Jose Ma Montelibano
The more exciting times are, the faster time seems to fly. That is what happened with 2013 and 2014. 2013 was like an erupting volcano with the Napoles scandal, the Zamboanga siege, the Bohol earthquake, and the monstrous Typhoon Yolanda. The impact of 2013 was such that 12 months were not enough to absorb it. It leaped over to 2014 with the PDAF and the DAP controversy making the Executive and Legislative Branches collide with the Supreme Court. Then, the unthinkable but inevitable – three serving senators are detained awaiting their trial for plunder.
Literally, 2013 and 2014 took our breath away. These two years may end up like prophets warning us of the trajectory of life into 2015 and beyond.
First, the political tsunami is not over, and it is beyond partisanship. People are slowly but surely finding their voice. They are out less in the streets but moving powerfully towards social media, creating noise that politicians would do well to respect. People power is not over, it is stepping up to the next level.
Second, climate change is not a fancy phrase anymore. It has started to have a face, like Yolanda, and a texture, like very wet. A country like the Philippines may be used to typhoons, floods, landslides and earthquakes, but the frequency, the intensity, and the impact on communities are dangerous and alarming. Climate change says that coastal towns are gravely endangered with rising water levels. Well, floodwaters are also quick to rise, and rise higher than before, in urban areas.
It used to be that 90% of Filipinos were considered masa, and poor. That is what used to comprise classes D & E. The OFW phenomenon, however, has dismantled the choking hold of poverty for at least 30% (and growing). The BPO industry has further opened higher-than-average starting salaries for about one million Filipinos, mostly young, and many from the D sector. Self-rated poverty remains high at around 55%, but both the OFW market and the BPO industry will reduce that number in the next few years.
The new middle class is truly emerging, led by the traditional C sector and now joined by upper D. I hope that upper D gets to be classified as C soon, so this sector would then be the real middle class and the majority as well.
The middle class, though, is not only about income and economics. It is a lifestyle that has its own morality and emerging political maturity. Technology will facilitate and hasten this maturity by linking the masa to global influences with speed and audio-visual features. Both the OFW and BPO workforces are intimately assimilating international mindsets and values through daily work exposure. That is indoctrination by activity, and unbelievably effective.
It is a new year and the poor among us deserve a new understanding and approach into the poverty that enslaves them. From as long as I can remember, this poverty has been connected with corruption. In the 2010 elections that catapulted PNoy into the presidency, corruption was actually blamed for corruption with the slogan “Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap.” That slogan, by repetition and by the political victory of its source, promises that poverty will go away only if corruption disappears before it.
But is our poverty really because of corruption? Can anyone show us how corruption created the massive poverty that has plagued the Filipino people? Filipinos were poor even before there was a corrupt Filipino government. Maybe a review of history can help us trace how poverty began. Historical amnesia makes it impossible for government to eliminate poverty. Is poverty solved when assumptions of root causes may be terribly flawed?
The reduction of poverty driven by OFW remittance and employment by BPO businesses is not related to anything anti-corruption. Government did not establish the OFW and BPO industries, global dynamics did. The poor themselves who went, and keep going, abroad to fill up the labor needs of other countries are taking themselves out of poverty. And the capacity to speak English and be better mannered towards customers from the West is what built the BPO industry.
Tourism is fast showing just how powerful it can be in reducing poverty, and tourism again is more about the beauty of the country and the Filipino people more than it is about being anti-corruption. If the main drivers to reducing poverty are not about corruption, what happens to “Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap?”
I think corruption is related to poverty, but the other way around. I think that if there is less poverty, there will be less corruption. I think the slogan or formula “Kung walang mahirap, walang kurap” is more effective and more wise. Making victory against greed a condition before poverty can be dismantled is condemning the present poor in the Philippines to be poor indefinitely as human societies have been unable to eliminate greed over millennia.
Why do we not go against poverty as our primordial national objective, base governance on this principle, instead of putting more importance to anti-corruption? People who are not in dire need cannot be easily manipulated to compromise themselves and vote for those who can give them money or favors. People who earn more, who have more work and stable employment, they are the ones who can tell politicians to behave. So why not use the people themselves to dismantle corruption instead of layers of laws and regulations that strangulate governance and balloon its cost?
It is New Year. It is a good time to begin with new thoughts, with new assumptions, with new priorities against both poverty and corruption. We have been in the direction of destruction, even if the intent is to destroy corruption, for too long and achieved little. It is in guaranteeing dignity to our poor, in building their capacity for production, in raising their confidence for entrepreneurship, and in providing a vision that even our children can be inspired to pursue that we truly can build a nation and a future full of hope.