There are some discrepancies in the explanation of current economic conditions. Economics, like Law, is not an exact science. Like Law, therefore, there will be many interpretations and a host of reasons to support each interpretation. Most of these fly beyond my head, a continuing consequence of my lack of diligence in
my college days. But to have a rational understanding of technicalities and terminologies, I tend to consult my common sense, as well as people from different sectors of society.
I still remember in the last two decades the frequent reporting of economic growth, both from government and business sources. I am happy to note that the general note was positive, a few dips but mostly positive news. I think the peso had fallen close to 60 per US dollar but steadily improved to the low 40’s. It was a fantastic ride that lasted almost 15 years. The growth rate, too, was consistently robust between 6-8%. It did seem from the macroeconomic perspective that the Philippines was like an awakening dragon.
My interest, however, was less the macro than the micro. In the same period of time, in the same last two decades, I found myself more and more involved in anti-poverty work and advocacy. The vision and hope that strengthening the bottom of the pyramid as my choice of methodology in contributing to nation-building have kept giving me the motivation to keep busy despite my senior years.
Which now brings me to the issue of tambays. I remember one luncheon a day or two after the horrible landslide of the mountain of garbage in Payatas where so many died. The incident was the main topic of the luncheon in one of the plushiest restaurants in Makati where the Canadian Ambassador was the main guest. I was admittedly agitated by comments that blamed the squatters who were buried by the landslide because they had been warned over the years to leave that area. Against my own sense of diplomacy and tolerance, I blurted out that the squatters would have preferred to live in Forbes Park instead of the Payatas dump. But they could not and never would.
The tambays, too, would prefer to while their time away in BGC, in beautiful parks and spacious community centers. But they cannot and never would. The tambays are defined by their overpowering environment of poverty, one that is not only economic but physical, social and psychological. Poverty locks them in a very limited space in a metropolis that hosts one of the worst population density in the world. If they are choked inside their crowded shanties, they only have the crowded alleys and their nearby sidewalks. Where else can they go without spending money? What else can they do?
Tambays are not a pleasant sight. They are like hungry and belligerent mongrels that an apathetic society breeds. It is part of the story of Metro Manila that a Ms. Universe pageant several decades ago prompted the government to gather thousands of squatter families that lined up the roads from the international airport to the reclamation area where the Cultural Center complex is. They, too, were tambays, including their ugly shanties. So, like the tambays of today, they were rounded up and thrown far away to one edge of the metropolis bordering Bulacan. We know these areas now as Bagong Silang and Payatas.
We have a recurring history, lessons unlearned that keep haunting us. Because of poverty breeds crime, especially illegal drugs, and insurgency. We say we know this but maybe not so because it is still there. Perhaps, it has to knock on our doors and ransack our homes before we do.
Frankly, I thought that was why TRAIN was devised, enacted as law, and now beginning to be implemented. I would truly like to believe that TRAIN is a major vehicle for progress that will lift most of the poor out of their pitiful state. I am truly hoping that a substantial amount of the trillions involved will be dedicated to employing as many poor as possible even if it means training them to fit the jobs created by TRAIN. And I truly hope that the poor will not pay more through their misery to fund TRAIN so those above them will have more business opportunities.
Is TRAIN helpful or not? Is it worth what it costs? I am not an economist so I really do not know the answer and cannot even intelligently conclude a winning argument if two or more sides are presented. But one thing I do know is that when prices of basic commodities, especially food, start to go up at a rate faster than it used to be, this will cause pain and fear – no matter what explanations are offered. Can TRAIN help keep prices down or is TRAIN partly responsible for their going up? I can only hope that our economic managers put first and foremost the pain of the poor as their motivation in finding a humane balance between investments for our future and the agony of the poor.
We cannot build our infrastructure that will serve our needs today and at least the next 20 or 30 years without a heavy investment. We are currently funding many pro-poor projects like the CCT, free tuition, and more health services. All these come at a price that TRAIN hopes to raise by collecting more taxes. Who will pay – everyone or only those who can afford, even with some difficulty? I hope not the poor at the cost of their food or their health. Just as I hope the peso will stop depreciating against the US dollar because our investment for our future needs a lot of imports, too.
After the many controversies that we think have been caused by illegal drugs, by the violence of insurgency or secessionist movements, and the partisanship that pits Filipinos against one another, we may miss one simple truth – that poverty is a common factor, maybe even a root cause. Please, let us not.