[IRL] MALLS AS CIVIC SPACES
By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Many decades ago, the legendary Pres. Ramon Magsaysay declared that the test for political truth was “Can we defend it in Plaza Miranda?” Plaza Miranda was smack in the heart of Quiapo, and we all know that Quiapo is no longer the center of business and commerce that it used to be. Similarly, Plaza Miranda has been displaced by other arenas of political influence—most recently by EDSA: the site of two popular “People Power” uprisings that successfully removed two sitting presidents, although they failed to fully eradicate them, and like hydra-headed monsters, they and their spawn still thrive.
In our cities, the town plazas have been geographically replaced by the shopping malls. As the town center, the plaza was the historic hub around which were built the church, the government buildings, the market and the homes of the town’s most prominent citizens. In this millennium, government offices have sprung up within the malls. Some of the most upscale malls have high-rise luxury condominiums attached to them or very conveniently nearby. During pre-covid times, families attended church services at the mall to start their day of rest and recreation. The early evening leisurely paseo around the town plaza had long given way to after school or office hours malling, when students played in the arcades and office workers unwound with a movie or a communal meal, followed up with karaoke. That all seems like a distant memory now.
For those of us lucky enough to be digitally well-connected, social media has been a public space where one can lurk unseen or without actually engaging. Meanwhile over the years, public forums, each one with the potential power to be another Plaza Miranda, have multiplied on as many radio and TV current affairs talk shows. But since we are social creatures to our core, connecting on social media, or over the air waves, is never as satisfying as actually mingling with other warm bodies. The reopening of the malls is a gauge of how our lives are gradually returning to normal. Still the sight of shuttered spaces like the cineplex and the fitness centers, may cause pangs of grief.
It is heartening to see the malls filling up, that is, as far as social distancing allows, through such cautious, micro baby steps, as giving us our RFIDs, so that we Metro-Manila denizens might now take jaunts to Tagaytay or even up to Baguio, as far as their local restrictions might permit us to. Freedom of movement may never be the same. The malls as vaccination centers sparked hope that the elusive herd immunity might actually be realizable. The magnitude of 70% of 110 million Filipinos boggles the imagination. Currently, around 20% of Filipinos are fully vaccinated. However, most of us got only Sinovac which has a notoriously lower efficacy rate, and 20% Filipinos fully vaccinated, is not even a third of the aspirational 70% of all 110 million Filipinos. Don’t even get started on all the new Covid-19 variants. We may run out of letters from the Greek alphabet at the rate they’re cropping up.
Currently, the malls are also a preferred site for COMELEC Voter Registration. May these new voters, willing to queue for hours, just so they can exercise their right to vote next May 09, 2022, far outnumber the cynics who say that there’s no point in voting anyway because all the presidential wannabe’s are the same. True: never trust a traditional politician whose greed for more power and all the filthy riches that position brings, far outweighs their desire an political will, if any, to truly serve the people. So far, all of those who have thrown their proverbial hats into the presidential political arena are true trapo through and through. Meanwhile, we wait for her who has proven that her service to the people has always had an element of personal sacrifice. When her time comes, may we be ready for her. She keeps our hopes alive that the Philippines may yet see a bright new dawn, during these our darkest hours. She is the bringer of light and life and worth waiting for.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.