Friday, March 21, 2008

The Reason Why my is Country Poor

Ryan Maboloc
Ateneo de Davao University

Like many Filipinos, I also dream of a better country. Like many young Filipinos, I also wonder what the future is like for my generation. In the spectacle put forward by the ZTE scandal, there's this one question I have been grappling with - why is my country poor?

First, I think this is all about our wrong concept of democracy. I believe that democracy is meant to serve the good of the people, and it is wrong to say that people must sacrifice themselves for democracy. Democracy is not an end in itself - people are. Freedom is not an end in itself - people are. Of course, people die for freedom. But we have so long forgotten that after any freedom is won, there exists the fundamental fact that the end of freedom is the good of man.

The ZTE controversy should not be reduced to the public sphere. The ZTE issue is not only about GMA, the Senate or Jun Lozada. The real battle is more than political. It is all about us, about what makes us “really human”, and politics is but one of the many aspects that make us human. Thus, I don't find it worthwhile to send the youth to protests against the excesses of this government. That instead of doing that, it is more prudent for us to concentrate on the positive capabilities of people, most especially our students and the youth. The youth, our only hope, should not become political slaves.

We have huge economic problems. But we must not limit our horizon. There’s something greater, something more important, than political therapy. Let me just say that it is a sad thing that economics has become an abstraction, devoid of real content, ignorant of the real lives that people live. Economists have made people become sort of "invisible", to use Manfred Max-Neef's term.

Now, almost all of our students want to go abroad. But our government's reliance on OFW remittances is not a sound economic policy, and obviously, it is the big developers who are making big money out of it. It still is following the highly "economized and monetized" strategies of growth. By the way, notwithstanding all the positive economic numbers recently, the National Statistics Coordinating Board has reported that poverty has actually grown last year. Growth has not trickled down, as a matter of fact.

The basic idea is that people need to help themselves. Nobody else will. Development will never "trickle down" to the poor. We need new ideas. We need new insights about the common facts of our lives. More importantly, we need to work to enhance people’s sense of self. We need more people to do real work in all the corners of our country telling people that they need to correct their lives. But it must be done within us. Only then can we hope for a better life. In the same manner as economic policies based on numbers go into thin air, marching in the streets does the same. It is like taking antibiotics for a virus, which does not provide cure. The problem, I reiterate, is not political. It is about us, "human beings" who need to find value in life. How? The normative part is the most difficult. Change is an expensive commodity.

We should address our problems not by means of protest, but through self-criticism. It should be inward-looking, not outward looking. Fighting the "administration" or a system is really fighting nobody. It is like trying to find a piece of needle in an island and you do not even know what the needle is for. I believe that it is more important for us to consider the fact that there is something good in the small things that we do, that "small is beautiful", to make a reference to EF Schumacher, and this is possible by looking at our very lives, and see how and what "can be done" about it.

The poor have not been joining the ZTE rallies but they are not interested in the issues either. But that's not the most unfortunate thing. What is most unfortunate is that they are doing nothing. Some say it is a matter of character, of attitude. That’s a little bit correct, but as I've said, no one wants to live a miserable life. The poor can lift themselves up, but we need to give them the proper tools. Sadly, it is not in politics. I must say, there's no hope in politics, at least for now.

The poor are not ignorant of their situation. But the atmosphere of hopelessness and abject misery permeate human life in the same manner as Frodo is ruled by the power of his ring. The thing is Frodo had the determination while the poor have lost theirs. Now, the real battle, in Frodo's sense, is not against the dark lord – it actually is against himself. The same should hold true for all of us.

But it bothers me a lot that the main players in the ZTE controversy come from the country’s top Catholic Universities. Is there something wrong? Is it the comfort of air-conditioned rooms or the nice buildings of their campuses? Or maybe is it because the poor man has become invisible and has been reduced to mere abstractions or ideas in books, or has become a mere specimen in the exposure of students to poor communities? Do students see the poor beyond those vigils and truth forum? Have we asked them what they’re thinking about while they’re listening to the speeches of their “guest speakers”? Is this the reason why our country remains poor? No, maybe not. But perhaps the battles shouldn’t be done outside, but within our campuses, inside our classrooms and our libraries.

So why invest in education? Here's a short note. For instance, China is reaping so much growth because it ensured the priority of education during the 80's and 90's. Tiananmen Square is a tragic story, totally unnecessary. Students need not sacrifice their lives. So I say that here in our beloved country, students should carry books, I stand by that, not placards. It is not their war. It is our war. People need to be independent, creative and responsive to their own needs, and knowledge is the most vital part in achieving that. If people are highly independent, governments are really unnecessary. We need not spill blood for the sake of freedom.

But why are our leaders corrupt? Is it greed? What has happened to virtue ethics? Are they so cunning? Maybe, they read the wrong books! I still maintain that corruption is a product of small minds. Small minds who abuse and misuse power. But there's nothing so cunning about it. Corruption is nothing new; you do not even need a theory. He who has the power will soon become corrupt. It is for this reason that we need to empower all men, not just a few good men. The politicians we have now, so many of them in fact, are former student leaders, educated in the country's good universities. They are part of the decadent years of the 70s, fought and battled the dictatorship. Many of them now are our leaders. In the distant future, these young boys and girls we have now who are in the streets will take over. What will happen to the Philippines by then?

Perhaps, nothing is permanent. Everything is a constant flux. Therefore, we must ask whose truth we are really concerned about. Is it the truth that politicians want because they want to topple GMA? Is it the truth the civil society wants because they think there is something wrong with our system? Or is it the truth that the poor and our youth really needs in order to live a better life? We need some introspection. Our freedom from the bondage of poverty can only be realized if we fully believe in the capabilities of our people.