeling we’re losing? If we continue on this self-centred, ego trip that the so-called civilised western world has created, we’re not just losing, we’ve already lost. Our wealth has and is being created off the backs of human beings just like ourselves, except they scratch to survive from the moment they’re born until the day they die.

It’s their lot. It’s so you and I can afford the vacation we complain that we’re not able to take; or the rave we want to attend, or the beach party we enjoy, or the aeroplane ride to wherever. None of which the people who make these things possible for you or I, will ever do.

Yes, we are losing. If we do not arrest our greed and selfishness, and begin to share what we have with those who gave it to us by the sweat of their brows and the deaths of their children, then indeed we have lost.

[1] Read more on the plight of the Filipinos HERE