A Plea For Justice

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

After one long month visiting the United States and Canada, it is so good to be home. No doubt, there are modernities and opportunities that only developed countries can give. No doubt, traveling in countries with vast lands, with lakes where the whole Philippines can fit, can be quite alluring. And staying in cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Toronto can dazzle a Filipino. North America is super rich, not just pound for pound, but in volume, too. It is no wonder that different peoples around the world want to migrate to the US and Canada.

At the same time, being in a work like Gawad Kalinga (GK) gives me the privilege of traveling to countries where GK either finds support or gives support. The movement to lift our people out of poverty by stimulating both love for the poor and patriotism in hearts of others who can help, with particular development modalities that are finding success like no other in the world, needs the kind of coordination that require me and a few others to keep in close touch. The achievements of Gawad Kalinga are not lost in the big world of anti-poverty and social entrepreneurship. Winning the Ramon Magsaysay Award was just the beginning, and bagging the Skoll Foundation Award (Jeff Skoll is the founder and CEO of the giant eBay corporation) a few months ago is but the latest of recognition that a native Filipino initiative is meriting globally.

Promoting GK even to Filipinos abroad can be back-breaking. Poverty is a global reality and ours does not especially stand out as the worst. Africa has the top priority with a poverty that has strong shades of AIDS or violence. Then, serious disasters like what hit Haiti can temporarily put that country at the top of the list for aid or philanthropy. The plight of the poor in the Philippines must be the prime concern of Filipinos because developed countries will not place the Filipino poor above others in the world. Furthermore, poverty in the Philippines, in the minds of Filipinos abroad, is intimately related to corruption. I cannot blame them. Poverty is a direct consequence of corruption in a country that is blessed beyond belief. It is the bitter fruit of a lack of concern for the other, it is the curse of a people whose rich and powerful suffer from historical amnesia and whose need to have more prevent them from correcting that historical anomaly.

Poverty in the Philippines is not a natural calamity, it is a criminal reality. Poverty in the Philippines began when a foreign master grabbed the lands of a thriving people who had never known hunger or destitution. I do not wish to romanticize a past just to emphasize a point, but there is no archaelogical finding of any sort that points to significant incidences of hunger or violence. In contrast, scientific findings all point to a past that is colorful, prayerful and abundant. Poverty began when the Filipino was forcibly separated from control of his land. In the 16th and 17th centuries when this wholesale land grab happened, it was not land that was confiscated from natives of our islands, it was business, it was enterprise, it was wealth, it was freedom and creativity. The succeeding centuries simply saw the intelligent humanity of the Filipino reduced to intelligent animal-hood.

In 1946, independence from foreign rule was granted by the last foreign master, the United States. The land that was grabbed by the first foreign master and passed on to their successors finally found their way back to Filipino hands. But a lack of appreciation of the historical past, or a lack of motivation to correct a historical wrong, prevented the newly-installed Filipino rulers from remembering that the lands they were in control of, land called public, was never the government’s in the first place. When the lands were grabbed by Spain, there was no national government to steal them from. The lands belonged to the natives, the lands were stolen from the natives. We are now in the 21st century and those with power and authority wallow in amnesia, real or contrived.

There are a few exceptions, a minority who never forgot about their own lands. They are the Muslims of Mindanao, the same Muslims who have tried to fight for what was theirs but branded as separatists or terrorists. They are only Filipinos who have not forgotten, and who have had the courage to die for their own sense of justice. The only mistake that Muslims have made is to blame Christians. Because those who ruled were Christians, Muslims blamed all Christians. They did not realize that Christians are the most victimized, and worst so because fellow Christians stole their lands. The truth is that all natives lost their lands to foreign masters. The truth is that massive poverty is but a consequence of grabbed lands, of grabbed wealth, of grabbed opportunities, of grabbed entrepreneurship.

The way back to dignity as natives of our beautiful country is security of tenure. Filipinos cannot be born squatters. Filipinos cannot be punished generation after generation for a crime that a foreigner committed. The natural and divine relationship of man and land must be honored. And if the present dispensation and the decision-makers of our society will rediscover the historical truth, I am sure that their conscience will move them to stop the inhumanity committed against the poor who have been unable to climb out of the hole they were forced into.

The way of Gawad Kalinga is inspirational, not confrontational. The way of Gawad Kalinga is kindness, not rebellion. The way of Gawad Kalinga is developmental, not violent. It will always be that way or it will not be Gawad Kalinga anymore. But in the heart of this one GK advocate, this one GK worker, I can only plead and pray for justice. And I do so now because there is a new ambience for truth, a new ambience for justice, and a new generation that will lead us to the promised land.

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