Saturday, April 26, 2008

Why We Are Poor

by Francisco Sionil Jose

What did South Korea look like after the Korean War in 1953? Battered, poor - but look at Korea now. In the Fifties, the traffic in Taipei was composed of bicycles and Army trucks, the streets flanked by tile-roofed low buildings. Jakarta was a giant village and Kuala Lumpur a small village surrounded by jungle and rubber plantations. Bangkok was criss-crossed with canals, the tallest structure was the Wat Arun, the Temple of the Sun, and it dominated the city's skyline. Rice fields all the way from Don Muang Airport - then a huddle of galvanized iron-roofed bodegas, to the Victory monument.

Visit these cities today and weep - for they are more beautiful, cleaner and prosperous than Manila. In the Fifties and Sixties we were the most envied country in Southeast Asia. Remember further that when Indonesia got its independence in 1949, it had only 114 university graduates compared to the hundreds of Ph.D.'s which were already in our universities. Why then were we left behind? The economic explanation is simple. We did not produce cheaper and better products.

The basic question really is: why we did not modernize fast enough and thereby doomed our people to poverty. This is the harsh truth about us today. Just consider these: some 15 years ago a survey showed that half of all grade school pupils dropped out after grade 5 because they had no money to continue schooling. Thousands of young adults today are therefore unable to find jobs. Our natural resources have been ravaged and they are not renewable. Our tremendous population increase eats up all of our economic gains. There is hunger in this country now; our poorest eat only once a day.

But this physical poverty is really not as serious as the greater poverty that afflicts us and this is the poverty of the spirit.

Why then are we poor? More than ten years ago, James Fallows, editor of the Atlantic Monthly came to the Philippines and wrote about our damaged culture which, he asserted, impeded our development. Many disagreed with him but I do find a great deal of truth in his analysis. This is not to say that I blame our social and moral malaise on colonialism alone. But we did inherit from Spain a social system and an elite that, on purpose, exploited the masses. Then, too, in the Iberian peninsula, to work with one's hands is frowned upon and we inherited that vice as well. Colonialism by foreigners may no longer be what it was, but we are now a colony of our own elite.

We are poor because we are poor - this is not a tautology. The culture of poverty is self-perpetuating. We are poor because our people are lazy. I pass by a slum area every morning - dozens of adults do nothing but idle, gossip and drink. We do not save. Look at the Japanese and how they save in spite of the fact that the interest given them by their banks is so little. They work very hard too.

We are great show-offs. Look at our women, how overdressed, over- coiffed they are, and Imelda epitomizes that extravagance. Look at our men, their manicured nails, their personal jewelry, their diamond rings. Yabang - that is what we are, and all that money expended on status symbols, on yabang. How much better if it were channeled into production. We are poor because our nationalism is inward looking.

Under its guise we protect inefficient industries and monopolies. We did not pursue agrarian reform like Japan and Taiwan. It is not so much the development of the rural sector, making it productive and a good market as well. Agrarian reform releases the energies of the landlords who, before the reform, merely waited for the harvest. They become entrepreneurs, the harbingers of change. Our nationalist icons like Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo TaƱada oppose agrarian reform, the single most important factor that would have altered the rural areas and lifted the peasant from poverty. Both of them were merely anti- American.

And finally, we are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings. We condone cronyism and corruption and we don't ostracize or punish the crooks in our midst. Both cronyism and corruption are wasteful but we allow their practice because our loyalty is to family or friend, not to the larger good.

We can tackle our poverty in two very distinct ways. The first choice: a nationalist revolution, a continuation of the revolution in 1896. But even before we can use violence to change inequities in our society, we must first have a profound change in our way of thinking, in our culture. My regret about EDSA is that change would have been possible then with a minimum of bloodshed. In fact, a revolution may not be bloody at all if something like EDSA would present itself again. Or a dictator unlike Marcos.

The second is through education, perhaps a longer and more complex process. The only problem is that it may take so long and by the time conditions have changed, we may be back where we were, caught up with this tremendous population explosion which the Catholic Church exacerbates in its conformity with doctrinal purity.

We are faced with a growing compulsion to violence, but even if the communist won, they will rule as badly because they will be hostage to the same obstructions in our culture, the barkada, the vaulting egos that sundered the revolution in 1896, the Huk revolt in 1949-53.

To repeat neither education nor revolution can succeed if we do not internalize new attitudes, new ways of thinking. Let us go back to basics and remember those American slogans: A Ford in every garage. A chicken in every pot. Money is like fertilizer: to do any good it must be spread around.

Some Filipinos, taunted wherever they are, are shamed to admit they are Filipinos. I have, myself, been embarrassed explain for instance why Imelda, her children and the Marcos cronies are back, and in positions of power? Are there redeeming features in our country that we can be proud of? Of course, lots of them. When people say for instance that our corruption will never be banished, just remember that Arsenio Lacson as mayor of Manila and Ramon Magsaysay as President brought a clean government.

We do not have the classical arts that brought Hinduism and Buddhism to continental and archipelago Southeast Asia, but our artists have now ranged the world, showing what we have done with Western art forms, enriched with our own ethnic traditions. Our professionals, not just our domestics, are all over, showing how an accomplished people we are!

Look at our history. We are the first in Asia to rise against Western colonialism, the first to establish a republic. Recall the Battle of Tirad Pass and glory in the heroism of Gregorio Del Pilar and the 48 Filipinos who died but stopped the Texas Rangers from capturing the President of that First Republic. Its equivalent in ancient history is the Battle of Thermopylae where the Spartans and their king Leonidas, died to a man, defending the pass against the invading Persians.

Rizal - what nation on earth has produced a man like him? At 35, he was a novelist, a poet, an anthropologist, a sculptor, a medical doctor, a teacher and martyr.

We are now 80 million and in another two decades we will pass the 100 million mark. Eighty million - that is a mass market in any language, a mass market that should absorb our increased production in goods and services - a mass market which any entrepreneur can hope exploit, like the proverbial oil for the lamps of China.

Japan was only 70 million when it had confidence enough and the wherewithal to challenge the United States and almost won. It is the same confidence that enabled Japan to flourish from the rubble of defeat in World War II.

I am not looking for a foreign power for us to challenge. But we have a real and insidious enemy that we must vanquish, and this enemy is worse than the intransigence of any foreign power. We are our own enemy. And we must have the courage, the will, to change ourselves.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More advocacies

Almost every week, I read about a new advocacy being formed. The following are three advocacies that I have recently encountered in the www.

Citizenship by Good Example (CGE)

This is a Simbahan Lingkod Bayan (SLB) initiative. SLB is an Ateneo based socio political ministry of Society of Jesus. It is interesting to note that SLB recently came out with Iniibig ko ang Pilipinas statment at the height of the NBN ZTE scandal. Anyway, going back to CGE. I am with them since part of my advocacy is good citizenship. The initiative has two basic activities, distribution of a double CD celebrating love for the Philippines and are regular radio program on the AM band. The initiative is allied with various organizations like Center of Positive Futures, Gawad Kalinga, Inigo Corporate Formation Group, Pathways to Higher Education, Rags2Riches and other groups.

Another initiative is TEAM RP a youth led organization. This group, I think, was formed at the height of the Jun Lozada expose. The another Ateneo led group made news when they came out with a statement On The Makati Rally expressing their disappointment over the presence of former presidents Cory Aquino and Erap Estrada on stage during a rally at Ayala Ave. More on TEAM RP can be read on this blog.

Another initiative, Center for Responsible Governance Philippines, Inc. seeks to fight the culture of corruption by giving awards to uncorrupt and incorruptible people in government. They believe that a counterculture exists and that they want to turn the spotlight on good individuals, nurture them and hopefully grow them. This is a La Salle alumni led initiative.

These three initiatives are truly admirable. They do what they do for love of country. I believe there is no hidden or personal agenda. These initiatives were formed out of frustration, maybe, from all the scandal and crisis in our country. Through these initiatives, the participants won't feel helpless. They do their share in helping our country get on its feet.

Having said that, my problem with these initiatives are the following.

1) There is no direct participation from ordinary Filipinos. Very typical middle class initiatives. A magtataho may never be able to relate with these initiatives if ever he hears or sees them on the news. These kind of initiatives is good only for those who are part of it. I don't think poor Filipinos can empathize with these initiatives. There is no mass appeal in any of the initiatives.

2) There is nothing new being offered. Many initiatives have come and gone. A few have endured but not one truly made a dent, not even Gawad Kalinga, into our collective consciousness. Forgive me but I view on these initiatives is doing something for the sake of doing something.

3) There is no attempt to capture the imagination of our people. An advocacy can truly make a difference if it captures the hearts and minds of our people.

4) From the start, the initiatives are already labeled. CGE and TEAM RP being an Ateneo led initiatives while the other is La Salle led.

5) The initiatives have faces. Only a FACELESS campaign will get the attention and capture the imagination of our people.

Having said the above, I wish all three initiatives success in their endeavor for they do what they do for love of country.

How they see our problem

The following is an essay written by a Korean about the Philippines. It was written years ago but the message is still very relevant.

My Short Essay About the Philippines
Jaeyoun Kim

Filipinos always complain about the corruption in the Philippines. Do you really think the corruption is the problem of the Philippines? I do not think so. I strongly believe that the problem is the lack of love for the Philippines.

Let me first talk about my country, Korea. It might help you understand my point. After the Korean War, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. Koreans had to start from scratch because entire country was destroyed after the Korean War, and we had no natural resources.

Koreans used to talk about the Philippines, for Filipinos were very rich in Asia. We envy Filipinos. Koreans really wanted to be well off like Filipinos. Many Koreans died of famine. My father & brother also died because of famine. Korean government was very corrupt and is still very corrupt beyond your imagination, but Korea was able to develop dramatically because Koreans really did their best for the common good with their heart burning with patriotism.

Koreans did not work just for themselves but also for their neighborhood and country. Education inspired young men with the spirit of patriotism.

40 years ago, President Park took over the government to reform Korea. He tried to borrow money from other countries, but it was not possible to get a loan and attract a foreign investment because the economic situation of South Korea was so bad. Korea had only three factories. So, President Park sent many mine workers and nurses to Germany so that they could send money to Korea to build a factory. They had to go through horrible experience.

In 1964, President Park visited Germany to borrow money. Hundred of Koreans in Germany came to the airport to welcome him and cried there as they saw the President Park. They asked to him, "President, when can we be well off?" That was the only question everyone asked to him. President Park cried with them and promised them that Korea would be well off if everyone works hard for Korea, and the President of Germany got the strong impression on them and lent money to Korea . So, President Park was able to build many factories in Korea. He always asked Koreans to love their country from their heart.

Many Korean scientists and engineers in the USA came back to Korea to help developing country because they wanted their country to be well off. Though they received very small salary, they did their best for Korea. They always hoped that their children would live in well off country.

My parents always brought me to the places where poor and physically handicapped people live. They wanted me to understand their life and help them. I also worked for Catholic Church when I was in the army. The only thing I learned from Catholic Church was that we have to love our neighborhood. And, I have loved my neighborhood. Have you cried for the Philippines? I have cried for my country several times. I also cried for the Philippines because of so many poor people. I have been to the New Bilibid prison. What made me sad in the prison were the prisoners who do not have any love for their country. They go to mass and work for Church. They pray everyday.

However, they do not love the Philippines. I talked to two prisoners at the maximum-security compound, and both of them said that they would leave the Philippines right after they are released from the prison. They said that they would start a new life in other countries and never come back to the Philippines.

Many Koreans have a great love for Korea so that we were able to share our wealth with our neighborhood. The owners of factory and company were distributed their profit to their employees fairly so that employees could buy what they needed and saved money for the future and their children.

When I was in Korea, I had a very strong faith and wanted to be a priest. However, when I came to the Philippines, I completely lost my faith. I was very confused when I saw many unbelievable situations in the Philippines. Street kids always make me sad, and I see them everyday. The Philippines is the only Catholic country in Asia, but there are too many poor people here. People go to church every Sunday to pray, but nothing has been changed.

My parents came to the Philippines last week and saw this situation. They told me that Korea was much poorer than the present Philippines when they were young. They are so sorry that there are so many beggars and street kids. When we went to Pasangjan, I forced my parents to take a boat because it would fun. However, they were not happy after taking a boat. They said that they would not take the boat again because they were sympathized the boatmen, for the boatmen were very poor and had a small frame. Most of people just took a boat and enjoyed it. But, my parents did not enjoy it because of love for them.

My mother who has been working for Catholic Church since I was very young told me that if we just go to mass without changing ourselves, we are not Catholic indeed. Faith should come with action. She added that I have to love Filipinos and do good things for them because all of us are same and have received a great love from God. I want Filipinos to love their neighborhood and country as much as they love God so that the Philippines will be well off.

I am sure that love is the keyword, which Filipinos should remember. We cannot change the sinful structure at once. It should start from person. Love must start in everybody, in a small scale and have to grow. A lot of things happen if we open up to love. Let's put away our prejudices and look at our worries with our new eyes.

I discover that every person is worthy to be loved. Trust in love, because it makes changes possible. Love changes you and me. It changes people, contexts and relationships. It changes the world. Please love your neighborhood and country.

Jesus Christ said that whatever we do to others we do to Him. In the Philippines, there is God for people who are abused and abandoned. There is God who is crying for love. If you have a child, teach them how to love the Philippines . Teach them why they have to love their neighborhood and country. You already know that God also will be very happy if you love others.

That's all I really want to ask you Filipinos.

This next one is a letter to the editor written by an Indian national.

This refers to Romeo Encarnacion’s letter titled “With so much talents and skills, why is RP a basket case?

I come from another developing and equally corrupt country, but allow me to put in my two pesos’ worth of opinion on this question.

I am writing this letter because I lived in Manila for about six months in 2005. I was born and raised in India. For the past 10 years I’ve been living in North America.

While in the Philippines, I would start my day with a hearty breakfast. I would usually have some toast, butter (made in New Zealand), jam (made in Australia/United States) and some juice (made in United States/Thailand/Brazil). I assumed the bread for my toast was made in the Philippines.

Compare that with my similar breakfast in India. There I never came upon a breakfast item that was not made in India. The point is, daily needs—be it jam, juice, butter or rice—should be homegrown.

Just like India, the Philippines has a huge pool of cheap labor. The government and the people should insist that basic goods be produced locally. That will create jobs, save precious foreign exchange and protect the nation from external dependencies and threats. So with cars, electronics and household products. The Philippines must set up more manufacturing facilities—with the help of foreign experts if needed—but the country should make sure that the units and parts are manufactured in the Philippines, not merely “assembled” here.

Another thing I noticed, which was so glaring and evident in Encarnacion’s letter—more specifically when he compared the Philippines with America—is the entire Filipino nation’s low self-esteem.

Having lived in India until the age of 26, I could feel the Indian people’s high national pride. Yes, India is as poor as the Philippines; yes, we do have tall, shiny buildings and malls but they are right beside shanties. Indians are complaining all the time about our government agencies but seldom or never do we compare ourselves to America. But in the Philippines, you open any local newspaper and almost every day you read at least one article singing hosannas to America.

Every country has its own culture and way of doing things. There’s no one cap that fits all situations. I believe the Philippines can develop and do things its own way. If China can do it as a communist, if India can do it as a socialist, so can the Philippines, Filipino style.

Many Indians, just like many Filipinos, are going abroad every day, but the Indian exodus has not hampered India’s progress. The Philippines has better infrastructure than India, arguably better quality of English speakers, fairly fertile lands and a vast pool of human resources.

I believe that the day the Filipinos wake up and take charge of their situation and take less pride in being a “balikbayan” [visiting overseas-based Filipino] than in being Filipino, that day when the Philippines will become another “Asian tiger” won’t be far away.


Their observations are both valid. The Korean notes that we don't love our country while the Indian sees that we have a low self esteem as a people. That is essentially why I have this advocacy of love of country. National pride is almost non existent. Our morale is too low. Love of country is just evident only to a few but collectively there is none. As crisis and scandals becomes normal fare in our lives, there is really not much that will make us feel good about ouselves as Filipinos. Yes, there is this
Good News Pilipinas website but its just pampalubag loob. We need to do something about our collective esteem, collective morale, collective pride. Non Filipinos are seeing our problem. I wonder why we don't. Or are we just on denial?