Life in a Village Borg

borg hiveI recall a few years ago that I was lectured for referring to my place of residence as a “Fishing Village”. The critic said there are no villages in the Philippines, just cities and municipalities. Well, that is the difference between a practical person and an artist. We artists use whatever word-paint we choose, and we even go so far as to refer to that famous open-sourced dictionary, The Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary (HDNWD), to define a word to mean whatever we want it to mean.

  • Village (noun) A small community generally of one predominant occupation sharing life.

This is not a government entity. It is a lifestyle entity. Outside Manila and the large cities, it is the way most people live. Indeed, within the large cities, some barangays are themselves villages.

I lived in a fishing village for a time. And now I live in a rice-growing village.

Villages are where the great under-employed masses of Filipinos scrape by for a living. You can identify them because they walk with a sideways tilt, that gained from years of leaning on others to get support, or leaning into others to provide support.

  • Borg (noun) A community in outer space that is made up of cybernetic robots functioning as drones of a collective hive. The Borg collects and connects humans and other species and assimilates them into the hive. They are assigned the mission of conquest to achieve the ultimate goal, perfection. (Origin: Start Trek series)

Indeed, villages are small borg communities, without the electronic wiring or platform in space, but with the interconnections that knit every resident to every other resident in a tight bond called the need to survive. Oftentimes, generally during elections, a village borg will split into two parts, like a dividing amoeba, to form opposing villages. Occasionally they are murderous.

Those outside the villages tend to put themselves on a higher plane, one that enables them to peer down snobbishly at the village people’s rough, poverty-stricken lifestyle, and what they would term ignorance, for, indeed, many villagers don’t complete their high school education. They are too busy working. From childhood.

But within the village, life is simple. Ground rules are clear. Bonds are tight. Love is strong. Work is hard. And all that citified folderol, which in a different vernacular could be called municipal shit, does not enter their thinking.

The  civic purists bemoan vote-buying, but for a villager, that is just a seasonal opportunity to get some extra cash. It’s like a leap-year Christmas. It doesn’t matter to village people who is elected. Their lives don’t change. If “name” people keep getting elected, it is because their vote-buying machines, or local loyality machines, are stronger than the other candidate’s.

If you want the village people to elect candidates on the basis of competence, you need to prove to them that it makes a difference as to whom they vote for. That is hard to do. Because it is hard to make a difference. Real time. In the village.

Within the village, though, surprisingly enough, life is good. A village functions much like the Borg cube drifting amongst the stars and planets and spaceships, self-contained. It has its own moral codes, its own sustenance. It is quarantined from infection from modern demands and needs.

That’s why the Philippine suicide rate is far below that of places like . . . like, for instance . . . the United States. And why the Philippines keeps on ranking high on the global happy-o-meter.


Life is good because needs and resources are well-matched. Needs are simple. A roof, generally of thatch or tin. Some walls, generally of bamboo. A pad for sleeping. Firewood for cooking. A couple of pots and pans and a dish or two; unmatched is fine, chipped is okay. A source of water. A below-minimum-wage job now and then.

Words that are not in the common vernacular: career, reading, aspiration, guilt.

One word that is for sure there, as defined in the HDNWD:

  • Envy (noun) Bitterness directed at anyone who would DARE to break the unspoken bond of equality-in-poverty. Anyone who would try to get ahead of his village-mates.

The resourcefulness of the envious at bringing down the ambitious or successful is amazing to behold.

Other words that are there: superstition, tuba, cockfight, fiesta.

The fiesta is a marvelous celebration. It is the time when the borg, the village, celebrates its tight-knit bond. Oh, they use different words for it, for sure. But that is what is going on.

Families re-unite. Guests are welcome with open arms . . . and are expected to have open mouths into which to push loads of delicious food. Families will go broker than broke, borrowing, to make sure they provide well for their visitors. And all the pains, the cramps from stooping or climbing or digging or hauling, the anxieties over health and money and food and children, are set aside for a few days to pay homage to an exquisite joy . . . the joy of being in it together.

34 Responses to “Life in a Village Borg”
  1. edgar lores says:

    1. Ah, the simple life.

    2. I like the word ‘village’. It brings to mind a world of quaint, rustic charm. I lived in a fishing village of a crescent white-and-gray-sand beach, a diamond-head mountain, palm trees, a Spanish light house and a gigantic rock boulder sitting on a reef.

    3. I laughed at “You can identify them because they walk with a sideways tilt…”

    4. Your characterization of village life, the details of unmatched china and the insular mentality, is terrific. All of that is familiar.

    4.1. The fiesta, as the be-all and end-all of existence, is a tradition bequeathed by the Church. It is good and bad. The good is the food, the celebration, the stimulation of the local economy, the reunion of families from the cities and from foreign lands. The bad is the petty one-upmanship, the misspending of money on finery and doodads (instead of, say, books and education), and the internalization of wrong values.

    4.2. The village is where the masa thrive. And the slums, the squatter areas, are the villages of urban areas. The mentality is the same although the quality of life is far, far different. This is Binay’s territory.

    5. There is something in me that yearns for a return to village life. In the modern world, most of us — who have escaped the village — are vagabonds. And, like turtles and salmons, we want to go back home. But you can’t. The world has become a global village, but even so, “you can never go home again.”

    • Joe America says:

      5. Yes, once you leave the village, you are infected with knowledge and new ideas. They are rather like a hunchback or losing a leg, you are different. Even if the village is pretty much the same, people look at you differently. I skipped going to all my high school reunions. They are strangers and they would for sure find me strange. I would only relate to other oddballs, but they weren’t there, I’m sure.

      Still, I ask, did I gain, or did I lose, along the way. The attendees I’m sure have something that I don’t.

      Screw it. I’m gonna write more about Taiwan.

      • J says:

        Great piece.

        One of your points seems to say that the villagers are indifferent to national politics because, to a certain extent, their lives are detached from that of the nation.They will be involved in politics if politics would show it can improve their lives. Thaksin was able to do this– show politics matters– in Thailand, and as a result the rural villages there have become politicized; indeed, even revolutionary. I remember a scholar saying revolutions are caused when the poor masses gain a bit of something, and these little gains are threatened.

        I wonder, would the Thai villagers have been better off had Thaksin not improved their lives and made them political?

        • Joe America says:

          Interesting musing. I suppose it is possible to break through the barrier of apathy by stoking angers. It’s hard to do by stoking hope or trust that someone will actually do something to make a difference.

          I tried to visit your site for the latest article, but my IP address has evidently been dumped to the internet blacklist file by nefarious bandits. So I don’t get around much anymore . . .

          • counterflow says:

            Hi Joe,

            I sent you an email about the banning. I definitely did not ban you, although the host might have for reasons unknown. Please reply to the email so we can sort the matter out. Thanks.

          • Joe America says:

            I got the e-mail. I’m good for now. Thanks.

        • edgar lores says:

          There’s another saying, all politics is local. There are several meanings but the meaning I would take now is that to a certain extent villagers would only be concerned with politics at the barangay and municipal level. Manila is far away and nebulous.

          I think somehow Binay, with his budget of millions, has been able to penetrate and exchange favors at the provincial level, and by extension, at the municipal level. And he does not have to lay out all cash as promises will do. The provincial officials will certainly have pet projects (read sources of ill-gotten wealth) in their localities awaiting central approval or initial funding to get the ball rolling. These unholy alliances may be the factor in Nancy’s stunning win and these will see Binay seated in the Palace come 2016.

          I think for democracy to succeed villagers must be politicized or, rather, become politically aware. Their current political awareness is at the level of superstition, and it largely consists of the notion that communism (and its variant cousins of the Left) are ideologies of the Devil. I remember way back in the 50’s, any politician tarred with the communist label was facing certain political death, and this is still true now. America’s propaganda of “better dead than red” was so widespread, so deep and so pervasive that the aftereffects are still with us. Which is why Risa lost and why Casino will never win a national seat.

          • Joe America says:

            I’ve decided that politics is a place of little principle, and that Nancy Binay deserved to win because she played her cards right. She did not rock the boat, she hid, and she did it well. Ms. Poe played her cards even better, using her eloquence during a debate to pile the middle class atop the movie fans who like the Poe shoot-em-ups, which remind me of Eastwood spaghetti westerns, in black and white. I think Poe shot more people than Clint though. Now if they politic like Sotto, they’ll be there for about one term, in these more enlightened days. And I always think about Obama, who is in office because he gave one great speech. It’s a process, as are bloggers. If the LP honchos understand the problem with reaching the villages, they’ll forget Mr. Roxas and recruit Ms. Poe to the ideology and leave the Binay masa reputation lying face down in the dust like so many Poe movie bad guys.

  2. JosephIvo says:

    I wish I could believe Rousseau too, living in a village with no fences, peaceful day to day living between equals. And sometimes I still believe that the old days were so much better. Sometimes I feel this simple life is what attracts me to the Philippines.

    But the country side is drenched with poverty too. Not being sure about basic needs, not being sure about tomorrow and this generates fear. Living with fear creates sublimating fear, regressive behavior, scapegoating, projection and all other unpleasant defense mechanism. Why is it that more than 50% of the people live in ever larger cities? What is the attraction of cities? Are people plain stupid? Or are they fleeing the rigidity of the country site, the lack of flexibility, change? Or is it because I grew up in a city that I always felt as an outsider in a village?

    But regardless, I enjoyed your colorful portrayed village.

    • Joe America says:

      People go to the cities for jobs. I need to write about Manila, come to think about it. You will always be an outsider because you think too well. The Philippines is good for us because there are so few rules, and lots to think about.

      Glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. andrew lim says:

    This discussion of rural villages being self-contained, where all is good and hunky-dory and where vote buying is a way of life reminded me of a discussion started some years ago when Erap got elected President. Why not limit voting rights to certain classes like registered taxpayers for instance, or those with a minimum level of education?

    Now, before you scream elitism and discrimination, think about it: why involve people who cannot understand, or will not follow the requirements of a capitalist democracy? Why not try this for say, 20 years, and let these certain classes decide things for them. The potential for abuse is huge, but if the non-dynasts and really competent leaders get elected, and real change happens, then villagers may be convinced that it’s not a bad idea after all.

    Also, why involve people who have no interest or knowledge of national issues in discussions or activities of such? I don’t get involved in discussions of how to build nuclear plants because I am not knowledgeable about it. By the same token, why involve villagers in the national discussion?

    ha ha ha 🙂

    • Joe America says:

      Can we include lawyers in the excluded group? That would refine things a bit. Maybe actors and comedians, too.

    • edgar lores says:


      We can control from the bottom or from the top. But even if we control from the bottom, as Cha has pointed out there will always be Ateneans who will vote for the likes of Estrada and Binay.

      And if we control from the top, what criteria do we apply? IQ? EQ? SQ? UQ? PQ, etc?

      And who will do the controlling?

  4. The Mouse says:

    If earthlings are successful in colonizing Mars, we should be using “borgs” to call places there…Instead of Filipinotown, we call it Filipinoborg

    Ifugao is one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines yet it is not riddled with NPA or uprising. The Mouse thinks that people in far flung places care more about what their LGUs can do for them more than the National Government.

    Here is an Ifugao place that strives to decrease maternal deaths: And they are quite successful. Note that this is being done in a place where infrastructure are very poor. No roads, no vehicles.

    Here is a video on how they do things:

    • Joe America says:

      Touching and educational. It makes me think that politics largely prevents good people from just being good people. Sets them against one another.

  5. cha says:

    I’ve lived in a remote rural “village” or barrio for a little over a week back in the early ’80s as part of a social immersion program I particpated in while in college. The barrio (somewhere in Quezon Province) could only be reached by foot or horseback from the town proper. We went on foot which took over 3 hours travel time.

    There was no electricity in that barrio. Hence, no TV. Just the occasional radio. Very rarely, the barrio folks get to trek to town to watch the some Fernando Poe or Sharon Cuneta movie. That was almost all the contact they would ever really have of the outside world.

    There was a small elementary school but no high school.

    Little did they see. Little did they know.

    But they did have a barangay captain who they turned to for counsel and support during hard times. I won’t be surprised if they vote for whoever the barangay captain asks them to vote for, with or without payment in exchange. For the most part, they trust this man knows better than they do.

    My cousin, a mountaineer, tells me such isolated communities still exist as they have discovered in their ascent to several mountain peaks. Up North. Down South. They’re all over. They now make regular visits to some of these communities and bring with them school supplies, books for children in the hope that these can help open up the world to them (bought through donations from their friends and family). They make no attempts to politicize the barrio folks. Just help with whatever they can help with.

    Those who blame the problems of this country on the supposed stupidity of the poor and the masa should probably first try to walk in their shoes. Oh wait, those people might not even have shoes. So just try and imagine being born in those people’s circumstances.

    That the likes of Estrada and Binay are elected into office solely because of the masa is one big fat lie. When Estrada first run for President in 1998, his advisors and core supporters were Ateneans. Stuart-Santiago admitted in a recent blog that she did vote for Estrada back then. Of late, the previously anti-dynasty Celdran endorsed Estrada for Manila Mayor.

    Apparently, te Aquino sisters gave their support to Binay instead of Roxas in 2010. And Kris Aquino helped campaign for Jun-jun Binay in Makati this recent election.

    If the poor are stupid for voting for these candidates, then what do we make of the supposedly learned ones who also do, or worse were the ones who prodded them on?

    • Joe America says:

      Very vivid description of realities outside the artificial blog-world, or Inquirer-world. I believe Nancy Binay was elected properly. Her election should be respected and any further judgments ought to be based on what she does or does not do. I think the biggest shortcoming of the citizens of democracy is failure to respect that those with whom we disagree actually won. It’s hard to be gracious.

    • The Mouse says:

      “That the likes of Estrada and Binay are elected into office solely because of the masa is one big fat lie. When Estrada first run for President in 1998, his advisors and core supporters were Ateneans. Stuart-Santiago admitted in a recent blog that she did vote for Estrada back then. Of late, the previously anti-dynasty Celdran endorsed Estrada for Manila Mayor.”

      The irony of all.

      I think worth mentioning is the bloc voting practice of the INC.

    • edgar lores says:

      There are two kinds of stupid people in the Philippines — the stupid poor and the stupid learned.

      Education does not guarantee intelligence. Ask Mariano. 🙂

  6. Attila says:

    The 2nd EDSA revolution was about removing Erap the corrupt president from power.. The people of Manila went on the street and demanded changes and rebelled. Now the people of Manila voted him to be their new Mayor. This looks bad for any self respecting Filipino. It also makes a joke out of EDSA. Some of my Filipino friends like to refer to the EDSA revolutions as the proof that the Filipinos have the courage the will and the bravery to change the country. What are they going to say now?

    • Joe America says:

      They will say that crime is socially acceptable. Indeed, it adds to a person’s mystique of power and accomplishment and can be worn as a badge, rather the way Americans wear their military medals.

    • Rein Luna says:

      It means that most Manileños trust him more than Lim. Lim’s reputation is that bad. I felt Manila needed a third candidate.

  7. The Mouse says:

    Speaking of Erap, in the forums I have visited, a lot do seem to prefer Erap over Lim. The main reason is what Lim did to Manila when he was mayor — he was basically dismantling Manila’s heritage and uglifying it.

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