It is agitating to observe the wholesale process of demolition and relocation of squatters’ houses along riverbanks or waterways. I know it is necessary, but much less because it is part of an anti-flooding program and more because it will save lives. Somehow, saving lives comes across as human while solving the flooding mess sounds technical.
And that is the main point of my agitation. Government and agencies are tasked to solve flooding yet the work is not technical – it is human. Not that there will be no technical programs down the line, like dredging, for example. The fact remains, however, that the first phase of the work is to rescue lives that floods will immediately threaten. One would expect that the families whose lives are being rescued from possible death will show more gratitude and enthusiasm, but their reactions are the opposite.
Primarily, the poor know that government and the non-poor in the private sector look at them as the problem. They are either a nuisance or even worse. This is the attitude that the poor feel, it is the attitude that is exuded by the way authorities relate, it is the look of the officials’ faces, the sound when they talk. Most of all, it is the actions taken that affirm what the poor know from the beginning – that it is not about them and their welfare.
You see, the problem is flooding, not the poverty which reduces the dignity and value of the poor. As usual, the poor are simply the Unwanted. They begin to matter only when they are seen as inconvenient to the comfortable, as obstacles to more economic growth for the already rich, as eyesores to new real estate developments, and as threats to the security of the more well-to-do communities.
Demolition and relocation is not about raising the value of the poor, it is not about opening more job opportunities for them, it is not even about saving their lives. That is why they are being rescued only when the well-being of others who are not poor is affected by the Unwanted. We do not see demolition and relocation work in areas where the non-poor are inconvenienced or threatened. That is why it is not about the poor, except in rhetoric and as public communication packages to justify demolitions and relocations even to wastelands.
Poverty is the cancer that afflicts tens of millions and, eventually, the whole nation. That is a major problem. If we want to solve poverty, we have to address its causes – and the poor must be seen as they are, victims, not causes. If the Unwanted are not the causes, who are?
There was a time when the ranks of the poor, all the poor, stood at 90 percent, representing economic classes D & E. By their own effort, at least 30 percent of the original 90 percent are now OFWs and their families – and growing. I know that the public rhetoric keeps saying, from the mouths of politicians, the religious, and naturally, from the OFWs themselves, that the government should make more jobs available so no family has to be made dysfunctional by separation. But I also know that this is just rhetoric, for now and in the many years to come, because there will be no jobs that the OFWs can have here without denying half of the population the opportunity for those same jobs.
Transforming the cause of poverty begins the process of eliminating poverty. As much as the Unwanted are the victims of poverty, changing the mindset of those who wield power, who control capital, who mold our religious and ethical priorities, and who frame our perspective through academic training, also means the breaking down poverty.
The victims of poverty cannot transform themselves from lack of options, resources and maturity. Poverty is not about being lazy or bobo. Ask ten million OFWs just how lazy or bobo they were, yet managed to pull themselves out of poverty. In other words, if they did not find an opening, their hard work would have fed them but not much more than that. Today, they threaten to be the core of a new middle class in the Philippines.
An anti-poverty effort puts the Unwanted in the center and immediately begins with the sincere assurance that they, in fact, are valued and important to the nation. It cannot begin anywhere else because the cause of poverty is anchored on the non-value of the poor. If we who are non-poor, led by the leaders of all major fields of society, value the Unwanted as we value our family, poverty will disappear in less than 10 years.
Adopting Filipinos, even if they are poor, as integral members of the Filipino family means that we will create programs and fund them – just as we fund the schooling of our children according the best efforts of schools to educate them. But if the poor remain as the Unwanted, anything for them is just a necessary evil, forced on authority and the rich to placate, not develop, half of the population. The right attitude begins everything, and that attitude is not yet there, not from politicians, not from bishops, not from industry, not from media.
Everywhere in the most developed world, in the corridors of the most progressive, a common realization has emerged. Presidents, CEOs, or ordinary citizens of nations who have crossed lust for power and greed beyond all, have found one scapegoat for the world’s worst problems and call it a crisis of values.
A crisis of values. It means we prioritize the wrong things and miss what really matters. After reaching Mt. Olympus, the successful rue the way they chose one over the other. From the peak, they know they cannot stay there unless they and all like them turn around and go back for those left behind.
As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.