Jose Ma. Montelibano
We are in between worlds, established superpower America of the West and emerging superpower China of the East. It is a contrast territorially and ideologically. The contrast of sunrise and sunset had carried with it much conflict historically. When the West discovered the East, expansionism by conquest and/or trade was the order of the day. For several centuries, relationships were defined by violence and greed.
The West mastered expansion by conquest. Although it had its Renaissance and awed the world with its creativity and artistry, the West was primarily about the use of power to establish control. From within its boundaries, member states waged so many wars against each other that, including those between Christians and Muslims, there were more wars than years.
Sometimes, we need a foreigner to articulate a truth so we can confront it. Dan Brown, author of the bestseller, “Inferno”, a fiction and sequel to previous books like “Da Vinci Code” and “The Lost Symbol”, mentions Manila in ways not so flattering. In fact, MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino reacted quite sharply to Brown’s choice of Manila and his choice of words to describe the city – or metropolis.
I have been monitoring the hunger incidence statistics of the Philippines as reported quarterly by SWS for over ten years, as long as I have been involved with the Gawad Kalinga movement. Because I was a late-comer in anti-poverty work at that time, I remained observant but quiet. I thought I could not speak up when I was just like most people I knew then—uninterested, uninvolved and concerned with a million other things.
Along the way, I grew more intimate with poverty from consistent presence in areas where the poor were, getting to know them better, deeper involvement with community organizing, working with volunteers and partners, and helping design community programs. All the time, I always remained watchful about hunger. And when I knew the terrain much better, I began to write about it.
I really like what Sen. Serge Osmeña said about the recently concluded senatorial elections, “P-Noy won but Binay did not lose.”
In my view, the 9-3 score is an affirmation of the President’s popularity. I do not believe that voters elected the senators because P-Noy said so, or (Vice President Jejomar) Binay said so. That P-Noy or Binay said so may have affirmed the choices of the people and strengthened their resolve to vote accordingly, but certainly the people chose.
Why, then, did P-Noy win if the choice was of the people? Simple. The most winnable candidates chose to be with P-Noy. That is why P-Noy won – because the most winnable believed they could increase their already good chances of winning by allying themselves with the most popular P-Noy.
It’s that time again when traditional sources roll out their unsolicited advice. Vote wisely, vote responsibly, don’t sell your vote, etc. Now that the Internet affords more opportunity for any user to join the chorus from traditional media, including posters on Church walls, the volume of unsolicited advice has increased.
I have been listening to or reading the same unsolicited advice for more than fifty years. It puzzles me why it doesn’t stop. It sure has done from little to nothing in pushing the objective of the unsolicited advice. Why do the givers of unsolicited advice continue to do what has failed their cause for decades?
Poverty in the Philippines cannot be effectively and substantially resolved. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot raise at least 5 million Filipino families out of poverty, not for as long as they do not change the way they look at the poor.
The poor are not the problem, we are. The poor are the victims, not the cause, of poverty. If government wants to effectively and substantially address the cancer we call poverty, then government has to look at itself as the primary culprit. After it, the next culprit is the Church and the elite that have long been in bed with government.
It may be that there is less malice among the culprits than a historical amnesia, and greed, of course. Government shamefully forgets our very history, especially the fact that we were never an impoverished people until we were conquered, abused and exploited by our colonizers. Because poverty was not a natural state of the natives of our islands until we were baptized “Filipinos” by Spain, there is an easy way to trace our poverty.
After a lot of traveling abroad, I have picked up local traveling once more, taking advantage of summer and special events taking place in the Philippines. Last month, I went to four provinces in one week to attend the most spectacular volunteer event ever held in the country, the Bayani Challenge 2013. 80,000 Filipinos (with some foreigners, too) joined the event, most of them for five whole days, at their own expense. The Bayani Challenge invites the participant to be part of community-based activities which range from building homes for the poor, repairing/repainting public school buildings, planting trees, rehabilitating mangroves, medical missions, and giving poor children the time of their lives with games, food and balloons. For five days, Filipinos gave of themselves to prove bayanihan works and should be the foundation of nation-building. 37 sites in 33 provinces hosted Bayani Challenge 2013.
Last week, I went to Cebu, Leyte and Southern Leyte. Now, I am in the middle of a Bicol visit which I hope will take me all the way to Catanduanes if I have the time. These sojourns to many local areas which I hope to increase by the week are a great refresher course to me, a blessing in so many ways because I am allowed to be with people on the ground. Writing can tempt someone to stay in the air, or get lost in the clouds of thoughts and ideas, enough to lose the pulse of those with feet so grounded on the earth. I enjoy the different local delicacies, especially fresh sea food, too, a bonus for traveling that challenges an aging body.
I am on a ferry boat from Cebu on its way to Hilongos, Leyte. It has been some time since I have taken this route to reach Maasin, Southern Leyte, which is my final destination for today. My age does not encourage me to do traveling like this anymore. After all, I had to wake up at 3 am to be in the airport by 4 am, then take off for Cebu by 6 am. When we dock at Hilongos, I still have an hour of driving to get to Maasin, making today an air, sea and land trek. But this is the Philippines, and traveling can be an adventure in itself.
From the airport early in the morning and in between meetings in Cebu, I have been looking at the news from print, TV and cyberspace. Even the kind of traveling I am doing now, it is most possible to stay wired to domestic and global developments. Truly, it is the dawn of the 21st century, even for our country, the long – struggling third world member making a great effort to leap forward. It is not just technology, it is a people blessed with great talent that can use the present and emerging technologies.
Losing a friend as many and I have in William MacGregor Esposo, or Billy, despite our having accepted a long time ago that death was an active and constant threat to him, is always an emotional trauma. We who had been among Billy’s closest friends in the last two decades are not strangers to the dramas of life, not at our ages. And we have not been strangers to danger, excitement and radical change either – these had brought us together, kept us together, and made our friendships even stronger.
In my Blog and Facebook page, I had quietly vented my grief from Sunday morning when I was in Jakarta attending a special event help by GK Indonesia. I had wanted to take the first plane home but it was already too late to say goodbye to Billy before he died. I had to process a personal loss by myself mostly, and it was bearable only because I am of an age where death should be a more familiar reality.
Politicians have become entertainers, and entertainers have become politicians. For as long as Filipinos seek entertainment more than good governance, then it will continue to be entertainers becoming politicians and politicians become entertainers.
Entertainment tends to distract us from our daily worries, or the exhaustion from our daily routine. With the kind of extreme poverty that a third of our people suffer from, and almost another third that are moderately poor, by our standards, of course, class struggle and bloody revolution could have overtaken our society a long time ago. But the capacity for entertainment to be a major and effective vent of frustration allowed the revolutions we had at Edsa I and Edsa Dos to be peaceful.