IT'S a slightly cloudy, not-so-rainy evening in the first couple of months of 2019 when D and I, who happen to have the privilege of a car on this night, decide to wait out the hellish (or blood-red, as Waze vividly illustrated it) southbound traffic in some section of this neoliberal city we don’t usually get to check out. After enjoying a fusion (postcolonial?) spiced chicken dish for dinner, our satellite image of the Metro still yields gashes and cuts across its face, so we move to the pastry shop/café right across the resto to wait things out a bit more, get some work and reading done.
Huddled in the next table is a group of med students. They’re a few years younger than us—just making it past the millennial/Gen Z line—their noses buried in four-thousand-page tomes, their heads occasionally glancing up to clarify a thing or two with their study buddies, their lips spewing medical jargon my humanities-weaned mind can’t even come close to guessing the meanings of. A quick glancing on my part reveals that one of them is a distant—genealogically and emotionally—cousin of mine. I recognize him from some of the larger, few-and-far-between family gatherings we’ve had over the past couple of years, though I hope my face is forgettable enough for such recognition to be anything but mutual. (I absolutely loathe the scourge that nepotism has wrought on our country, so I figured one of the ways to avoid participating in it is to avoid forcing relations where only a sliver of a thread links us.)
Things soon take a turn for the casual: school anecdotes, hospital hours, this physician-relative’s salary, etc. My cousin’s contribution to this chatter is a friend, a board-passer of just a couple of years ago, who works at a dialysis center every few days of the week. “It’s the best medical business there is,” he says, almost as if he owns or has invested in such a center himself. “The patients are stuck with you for life.”
D nudges my knee with hers; she’s well aware of how these types of statements elicit a teeth-gnashing abhorrence from me. As someone who likes keeping abreast of current events and political goings-on in our increasingly mad, mad world, and who tries to make sense of these with theories and ideas I’ve picked up from various texts, I’m still guilty of naivety when it comes to expecting my sociopolitical views to be in agreement or at the very least align to some extent with those of fellow middle-class millennials. I like to think that decades of unbridled capitalism, continued environmental degradation, and ever-worsening marginalization of the underprivileged, coupled with the rise of neofascists the world over, have awakened in my generation a preference for a more hopeful, more compassionate, more optimistic, more “woke” brand of politics—one that advocates for greater government accountability, one that envisions the state taking on a more proactive role in providing for its citizens’ healthcare, education, even housing, among other things. And indeed my social media feed does seem to confirm this, with articles and memes on Bernie Sanders, AOC, Jeremy Corbyn, Neri Colmenares, the Kabataan party-list popping up ever so frequently.
But when I hear remarks like these, remarks that view the body’s inability to cleanse itself as something that can be capitalized on, remarks that envision the treatment of such inability as a profit-generator, remarks that therefore reduce the ailing individual to a commodity, that bubble of mine suddenly bursts. I then can’t help but wonder how many other medical professionals think this way, or how many young people enter medical school—or any other licensed profession for that matter—with a genuine intent to help others, able to look past the prestige and the promises of a supposed “secure future.” The news of the hospital staff, right here in Cebu, laughing as a drug suspect bleeds, convulses on one of their beds, comes to mind. Or the ever-so-common stories of private hospitals turning down patients unable to make an initial deposit.
I come to the sobering realization that perhaps my penchant for critiquing capitalism, especially in its most insidious forms, and hoping for a better future, is shared by just a handful, though not insignificant, number of us Filipino millennials. Privilege and individualism continue to blind the rest into thinking everything is hunky-dory, and that the only reason why we exist is to leech money off of others, especially the most vulnerable, the most fragile.