Who can really solve our poverty problem
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-07-29
Of all the comments made on the last State of the Nation Address (SONA) of Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA), I found the reactions of UP Professor of Anthropology, Dr. Jaime Polo, most significant. Dr. Polo was part of the three-man panel of the ANC coverage.

Dr. Polo recognized the failure of the Arroyo administration in putting people at the heart of its road map to address poverty. The poorest of the poor were again being treated as mere beneficiaries, rather than partners in forging solutions to poverty.

Dr. Polo bemoaned the government approach in addressing poverty as a reflection of the sad reality of the country’s traditional politics. In fact, the tone of GMA’s SONA reeked of traditional patronage politics. GMA rattled off one project after another as though she was a monarch and these projects were precious boons to her loyal feudal lords for their serfs and peons.

Dr. Polo echoed the same formula of Gawad Kalinga (GK) and the Focolare Movement’s Economy of Communion (EoC) for bridging the wealth gap and delivering the poor from their generational cycle of poverty — community development.

The Focolare emphasizes the importance of “proximity” in breaking the cycle of poverty. This means that a true helping relationship must involve face-to-face encounter with the person being helped — personal involvement, rather than being just an anonymous donor.

Tony Meloto of GK advocates the same thing and just like EoC, GK encourages companies to go beyond CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in order to be able to do more for the least of our brethren.

EoC experience teaches us that: “Only the poor can help themselves BUT NOT ALONE.” If we want to uplift the poor from their misery, they must be actively involved in the formulation of the solution. They should not be regarded as mere beneficiaries of dole-outs because dole-outs degrade rather than uplift.

In the EoC experience — and confirmed by the GK experience — dole outs prevent recipients from realizing their true worth as partners in the fair sharing of wealth.

Instead, they helplessly sit by in a world waiting for crumbs because they were never invited to make the bread.

Both the EoC and GK aspire to transform the poor into agents for changing others who are also poor. EoC and GK are thus poverty alleviation programs that deliver high returns on investment. Every poor person who is helped is transformed into an agent for positive change.

Government poverty alleviation programs and even those well-meaning outreach programs (grants/assistance) of developed countries tend to miss the whole point of helping the poor. They tend to think that jobs to heads of families and education to the children of poor people will break the cycle of poverty. The poor need to form new, right values in order to exit from their cycle of poverty.

Education does not always reform values. Many of our leaders are educated in the best schools and yet are dyed-in-the-wool crooks. On the other hand, our poor do not even have the values that will drive them to aspire for a good education and invest time and energy on the things that matter.

The well-bred and cultured Filipino will watch Discovery Channel and enrich his knowledge while his underprivileged counterpart will watch inane noontime shows that propagate false hopes — the big jackpots — on how to improve their lot.

Give a poor Pinoy and a poor Chinaman bred in Confucian values a million pesos each and the Pinoy will most likely splurge on branded goods and a good time. The Chinaman will be like most Chinamen we know — frugal in spending for his needs but wise in investing for the future.

Those Chinese magbobotes (buyers of disposed bottles) in the 1950s have improved their lot while most of those Pinoys of the same trade remained poor. You don’t see Chinese neighborhood magbobotes now. The difference is not in the availability of capital or education but values.

I’ve said it before that if there is one man who should be president of our country — it is Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga (GK). Tony Meloto recognized the poverty problem in its full scope and has shown how to decisively guide the poorest of our poor to exit from their generational chain of poverty.

Tony Meloto has won the trust and confidence of the corporate world CEOs who are known to be very wary and careful in choosing their associations and causes. In Tony Meloto, they found something that encouraged them to go beyond CSR.

We even see politicians coming from the Opposition and the Administration wholeheartedly supporting GK, forming an unbelievable unity we so desperately want in our country. Anyone who can unify us and excite the haves to reach out to the have-nots in order to bridge the wealth gap is the Moses we have prayed for to bring us into the Promised Land.

But I doubt if we have the maturity as voters to even recognize how badly we need the kind of leadership that we find in Tony Meloto. Our elections have shown how easily voters select candidates with inferior qualifications over those with well-established credentials. That reflects on our values as voters and Tony Meloto himself has the right words to describe it: “A weak people will choose weak leaders.”

I’m not about to start the ball rolling for a Tony Meloto-for-President-Movement. What Tony Meloto is accomplishing with GK is far too important for us to even suggest that he should join the counterproductive world of Philippine politics.

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

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A great disservice to P-Noy

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