Our poorest disaster victims need more than just relief goods
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-10-04

The outpouring of generosity and love from the kind hearts of Filipinos here and abroad for the victims of the recent floods is something to be proud of. A beautiful people we truly are.

However, even the many touching stories of heroism and sharing must not delude us into thinking that we have addressed or are even managing to address the problem of providing the immediate needs — food, temporary shelter, medicines, clothes and so forth — of the victims. This does not even take into account their even bigger needs - rehabilitation — when the time for giving out relief goods is over.

For the poorest of our society, they were already hanging on to a thread before the flooding disaster. They were already bludgeoned by the economic crisis, as evidenced by the rise in unemployment and hunger incidents. To be swept out of the hovels they once called homes brought them from a desperate situation to what could be called hopeless. Their situation can be called hopeless because they no longer possess the capability to provide for their basic needs by having no jobs and having lost whatever little they’ve got.

Last Thursday, your Chair Wrecker was briefed by a very close friend who was in the frontlines of relief goods distribution. In certain areas, they were faced with crowd control problems and the police contingent with them found it extremely difficult to establish order. An NDCC (National Disaster Coordinating Council) central distribution area was limited to accepting donations and ceased to distribute these relief goods because they could no longer control the crowds that came for succor.

One police senior officer confided to my friend that there are already signs of anger and irritability in many victims. Police officers are trained to spot these danger signs in crowds in order to prevent and pre-empt rioting. On many of those reality TV shows, we saw how a small unruly section of a soccer game venue triggered a stadium wide riot resulting in many serious injuries.

That is only a riot caused by passions for a team during a game. Imagine the anger level of someone who had lost the little that he possessed in life. He has been under severe stress for at least two days, stranded on top of a roof with his family. They have not eaten a full meal for over three days already. Such a person is not just inclined to throw an elbow or a fist at some fan of the other team. Expect such desperate men to resort to desperate measures like stealing or - if forced by circumstances - to even kill if they have to.

That must have been what the police officer feared when he saw those angry victims desperately trying to get relief goods for their families. Actually, that police officer was only seeing the immediate on-the-spot problem. The larger picture that could emerge here is the so-called natural combustion where rioting becomes widespread and leads to a system failure. Any student of history who read the French Revolution will remember how the assault on the Bastille started with an angry crowd.

The Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime is vulnerable to this dangerous implosion. A military colonel once told your Chair Wrecker that easily 70% of the families of our soldiers are informal settlers — in other words, they are squatters. Very likely, they are also living in the areas that have been the worst affected by the recent floods. Who will quell the spreading riots if the families of the soldiers are also taking part in the disturbances?

We must use these recent disasters to spur us into meaningful reform, one that addresses the real root causes of these threats of a social explosion. Not to immediately address the pressing needs of the victims is bad. But it is a worse fault if we do not start making the difficult first steps of bridging the Four Big Gaps in our troubled society. These are the Information Gap, the Education Gap, and the Opportunity Gap which all sum up to the fourth, the Wealth Gap.

These four Big Gaps can only be solved by a united Filipino nation, especially the consistent unity of the Haves with the Have-nots. Over the past four decades, there is that quarter of our population — the lowest socio-economic Class E in our society — where the misery index just kept worsening. Many of them were down to eating only two meals a day in the early 1980s. Nowadays, many of them find it hard to even eat one full meal a day.

We have over 20 million countrymen who live under those desperate and appalling conditions which conspire to rob a human being of his dignity and hope. Other countries with just 10 million who are that desperately poor would already be in a state of panic because they realize what can happen. When so many people no longer have anything to lose, they become prone to considering desperate and dangerous remedies.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to be ahead in life should not be sleeping well at night with such a reality existing in our society. If we do not wise up, go down there and bring them up, then they will bring us down.

The Economy of Communion or EoC, Chiara Lubich’s great inspiration of a new economic paradigm, posited that only the poor can help themselves — but not alone. That is why we who know better will need to go down there to bring the least of our brethren up the socio-economic ladder.

The late Senator and Foreign Affairs Secretary, Raul Manglapus, once wrote a speech titled “Land of bondage, land of the free” which became a favorite piece in elocution contests. The speech is about Juan de la Cruz, the Filipino “Common Tao” (Man) who was forced by the lack of social justice to resort to extreme measures.

Juan de la Cruz narrates in the speech how the Haves of society made him into the Filipino version of Edwin Markham’s The Man with the Hoe. Representing the Have-nots, Juan de la Cruz ends the speech by saying: “And with my bolo in my hand and my cry at your door — and may God have mercy on your soul.”

Let’s open our minds to the sad reality confronting us. Let’s open our wallets and our hearts. Let’s open our gates, go out and reach out to Juan de la Cruz and bring him up. That is the price of our national survival and development.

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

[Click here for the Archive]

Home | As I Wreck This Chair | High Ground | Career Brief and Roots | Advocacies | Landmarks Copyright 2006 The Chair Wrecker by William M. Esposo