Why we must go down in order to go up
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-01-24
We Filipinos are a talented race. The number of Filipino world class achievers is one proof of that. We are not, as some would paint us, a nation of losers. Up to 1965, our economy was leading all other Asian countries except Japan.

While it is true that bad leaders brought us down to where we are today — we also cannot avoid responsibility for helping dig the black hole that we are in. We did that for not knowing our real history. We did that for still hailing people who drove knives in our backs and continued looking up to them as saviors. We did that when we failed to recognize our damaged culture and did not take the proper steps to remedy it.

Ever since we attained independence — although we cannot really call it full independence as the same world power continues to dominate us and direct our future — we always had a bottom 25% of our society who lived miserable lives. That bottom 25% of our society hardly experienced better times as decade after decade their misery only got worse. These days, many of them experience hunger or eat only one meal a day.

It is that bottom 25% of our society which unintentionally brings us down. When we have that many people going hungry and unable to get a proper education, then we become a social explosion waiting to detonate. Meanwhile, before the feared social explosion happens, we are now seeing a steady rise in criminality. We have the longest running Communist insurgency here that is fueled by our lack of social justice. Thus, you can say that the bottom 25% of our society is our single biggest national security risk factor.

That bottom 25% of our society accounts for easily 22 million Filipinos. Bloody revolutions do not require a majority vote in order to happen. They only need enough embittered hotheads to ignite it and 22 million are more than enough.
That bottom 25% of our society also causes a big financial drain to our government. They hardly pay taxes except the E-Vat when they buy goods. They need to be subsidized — their education, health, food and housing. Because they increase our security risks, we are thus compelled to spend more for our Armed Forces and National Police — monies that could be better channeled to development.

That is why our salvation hinges on our unity as a society to go down there to our long suffering 25% and help them help themselves. The usual gospel of many presidential candidates — to ATTRACT INVESTORS in order to spawn industries that will create jobs, generate wealth that will trickle down to the poor — is sheer illusion.

The bottom is the key to get to the top. We can only start seeing real economic growth and stability when we have improved the lives of our bottom 25% to such a point that:

1. They cease to be the single biggest national security risk.

2. They are able to buy more products, significantly increase our consumer base.

3. They are able to afford education and better health services.

4. They are able to expand our tax base.

5. And they become empowered citizens.

If we are able to significantly improve the average household income of our bottom 25%, we will not need to look for investors anymore. They will be rushing to invest here. Any country with over 90 million consumers will always be attractive to investors.

But going down there to bring them up is not as simple as going to a place and provide the poor with some sort of aid package. Dole outs, it has been long proved, never improved people’s miserable lives because more than quantifiable items it is the counterproductive values of the poor that keep them trapped in their generational cycle of poverty. Chiara Lubich’s Economy of Communion teaches us that only the poor can help themselves but not alone.

To bring up the bottom 25% of our society what must happen is a relationship between the enlightened Haves and the unenlightened Have-nots. Government cannot do it alone which is why the leader who can really inspire People Power is the leader who can foster that relationship between our Haves and Have-nots.

It must also be a COMMUNITY approach because as the saying goes — it takes a village to raise a child. An un-empowered and unenlightened community will tend to drag down a lone household seeking salvation. Visit the poorest communities and ask yourself just what are the odds against a diligent poor child making it through high school in a setting where there is no privacy, no peace and quiet, where there is almost always a squabble among neighbors to disturb you, where you are probably the only one among your friends who is going to school?

My sister, who works for a multinational German firm, sought my advice over a decade ago. Their German Managing Director wanted to help an indigent student make it through college and exit poverty. My sister’s boss was impressed by Filipino talent and his Christian soul prodded him to help.

I advised my sister to remove the sponsored student, a bright girl entering college, from her Class E neighborhood and place her in a suitable dormitory where she can concentrate on her studies. Their home environment will tend to drag her down. The German sponsor agreed to my suggestion. The student was placed in a dormitory near the university and she only goes home during weekends.

In less than a year, that dream of helping this student exit from poverty vanished. Her mother, who did not appreciate the value of a college education, resented the loss of her only assistant in preparing the foodstuff they sell at a small stall in the public market. Every time, the student came home during weekends, the mother will engage her in an argument. “Don’t you study so you can put up a business? Well, we already have a business,” the mother would argue.

Eventually, the pressure got to the poor student. She eloped with her boyfriend and that was the end of the dream. Where we failed was in not securing her home environment.

That is why only the poor can help themselves but not alone.

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