[OPINION] Tambayanan: A nation of bystanders
We are a nation of tambays. From the shirtless men who while away their time in their favorite sari-sari store to hipster millennials hanging out in Cubao X, the idea of tambay (a contraction of the English expression "to stand by") in the Philippines is a national, collective experience. Almost all Filipinos, regardless of social background, had their tambay moments. Some became tambays due to lack of employment opportunities. They became members of the country’s army of surplus labor, occasionally finding income from odd and irregular jobs, which working class Filipinos usually call “delihensiya.”
On the one hand, tambay is the result of the lack of access to education. These are the young tambays we call the OSY, an acronym for out-of-school youth, who were forced out of the school system due to the state’s failure to provide affordable and quality education. They, too, become members of the surplus labor, a sub-categorization of the working class, which some now call by the faddish term: precariat.
On the other hand, there are those who hang out, not because they were compelled by economic reasons, but because they enjoy the spirit of camaraderie and community that goes with hanging out. These are the full-time students, employees, and mothers who cool their heels after a stressful and busy day. The culture of hanging out is an opportunity for people to share their lives and make special moments out of ordinary days.
As a political communicator, I’m amazed at how people use the occasion to catch up with friends, update themselves of the latest news from their respective barangays, exchange opinions about the latest burning issues and even listen to the latest juicy community gossip. They often congregate around a sari-sari store, a favorite local eating place, or just around the neighbor’s yard, talking about their day, taking in the life of the village, catching up with neighbors, or getting news about the newest faces in the area. In fact, if you go to a school, one of the most vital instruments for student organizations is a "tambayan," or a place to sit, think, come together, and work.
The culture of tambay becomes a legitimate venue and instrument for communication, persuasion and even consensus-building. You can gauge the people’s pulse by simply hanging out with tambays. The tambay is your "man in the streets." He is your average Juan dela Cruz who media interview to hear public sentiment about social issues. Bystanding becomes both a process and a venue for the production and reproduction of social opinion. It’s also where collective social actions are born.
Thus, while it can be argued that the tambay phenomenon is rooted in economic inequality and the lack of equal opportunity, it is also deeply cultural. It is part of the Filipinos’ way of life. Even if our country manages to attain full employment and free universal education, the culture of tambay is, every pun intended, here to stay.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to arrest all bystanders as part of his anti-crime campaign is pathetically short-sighted and despotic. His order dismisses the economic roots of the tambay culture. It is also anti-Filipino as it goes against the very grain of Filipino culture. It is ironic that for somebody who has a long track record of being a local government official, President Duterte seems to be so out of touch with reality. He assumes that by simply limiting the people’s mobility, he would be able to lessen crime. It isn’t even a crime to hang out. But I fear that it is not crime that President Duterte is targeting with this order. President Duterte is attacking our very sense of community and would like to deliver a deathblow to the people’s social aspirations.
He is building a virtual prison to socially incarcerate people. By criminalizing the tambay, the Chief Executive effectively ignores the public’s systemic problem with unemployment and lack of access to education, and thus, kills the people’s desire to go beyond the boundaries of society. By arresting all the tambays, President Duterte is enforcing a crackdown against a vast, grassroots community that is a potential hotbed for resistance against his dictatorial governance. This is textbook tyranny.
He prevents people from talking to one another under the pretext of "safety." He prevents people from coming together because he believes he knows what’s good for them, when what is probably closer to the truth is that he has failed to understand the most vulnerable members of our society completely. He tries to tear the tambayans apart because he knows that it is in these places, these sacred sanctuaries and gatherings, where resistance is born, bred, and bolstered.
Our history is replete with cataclysmic social upheavals powered and led by young people, workers and informal settlers, who tyrants dismissed as bums, criminals and freeloaders.
Tambayans are not breeding places of criminals. Tambayans are the birthplaces of resistance. President Duterte has every reason to be afraid of the “tambayanang Pilipino.” – Rappler.com
Emmanuel M. Hizon is a political communications specialist with more than 10 years of experience in political communications, content development, and brand management. He is currently the Communications Director of Senator Risa Hontiveros. He wrote this piece while "nakatambay."