Why I write

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Writing articles weekly and submitting them to Inquirer.net for publication has been part of my life for 17 years now. It can be fun, difficult, frustrating and satisfying – something I wonder how I got into it and why I keep at it. In the first place, it is not a source of income; it brings no monetary compensation and never did. The weekly deadlines may appear easy for professional writers, but often challenging for me with the many activities I am involved in.

I remember getting an email invitation to write for Inquirer.net (at that time, it was INQ7.net) in early 2001. I was surprised, of course, as I never thought of writing there. I also knew no one in that online publication. The editor who sent me the invitation said that he had read some articles that I had been writing related to the Erap Resign movement, articles that were shared on the Internet at that time. There were no social media then, only email and websites. I remember that the invitation said I could write as often as five times weekly. I chose to write once a week, the minimum allowed. My late friend, Billy Esposo, received the same invitation and he chose to write three times a week.

The Erap Resign movement was a confrontational process, full of tension and anger. I remember writing about how the president at that time went out of his way to insult Muslims by having lechon in a camp just liberated from MILF forces. And I had written how the same president had spared no effort to turn majority Christians against Muslims, fueling a sentiment that had been there for centuries instead of healing it. I believed that leaders of our nation should find ways to break the cycle of prejudice, hate, and violence between Christians and Muslims, not intensify it.

But after the removal of Erap as president, there was no more motivation for the confrontational. I had to think more than twice before agreeing to write for any publication. I had to find a greater reason to write for, an all-season cause that could motivate me to write even when I felt too lazy to do so. When I did confirm my decision to submit articles once a week for publication every Friday, I had decided on that cause.

For almost two decades prior, I had been visiting an upland barangay in the mountains of Banahaw and doing some community development work. I fell in love with the effort because I fell in love with the people and the mountain. They were the opposite of the concrete jungle that I had been situated in prior, even if that jungle did give me enough perks to jet set and earn well. And I felt thrust back to a rural childhood that was full of open spaces, trees, rocks, and rivers. It was as if I had gone home.

The people, though, were poor. They were not miserable, but they were poor. And their poverty closed their minds to options, even imagination. It was as if life taught them to simply resign, to eke out a living as best as they could and one day die as poor as they were born. In the mountains, I was getting enthused about saving and preserving the environment because nature was just so beautiful. I wanted the residents to stop cutting trees – which they were doing so they could cook and sell firewood. I did not have an alternative to offer them. I felt so ignorant and inadequate. Here I was, a corporate executive, and I had no answers. I had theories, but still, no answers that could be implemented on the ground.

There was this story about a man who saw a person weakly floating down the river and rescued then rescued him. He took the victim home and fed him until the victim was well enough to go on his own. But every time the man would return to the river, he would see another victim, then help the next victims again. One day, it was just becoming too much and the man began to be curious about where the victims were coming from. He did not want, and could not anyway, to just help the victims he saw; he wanted to know why there were too many victims. That began my conscious search for solutions towards poverty, and first by knowing its root causes.

Over the last 17 years of submitting weekly articles to the Inquirer.net, my favorite theme has always been about poverty and my views about it. Yes, I would usually pick one current interesting topic that I hope would pique some interest but ultimately bring it back to poverty, its causes, or its possible solutions. Of course, politics is intimately connected to poverty. It is one of the major root causes and also a major solution. Deepest, though, is the collective value system of a people. That value system creates and perpetuates poverty; if reversed, the new value system would eliminate poverty.

In the history of poverty, control is a key factor. The majority do not want poverty, but the majority are in poverty. That simply says that the majority are not in control. Those who are in control have the greatest power to dismantle poverty or to perpetuate it. There are contrasting value systems, but the value system of the very small minority dictate over the majority. That can only happen because power, through authority or wealth or both, is lodged in the minority and resists any effort to decentralize.

The decentralization of power is more popularly known as a democracy – for the people, of the people, by the people. Our levels of poverty and control, even in the 21st century, tell me that we are not democratic. When I see most are busy rising out of poverty because they are empowered to do so, then democracy lives. Till then, democracy is not dead but not yet alive.

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