If anything the Philippines is already a Cyberpunk Setting. We’ve got all the elements for a cyberpunk world, though not necessarily in the way that most people would imagine it to be. While it’s true that stuff like flying cars, invasive cybernetic body part replacement and other technologies are still way beyond anyone’s grasp. The Philippines is already pretty close to the crazy dystopia that people in Cyberpunk settings always talk about.
Living in a Wired World
If there’s one thing that Filipinos are good at, it’s adapting early to new communications technologies. The Philippines has been nicknamed the SMS capital of the world for popularizing (and some would say, abusing) the SMS text functionalities of modern cellphones. This obsession over staying in touch with friends, acquaintances and loves ones 24/7 is a national obsession, and while these might be extreme cases, there are incidents when poor Filipinos would rather starve and skip a meal just to buy prepaid credits for their cellphones. Why unemployed Filipinos with no marketable skills scrounge up enough money from scavenging trash or doing odd jobs to buy a cellphone rather than to buy new clothes or other necessities boggles the mind. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’ve seen people pushing junk carts manage to pull out cellphones.
It doesn’t end with cellphones either. Filipinos have taken to VOIP like fish do to water, even with our abyssmal internet connections. And given the fact that majority of Filipino homes rely on at least one parent living and working overseas in order to make enough money to send the kids to school, almost every home that can afford a decent living has a headset and a webcam.
If a cyberpunk world has multitude of corporate drones selling their minds, hearts and souls to the System, then the Philippines has that in spades. Right now the Philippine economy runs on two things: Overseas Worker remittances and Call Center Employees. There are dozens of Call Centers right now, and entire legions of young Filipinos are spending their lives on the graveyard shift, slowly wasting away from sleep deprivation and lowered Immune Systems augmented only by various vitamin supplements, and the occasional Red Bull. These masses go to work at 10pm, or even 12 midnight, to go home at 7-9am then crash on their beds to rouse themselves at 8pm and do it all over again. Call Centers are high stress jobs, dealing with people over the phone and trying to give them what they want within a window of 2 minutes per call isn’t always what one could describe as fulfilling work, especially if the employees are practically chained to their desks, their breaks at the mercy of company efficiency.
Government? What Government?
Small private armies follow certain government officials in the provinces, ruling over their respective little kingdoms by force of arms. The police are generally perceived to be corrupt, and the courts are slow as molasses. People who have been arrested languish in jails for indeterminate amounts of time until their hearing, which may not swing in their favor depending on how rich their opponent is. Meanwhile affluent people thrown in jail live in hotel-like conditions only to be set free by presidential pardon once the heat is off of them. The people are now generally apathetic to the government, rendered so by the multiple instances when the People Power Revolution phenomenon grew a Sequel, then a Parody, until all calls for mass action was met with a collective, “Meh.”
While possibly not hitting the “Mega” status yet, several very large corporations control swaths of our daily lives. Everyone is hooked up to PLDT for their communications needs, and even those who claim to be competitors lease their lines. San Miguel Food Corporation has it’s hand in our national Beer, and almost every other food related product out there. Most people care more about where they’re working rather than the government (no surprise there I guess.)
Crazy people climbing Billboards and High Tension Electric Towers and threatening to jump. Drug-addled people going nuts and knifing their own children in their sleep claiming that they saw the kid as a demon. Entire communities living off a landfill and picking through decomposing filth for food and salvage. Cults of people who worship national hero Jose Rizal as a christlike entity. Communist factions that infiltrate Labor Unions and push for unreasonable reforms to choke and kill off businesses that don’t pay up. Kidnapping for ransom becoming a cottage industry. Mail order Filipina Brides. Random orphaned streetkids who huff rubber cement living underneath bridges and highway ramps.
If anything I’d like to say that drawing from real life would be a great inspiration for Cyberpunk, it’s stunning how surprisingly close things here are compared to the envisioned dystopia of cyberpunk worlds. It’s gritty, unhappy but so very real here in the Philippines.