I had been writing about distractions and disruptions, understanding their dire consequences should we remain unaware and ill-prepared. But I am only one writer published in one digital media outlet in a vast, busy world of thousands doing the same thing. There are only so many I can reach, and even fewer I can, perhaps, impact deeply. That is life in a world of constant distractions and occasional disruptions.
On the surface are deeply alarming issues. There is China, the biggest elephant in the global room and even more significant in the Philippine and Asian context. I can write many articles about how China is shaping our lives and how it can do more than that. Yet, it remains a surface issue and can be considered a great distraction. There is the drug scourge that keeps rearing its ugly and corrupt face. Today, Secretary Benhur Abalos feels it is his central mission, not just a surface issue. But it is, for us as a people.
Because the fundamental, deeper, powerful issues birthing most problems besetting our country and the Filipino people remain to be poverty and corruption. It is difficult to imagine an important concern of any kind that cannot be connected at the root to poverty and corruption. They are like the massive trunks of interconnected trees from which multiple branches of anomalies are born and fester.
It is not as though Philippine society, especially the world of politics and traditional media, had not been focused on exposing and resolving the poverty and corruption that has guaranteed our being stuck forever in our national quicksand. I remember hearing and reading about different tales and versions of poverty and corruption since my boyhood in the 50s. Funny, but things are not better when we have the benefit of hindsight and the benefit of a long-time view.
For one thing, what we had given much attention to throughout these several decades tends to become worse, not better. As we dedicated more attention and effort to the crusade against poverty and corruption, the problems have not been solved. In fact, they have worsened in more ways than one. As I can statically claim that poverty has receded from its greater numbers in the past, it also has deepened where it has stayed and now produces more behavioral anomalies.
Poverty lines are blurred, not because science cannot be exact, but because the government sets the baseline. Its natural causes and painful effects determine poverty and how much any administration wants to look better before its people and the world. In other words, poverty or the success of efforts against it has also been propagandized. Measuring poverty seems better understood from the misery of its victims rather than statistics from government agencies.
It is also impossible to get a clear official statement from the government about poverty levels. One agency says this, and others say otherwise – by focusing on specific sectors as though they do not have to reconcile the overall statistics. What jumps out of so many official reports on poverty is one that pointed to the rural areas as the most affected – farmers and fisherfolk – as high as 30%. Even this, however, is a report of 2021, meaning the high inflation rates since then must have pushed poverty deeper and more widely.
Claiming poverty below 20% and not near 50% is simple but deceptive political correctness. Interestingly, from its own pronouncements and actual expenditures, the government provided food assistance to 80% of Filipino families during the early part of the pandemic and tried to sustain this support as best it could. Currently, we have reports from SWS regarding the last quarter of 2022, or just a few months ago, that 53% of Filipino families received aid from the government.
And what about poverty’s more controversial twin – corruption? From all transparency indices, the Philippines has been sliding down, not increasing, in its corruption levels. I have no doubt it is worse. The propaganda that preceded and justified corruption has been the array of major infrastructure projects. The more and more extensive the projects are, the perpetrators anticipate that the physicality of roads, bridges, railways, and other facilities will assuage a frustrated public. They will not question the cost anymore.
As individual citizens, how can we measure the real versus padded costs of major projects? Where will we source the critical information on the basic costs projected in the billions or tens of billions? Yet, the projects that cost the biggest also offer the most opportunity for corruption. Where else can billions under the table be made but from projects that cost many billions more? At the end of the day, we are grateful for a new highway and a new bridge and marvel at new government buildings – forgetting that their costs are where corruption can come from
We naturally end up with trillions of new debts, but the trillions become too large for ordinary Filipinos to grasp. It also seems we have far too many problems on a day-to-day basis to worry about, distractions as I call them, to appreciate the forever quicksand we cannot get out of. The strategy is cruel but effective – make problems too big to understand and solve, then give all sorts of aid even if we borrow our tomorrow away. After all, the thieves and liars do not pay for what they steal and lie about. We, the people, do, including our children and grandchildren.
Beneath poverty and corruption lies the culprit of it all – our lack of capacity to do things for ourselves, to produce things we need to survive and grow, to develop a habit of producing and manufacturing but go deeper into easing addiction to consuming and buying. Because of distractions, we invite disruptions.