Por Nada

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The little Spanish I know taught me that the phrase “You are welcome” can be said a number of ways, but two popular ones are “de nada” and por nada.” Recently, however, a college classmate who is now a judge gave another meaning—the Filipino way. He said, “poor-nada,” to mean that the poor are nothing, or nothing is for the poor.

While this was said in jest, or in repetition of what he had heard in jest, the phrase jolted me for the stark truth that it implied. Poor-nada is really true, that the poor mean nothing and that nothing is for the poor—the way of society from the very beginning.

It has always been that the strongest rule, not the wisest, although good fortune can happen. There are struggles to make the strongest become more kind and considerate, to value the poor and the ordinary as equal in worth and dignity. The struggles have succeeded in introducing a concept that was once unimaginable—that the weak no matter how many, also have as much value as the few who are strong. In history, we are told stories of the great ones, all conquerors, until we memorize their names and feats. But we hardly know even how many hundreds of ordinary, faceless, nameless millions died to give the few great pride and glory.

The world has changed, mankind has changed, but not really much. In the most democratic where the principle of equality may be more articulated and practiced, there are semblances of great change. But even there, when a certain amount of pressure is applied, the stronger becomes more rigid and returns to a historical reactive pattern. Look at Western Europe and the best of their nations. In this continuing refugee influx, the kinder and more generous ways are slowly returning to the more defensive, conservative, and exclusivist tendencies. Payment by refugees who come in with valuable assets is now a probable policy.

In the United States, too, with the deep divide between Democrats and Republicans, racism and bigotry rise to the surface, laced with hate and scorn for one another. If we listen to the candidates who want to be president, we hear about building of great walls (physical and otherwise), sending immigrants out, crying out for more guns in the streets for everyone (in self-defense, they say), etc. It is as if democracy is being redefined, and redefined all the way back when only superior strength rules.

It does not look any different in Russia, or in China, with the Ukraine and Philippine Sea situations. That the strong rule is fact, whether the strong are right or wrong, as long as they put their physical might into action.

Do not for one moment imagine that the Philippines is very different. In fact, it is safer to assume that we are very much the same. The exceptions must not distract us to the truth or reality of elitism, that popular revolutions by the masses are far and in between, that Edsa People Power remains a miracle begging for replication in daily governance and societal life. Yes, Filipinos struggle for democracy to be more true than theory, but it is a struggle with a long way to go, not an accomplishment.

Globally, the wealthiest 1 percent own and control more than the balance of 99 percent. In the Philippines, it might be worse. If wealth is a great factor of power, then power resides in the 1 percent as it always had. For as long as the wealthiest own the politicians and the military and police forces follow suit, the 1 percent rule without a doubt. It does not mean that the 1 percent is bad, or wrong; it simply means that the 1 percent rule, period.

Until the 1 percent raise the value of the 99 percent, and especially the bottom 60 percent, all political decisions and material development will be top-friendly before they become bottom-friendly. That is why cars can be allowed to grow by leaps and bounds and mass transport become an after-thought. Cars are for the top, while trains, subways and buses are for the majority, the bottom majority. So where in the Philippines have infrastructure ever been prioritized for the bottom majority, the poor-nada?

So many times, I have written articles about political realities, how power will never concede without a demand, how laws are created for the interests of the stronger, how economies remain firmly in the hands of a few families comprising well under 1 percent. I take the chance that I will be seen as fostering a conflict between the rich and the poor, even by just presenting facts, even by just pointing out what is out there. But I do so because I believe in evolution, I believe in aspiration, and I believe that the nobility of the human species need only time to emerge from its more beastly beginnings. And I believe that the next generations, already active in our society, are the bearers of great change for the better.

I have witnessed as a Filipino citizen how the use of force cripple our human potential and debase any and all spiritual foundation. I have also witnessed how the rare but growing examples of generosity and nobility are changing lives, offering awesome alternatives, and are the only pathway for the future. I continue to believe that poor-nada can one day be poor-todo, from the goof of the few to the common good. May our children and grandchildren, then, find encouragement and support from us, that the legacy we leave behind will not be as dark as we fear.

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