A great Philippine tragedy
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-11-13
The suicide of the 12-year old fifth grader from Davao City, Marianeth Amper, on All Soul's Day had cast an even more distressing warning on the desperate plight of 30 million or so Filipinos living below the poverty line.

A diary Marianeth left behind documents her simple hopes and dreams. Yet unlike other youths who also dreamed and hoped for better things, Marianeth decided to stop hoping and dreaming by ending her own life.

Marianeth's diary notes how long she had been absent from school and that she realizes that Christmas is just around the corner. The merry images associated with Christmas must have driven a cruel contrast to Marianeth's internal turmoil, intensifying her anguish.

Young people eagerly await Christmas — the time of joy, sharing and love. But for those who are extremely deprived, the promise of Christmas is all but a painful mockery of their fate.

It is not a coincidence that the highest rates of depression and suicide are registered during the Christmas season, when people are forced to face the reality of their misery and helplessness.

Ironically, news about her suicide resulted in the outpouring of help from touched and well-meaning individuals. Their generosity could have prevented her suicide if it came a week earlier. Marianeth's elder sister Marisol said that when she was a featured guest last Friday in ANC's Crossroads, the TV show hosted by Tony Velasquez.

But the great Philippine tragedy is not the belated extension of support and generosity for Marianeth and her family. The great tragedy is that young Filipinos like Marianeth are put in the throes of despair at an age when they should be brimming with life, dreams and ambition.

For Joker Arroyo to have committed suicide, that would be understandable, regrettable but understandable. At Joker's age, there could be a number of understandable reasons for committing suicide — loss of male potency, realizing that he is now in bed with Juan Ponce-Enrile, the thought that he will be associated in history with the regime whose name he shares, who knows!

Kidding aside, when a young life decides to call it quits at a time when one is supposed to be enjoying the magic of taking on the dragons and windmills of life, it is a great tragedy worse than the sinking of the Titanic.

Why so?

The sinking of the Titanic had brought about significantly positive changes in maritime travel and safety rules. But based on what I hear and read in the news, I am not at all convinced there will be significant measures undertaken that can truly address the real problems that took shape to create the tragedy of Marianeth Amper.

In a rare development, the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) regime accepted responsibility for the Marianeth Amper tragedy. However, the statements of the government Assistant Secretary who was also a guest on Tony Velasquez's show hardly offered any hope that government can do better to prevent the next youth suicide.

The Assistant Secretary harped on government programs that revolved around token solutions, such as scholarships (too few to really address the poverty problem), the government Food for School Children Program (which is nothing but a palliative measure) and improving access to local leaders who administer on ground level the anti-poverty programs (judging from the state of bad governance, this is the blind relying on the half blind).

The best insights to understanding and addressing poverty problems can be gleaned from the approach of the Focolare Movement's Economy of Communion or EoC.

"Only the poor can help themselves — but not alone." The EoC teaches. Mark those words BUT NOT ALONE. Marianeth Amper felt ALONE.

The EoC fosters an involved, face-to-face relationship between the haves and the have-nots of society in order for the have-nots to reform their values and feed themselves for life. The success of Gawad Kalinga (GK) is built along similar lines.

It would have made a big difference if Marianeth Amper's family had been living in a GK or a Focolare Bukas Palad community where they would have benefited from a holistic, person-centered approach in inculcating self-respect, initiative and strong character formation.

Not only that, GK and Bukas Palad communities create the very atmosphere of unity that would have prevented Marianeth Amper from feeling alone and hopeless.

For the poor who feel isolated, alone and hopeless — it is just a matter of time when they will realize that there are other options available to them than just suicide. Eventually, self-pity will transform into deep resentment that will seek to find vindication against those who could have made a difference in their lives but did not.

There are easily 30 million Filipinos who live below the poverty line. Per a recent World Bank study, 11 million Filipinos now live on less than P43 a day. If just 2 million poor Filipinos get organized and unleash violence upon the society that did not care for them, the haves will end up losing not just their wealth but their lives as well.

  Previous Columns:

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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