2013 was a controversial year for the Binays. The year began with intense public scrutiny of Nancy Binay, who, in spite of her lackluster political resumé, handily won a seat in the Philippine Senate in a tightly contested race. The family was criticized for perpetuating dynastic politics. Their strong electoral performance last May resulted in the Vice President and his three children holding influential national and local posts at the same time.
As the year draws to a close, the Binays are back in the headlines. This time, the controversy is about the standoff between the four-vehicle convoy of Makati Mayor Junjun Binay and four security guards of Dasmariñas Village who stood their ground and refused “to extend courtesy” to the city’s chief executive.
Within hours after the story was first published, “Binay” immediately became a Twitter trending topic. Netizens described the incident as a display of arrogance. Some framed this as a preview of things to come should the Binays reach the peak of political power in 2016. After all, this is not the first time a member of this political dynasty violated road rules. The Vice President figured in a similar incident in 2010 when his security convoy was caught on CCTV beating the red light in Quezon City. This happened a few days after the President declared his “no wang-wang policy.”
Calls for accountability directed at the Binays are in order. It is important to keep public pressure against such behavior to stigmatize both mundane and extraordinary abuses of power especially among high profile politicians.
However, it is also important to reflect on the social conditions that give rise to incidents similar to what is now popularly tagged as the Dasmagate scandal. I suggest that this incident is not a simple case of the Binays behaving badly. Rather, such conduct in public spaces—the Binays’ so-called “entitlement complex”—exemplifies broader social consequences of living in megacities like Metro Manila that have become increasingly segregated through residential enclaves.
The politics of gated communities
These days, gated communities are a common feature of urban societies. We have become used to surrendering our identification cards every time we enter village gates or writing down our personal details in a logbook before receptionists let us in condominium buildings. By virtue of our status as non-residents, we have subjected ourselves to “standard security procedures,” honoring the character of gated communities as guarded enclaves designed to protect the privacy and security of residents.
These procedures have now become acceptable if not taken for granted, such that when a mayor and his entourage breach these rules, public condemnation reaches scandalous proportions.
The other scandal, however, is the seemingly uncritical defense of such social arrangements. While there is merit in appreciating equal and consistent enforcement of security procedures in gated communities, it is also important to take a step back and reconsider the consequences of such “standard procedures” to urban life.
Social scientists have expressed caution against the tendency of gated communities to deepen urban inequality. At the core of fencing off communities from the squalor of the city is a process of social segregation based on income, and, in some cases, race and ethnicity.
Some call this the “secession of the rich.” Upper and middle class families enjoy self-imposed exclusion within their private living spaces governed by their own rules. Building fortresses provides privileged residents a refuge from shared urban issues and responsibilities. Through lush gardens, well-paved jogging paths and privatized security, unwanted realities of extreme poverty, crime, pollution and social inequality are rendered invisible.
Also prevalent in gated communities are “procedures” that, in effect, set privileged residents apart from suspicious outsiders. That Mayor Binay was not granted the courtesy “he deserved” is only secondary to everyday practices of exclusion enforced by these residential enclaves.
Each day, thousands of working class communities—those on whose backs urban developments are built—are subject to random stops and searches. Separate service elevators and waiting areas are provided for cleaners, drivers, delivery boys and security guards. Intense questioning of those attempting to enter exclusive areas whose physical profile and economic status do not correspond to the template of home or unit owners have become routine.
Cities as democratic spaces
This is where the bigger scandal lies. The hidden cost of residential enclaves is the institutionalization of class segregation in the city, where social interaction cluster around socio-economic lines. Restricted public access to otherwise common spaces deters meaningful social interactions among citizens who do not share the same social and economic background, engendering ignorance, mistrust and suspicion towards the other.
Recently, a colleague was telling me about how some of his students have disturbingly limited practical knowledge about urban poverty. This, I reckon, is unsurprising, as privileged students experience the city by seamlessly shuttling between their residential enclaves, gated universities and exclusive leisure destinations through private transportation.
Trends like this are rather troubling. Such practices curtail the city’s potential to be a democratic space—a socially diverse area that can generate empathy towards strangers by allowing citizens to learn more about the other. Instead, what we have today is a fragmented megacity where we know less about each other as our communities are designed to exclude those who are unlike us.
At worst, these trends can create a generation of privileged urban inhabitants with entitlement complex—the type of citizens who have an inflated sense of self-importance and socialized to think they deserve more good things in life than others by virtue of their wealth. This is the same character flaw for which the Binays are criticized and it is most important that we change the social context that brings about such complex. – Rappler.com
Nicole Curato is a sociologist from the University of the Philippines. She is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the Australian National University. She too lives in a residential enclave.