Having been coming to the Philippines and Manila for many years its been funny to witness what everyone else describes as economic growth.
Anybody with eyes can see that there are many more skyscrapers now, and there seems to always be a new mall springing up on any spare land. The clubs are buzzing, the bars are getting better, there’s even talk of removing the jeepneys. There’s a smoking ban, clampdowns on anti-social behaviour, but away from the bright lights, nothing ever changes.
For me Ermita is the place that epitomises this. The district is essentially one big red-light district, seemingly oblivious to the smoking ban or any other rules.
This is Duterte country, where the locals deal in sin, while surrounded by families sleeping on the street. And I mean full families, including the extremely sad sight of new born babies sleeping rough with their parents.
You have to wonder if these people feel like the post-Mandela South Africans, wondering when the revolution they voted for will actually happen.
But Ermita is merely the tip of the iceberg, and to see the real suffering you have to take the road out to Smokey Mountain. This road is lined with slums, where the locals have created their own shanty towns with shops, stores, local government, and police.
What is clear is that the people who live here have truly made a community. Kids play, people work and lives are got on with. Although they might not have material wealth, their life is still superior to those living on the streets of Ermita.
Then, at the end of the harbour, you get to Smoky Mountain, so named due to the stench of the steam rising from rotting rubbish and smoke from burning trash. Here people have reclaimed the wasteland to live as best as they can, something that by the looks of things they obviously do.
Life and people are funny, and the resilience of the human spirit is very real, but for the people of the slums of Manila the question about when actual change might come is very contemporary.