Wandering in the desert

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Poverty of rayerbazar | Photo by Jubair1985 via Wikimedia Commons

We have been told many Biblical stories by the church and the schools. They are not just about history or religion but political dynamics as well. Knowing how people and tribes or countries relate to one another shows us recurring behavioral and political patterns.

At this time, I am strongly reminded of the story of Moses and the Israelites, how they were driven out of Egypt, and how they wandered around the desert for forty years. Those who have visited the Middle East, especially Israel and its neighbors, can see how deserts connect and separate.

The story says that the great prophet and leader, Moses, was not meant to reach the promised land despite forty years of trying. A next-generation leader, Joshua, was the one who did bring his wandering people to their promised land.

I cannot help but think of the Filipino people. For a few, they had wandered in their desert for the proverbial forty years. But for most, forty years had extended for over five hundred years. Colonial masters had driven Filipinos out of their own country by taking total control over their lands. Since then, most Filipinos have been wandering around their desert.

The desert has been the separation of the Filipino from his land, from relating to it to developing his mastery over his capacity to produce and prosper. It is not just about being homeless, a native without a true home in his motherland. It is really more about being landless, a native without his patria, his source of patriotism. Instead, that separation from his land has given him a terrible inheritance called poverty.

I am told that Israel as a state owns the majority of its lands, about 80%, and its laws prohibit the sale of those lands. There is private ownership because Israel honors the historical property rights of some people who acquired it before Israel became its own state. I received this information from an Israeli guide assigned to our group during a pilgrimage there.

Because it was a short background that the guide shared when I asked about land ownership in Israel, I am sure there was much more that they could have said. But I was not interested in the details. I was interested in how a state’s outlook on land and private ownership could be – and I got the gist of the state’s policy. Israel chose to provide long-term leases but kept the land in its fatherhood or motherhood state.

“Moses of the Israelites did not reach the promised land, and neither will Filipinos find Moses among our leaders today who can show us the way to unfettered access to our motherland. Only powerful political leaders and titans of industries can do that – and they will not.”

In other words, the billions or trillions of any currency could not deprive citizens of having a piece of land under their control, from which they could have the security of tenure and opportunity as sons and daughters of the land. In other words, the land that is father or mother to its children is simply not for sale. The land is the home – guaranteed. It is not a monetary asset but a non-disposable family heirloom.

What about the Philippines as the motherland of its sons and daughters? Why has the motherland, through the state’s power, denied its sacred inheritance to the majority of its children? Why has it chosen to regard its sacred land as a commodity for sale, knowing most of her own native children would not afford to buy it? Worse, many leaders openly propose to allow foreign ownership when the majority of its own has no legal right to be anywhere in the motherland.

Like the lost people, the Israelites had their Moses thousands of years ago. At least their Moses wandered in the desert looking for their promised land, not their real estate. Filipinos, too, lost in their desert of poverty, have been looking for their Moses to lead them. Unfortunately, all the leaders who tried to play the Moses role were not looking for any land. It seems no god or Moses had land for the people in mind.

I have tried to look for our Moses but instead have found only good hearts with ignorant minds who cannot equate the development of man as indivisible from his divine relationship with the land. Comic and tragic to think that we decry the lack of food in one of the most fertile earth in the world. Imagine an animal with no land, fish with no water, birds with no air – unless they can afford to buy the very environment they need to exist in.

The land is the shelter, the playground, the school, the farm, and the factory of man. The land is the home of the human being, of all creation, contained in the planet. Even the ocean and the air reachable by birds cannot exist without land. Yet, the government and the rich and powerful act like gods dictating how their fellowman should live with the strictest limitations imposed on the land.

Moses of the Israelites did not reach the promised land, and neither will Filipinos find Moses among our leaders today who can show us the way to unfettered access to our motherland. Only powerful political leaders and titans of industries can do that – and they will not. Our only hope is a Joshua generation whose minds are wise beyond their years, whose hearts are kind yet brave as lions, and whose spirits remain one with the higher purposes of creation itself.

It is too late for me and my generation. It is even too late for my children’s generation, although they have more promise than the debacles we leave them with. Maybe, just maybe, with painful lessons they can learn from us, the grandchildren generation will be Joshua themselves.

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