The poor didn’t benefit


How did the midterm elections affect the urban poor? More than any other group, the poor need free elections to improve their lives, but the simple truth seems to be that in the last poll exercise they hardly benefited. It was partly their own doing.

The urban poor in the Philippines now number about 20 million, according to the UN Habitat. They are the fastest growing of poor sectors. They live in the larger cities, the great engines of the economy, but to paraphrase the Gospel, they are in but not of the great wealth found there. They are like the small fish along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef that clean parasites off the sharks, manta rays and other highly dangerous marine creatures. The big fish drop by these special “cleaning” areas when they feel the need, the little fish who love to eat parasites do a first-class cleaning job, even going into the gills and jaws of the sharks, then the big fish sail off, leaving the small fish with nothing in the great ocean but their parasites.

There was a sticker used in the election of 2010 that read: “In a democracy, reform comes from the ballots of the poor.” It expresses the classic belief of people organizing the poor, that if they can gather the poor into political parties that are informed and eager for change, they can win political power through elections, and then use the power to help the poor.

I don’t see that this happened in the last elections, except in very small areas of Manila, in very small ways. Still, elections remain the main political hope of the poor. Realistically, there is no other path to a decent life. But for now, the politicians who believe they can win the poor people’s votes at election time by giving them money and food, coopting their leaders and making endless airy promises, have been proven right once again.

Thousands of poor people have sold their votes. They have taken money in exchange for their free democratic votes that are the key to the locks and chains that hold them in poverty. People who sell their votes lose their self-respect and agree with the powerful that change is not needed, or possible. Taking money encourages the power-brokers to manipulate the poor all the more.

Why should anyone help such poor people? But before we start blaming the poor, we should remember that while among the poor there may be pimps, men of violence, drunkards, as well as lazy, greedy and vulgar people, there are even more decent, hardworking and caring ones.

There are many good people among the poor. I once saw a heavily pregnant woman walking barefoot through her slum community. Her dress was stretched so tight around her swollen belly that we feared her child could be hurt. She had no money to buy a more suitable dress. She had nothing to offer her baby except herself. All her life she will sacrifice for her children though she is hungry, unhappy and often a victim of violence. She will never give up on them.

There are innocent victims. Think of the 12-year-old prostitutes who work along the piers of Tondo at night. They charge P30 ($.75 cents) for touching (pakalog, groping) and P300 ($7) for sex, often in the back of a truck, with the men who hang out at the piers. When you see two or three of the girls together, you are aware they still have the thin legs and the awkward, shy stance of children. They should be playing childhood games, not waiting for customers.

The great reason for helping the urban poor is, of course, that God is with the poor. God is not with them because they are good and deserving of help any more than He was with the Israelites because they were good. He helps the poor, as the Prophet Ezekiel tells us, just as He helped the Israelites, not because they are good, but for the sake of His Own Holy Name.

At the risk of trivializing a serious matter, here is how things may work. A smart fish who has traveled outside his or her own sea—someone like Nemo, perhaps—one day advises the small fish-cleaners: “You don’t have to do what the sharks and manta rays want. You are not slaves. Organize yourselves, elect leaders and tell the sharks you are tired of your parasite diet, and you want the sharks and others to bring a variety of food when they come, or no cleaning.”

“Suppose they just eat us instead?” one of the small fish asks.

“If they eat you, there will be no one to remove the parasites, and that will pain them more and more. Don’t worry, stick together, and they’ll do what you want,” the smart fish says.

So the small fish stand firm and confront the sharks and the other great fish. The small fish win, and they now live with dignity and have expanded their services to include beauty treatments, massage, and organizing advice. The fish who started it all is now a Senator of the Sea.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates [].

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  • TheSmilingBandit

    “The great reason for helping the urban poor is, of course, that God is with the poor. God is not with them because they are good and deserving of help any more than He was with the Israelites because they were good. He helps the poor, as the Prophet Ezekiel tells us, just as He helped the Israelites, not because they are good, but for the sake of His Own Holy Name.”

    God maybe with the poor, but his churches are definitely among the rich.

  • tadasolo

    Mr. Murphy I commend your work on the urban poor and providing them much needed support. The problem I think in addressing and finding a workable solution to the urban poor is the lack of leadership both from the political and private developers who are capable of finding alternatives and solution. There are a lot of successful condo development in metro manila and with government incentives housing units located in prime areas should be set aside for the urban poor. The relocation to outlying areas and live in boxes away from the city center is not working and beside it destroys the country side. We can emulate HK and Singapore. These housing units should be developed and run by private industry and subsidized by the government. Targeting people with work first including teachers, police and later others

  • tekateka

    I can’t blame the poor for their plight because of government neglect, but they have been multiplying like pests…

  • jinx

    We keep on blaming others for the poor man’s plight. But have you ever wondered why their lot hasn’t improved, or why they’re worse than before over and over again? Because we keep feeding this illusion that they’re the victims…..the truth is however, the poor are to blame. They keep on breeding even if they can’t feed them, and blame others for their misfortunes. Unbridled breeding pollute their very existence, muddle their intellectual capacity. That’s why they keep electing inept, but popular trapos in our country. Again, THEY are to blame.

    • catmanjohn

      Again, the RH Bill must be passed as the first step out of poverty.


    “GOD so loved the poor that he made many of them” is what the Damasos preach.

    Mabuting POOR na lang ako para malapit ako sa diyos. Ayaw kong maging HINDI POOR…..malayo sa god. PSHAW!!!

  • Descarte5E

    Dati marami trabaho dahil maraming factory sa Bansa. Isa isang nawala ang mga factory at nawalan din ng trabaho ang karamihan. Marami dati magsasaka pero ang lupang sinasaka ay nawala dahil sa mining activities. Nang magkaroon ng land reform binenta ng mga may ari ng lupa ang kanilang property sa mga real estate developers. MAraming magsasaka ang na displaced. Ang mga maliit na mangingisda nawalan ng access sa pinangingisdaan nila dahil inokupa ng commercial fishery pati municipal waters na allotted sa mga maliit na mangingisda. Dahil yan sa korapsyon at inefficincy ng gobyerno. Marami sa mahihirap malaki ang pamilya dahil lahat sila nakakatulong sa bukid. Nawala ang lupang sinasaka at pinagtabuyan sila dahil nawalan na rin sila ng tirahan. Ngayon sinisisi sila dahil inabuso ang kanilang kahirapan at kawalan ng kapangyarihan. Ang batas na dapat magbigay ng assurance para sa social equity ay pumabor sa mga may pera at may kapangyarihan. Patuloy pa rin ang pang aabuso sa kanila ng pulitikong puro pangako. Nagkaroon lang ng konting pera ang mga tao sobra nang manlait.

    • rodben

      Tama ka Bro. noon di pinapayagan ng gobyerno na ibinta ang mga palayan sa mga developer at may mga lugar na itinayo ang gobyerno na mga industrial site na hindi makaapikto sa sakahan dito lang sa Cavite noon napakasigla ng sakahan dahil reserve ito ng gobyerno noon at isa pa nagtayo noon ang gobyerno ng planta na nag po-produce ng mga pataba at mga pesticide yong PLANTERS PRODUCTS INC.( buhay pa yong head office nila sa Makati pina-uupahan nalang) kya malaki ang tubo ng mga magsasaka dahil mura ang mga gamit pangsaka at tyo pa ang nag su-supply sa mga karatig bansa tulad ng Thailand, India, Indonesia, Malayasia at iba may assembler plant pa ng mga machine na gamit sa bukid na pinatayo ang gobyerno noon…kya di kilala ang Saudi ng mga PInoy at America ay pasyalan lamang yan noon hindi yong pupunta doon para napakaraming pabrika noon dahil murang mura koryente dahil ginagastusan ng gobyerno ang mga pagpapagawa ng mga power plant pati mga matitibay na kalsada at isa pa tyo ang bansa na may IRRI pero tuloy parin ang industrialization ng gobyerno sabi ng US THE PHIL. SHOULD STAY IN AGRICULTURE pero matalino ang pamahalaan noon…OFW po ako marami akong nakakausap na ibang lahi na nakakakilala ng history ng Pinas isa lang COMMENT IT’S HARD TO RETURN THE PROSPERITY OF THE PHIL. DUE TO SO MANY CONFLICT IN YOUR GOV’T…nakakalungkot isipin this time.

  • Jose Guevarra

    elections are the one time the poor can show that they can help themselves by choosing wisely. they can take the money but still vote for who really will serve them. they can still try and do their homework to find out who deserves their vote. we didn’t always have the internet naman but somehow, the difference between the voting behaviors of the rich, middle class, and poor are still there. when the likes of nancy binay land in the top 5 of the senatorial race on her first try, who are we supposed to blame? to me, it all points to one direction!

  • rodben

    I think nxt election every news papers give a chance to publish all the credibility, background, achievements, vision and platform of every candidates…and should be written in tagalog and sold it in slam areas with a cheapest price…so that all of the poor have a chance to select a right candidates…I guess the poor candidates maylaban doon sa mga rich candidates who are doing usual vote buying business just to win..

  • Nic Legaspi

    It’s the poor who will benefit the most from good governance. But unfortunately, the reality is that they would rather sell their votes for money than think about the larger picture — and this is because of their immediate need to provide food for their families. This problem will never end until everyone stops thinking about oneself and think about the welfare of society as a whole.

  • Cors Guiao

    Here in the Phil. that is impossible, the govt. made up of businessmen, rich dynasties and lying lawyers will never, never do anything sincerely to alleviate the plight of the poor. walang maaasahan from the govt. only to use these people for their own benefits. that is how sad our govt. leaders are like, they shun everything even the teachings of the church as if saying nobody can touch or tell them what to do, they are acting like demi gods nakakaiyak.

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