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Who cares?

By Jose Ma. Montelibano
First Posted 01:01:00 07/18/2008

Filed Under: Crisis, Social Issues, Foreign affairs & international relations

The world reels from dangerous twin crises, in fuel and food ? most of the world, that is. It used to be only the poor, the two-thirds of the world who are poor, that had to struggle from the moment they wake up to the moment they sleep. Today, even Americans are feeling the pinch, loss of homes, loss of jobs, loss of comfort. While the Chinese and Indians take giant strides to leap leave behind traditional massive poverty, record-high fuel and food prices slow down almost everybody else.

It is all from context. China and India have seen suffering from collective poverty. While record-high fuel and food prices affect them, their growth momentum insulates them from the worst. A little sacrifice for them today in trying to adjust to the prices of fuel and food is nothing as compared with the great suffering they had endured as impoverished nations. On the other hand, developed nations that had been living in a sphere of convenience and comfort in contrast with the rest of the world are badly shaken by gas prices and the closure of more businesses.

Economics, though, affects everything else, just as most everything else affects economics. While most of the world stands stunned by runaway prices, there is also uneasiness in a world that is growing more violent. Africa and the Middle East host intense conflicts that keep global leaders from fully concentrating on solving economic problems. Communications technology and global media have kept most of the news revolving around developed countries and succeed in keeping their global audience still largely unaware of the fearful dynamics that threaten mankind. The few minutes of reporting on these global threats in no way accurately depict their true impact, but I am sure that the United Nations has its hands full in trying to be a referee between contestants who are trying to hard to permanently eliminate each other.

In short, who cares about the Philippines? In the throes of their own challenges, dangers and opportunities, no other people or nation cares about the Philippines beyond a perfunctory or a hypocritical acknowledgment. There are, of course, slight exceptions. Beneath the niceties of diplomacy, the United States and China have been engaged in a quiet rivalry over control of the Philippines.

In the field of business and commerce, China is way ahead. Directly and indirectly, China has regained what must have been a pre-Hispanic relationship in which China was our country?s dominant partner. Chinese and Filipino-Chinese today dominate trade and equity in the Philippine market, just as it had from before Spain's takeover of our islands.

It used to be that the richest in the Philippines were the people who had the most land?those who received much from the Spanish government or those who had bought much with permission from the Spanish government.

Today, Filipino-Chinese make up most of the list of the richest, and they are all wired to businesses in China. It is beyond question that Filipino-Chinese control the Philippine economy and it is very possible that Chinese money and influence is helping to fuel their businesses.

The United States has seen its economic dominance in the Philippines fade away, and not in favor of natives whose minerals, forests and farms were the most exploited by a former colonial master. In fact, as the United States was slowly distancing itself from its former colony, waves and waves of Filipino immigrants chose to seek new opportunities in the land of their former master rather than stay with a native effort to rebuild the nation from centuries of colonialism.

The past 60 years was a short period of an effort to be on our own, but from the beginning of that period, in the 1950s and ?60s, Filipinos have been leaving the country.

Meanwhile, America is less interested in our economy than in our strategic location in a region of Chinese and Muslims.

The experience of the past 60 years can be traumatic to many Filipinos, as it scared those who left to live abroad even before the worst had come. When the worst did come, another wave of Filipinos rushed to become Filipino-Americans.

But the worst was not only about a lack of democratic freedom, it was also about economic oppression which kept opportunity away from those who had the least in life, tens and millions of them. Thus, the 1980s and 90s created the most recent wave of fleeing Filipinos.

What about us now who are here? What do we do, where do we go?

I must admit that it is difficult for me to be completely detached emotionally whenever this question is asked, even when I am the one asking it. I have to take the great conscious effort to merge feeling and objectivity without distorting reality, only enhancing truth with heart.

The work of focusing on the poorest of the poor, which I have joined in a collective effort with thousands of other like-minded Filipinos, reminds me constantly of a life that the rest of Philippine society just glosses over. Poverty up close?poverty as a priority for attention and action?is really different from poverty in academic papers, in newspapers, from poverty as a study or an intellectual advocacy.

It used to be that I was shocked by why priests became rebels. I am now shocked by why they don't. I was once awed by the grandeur of cathedrals, respectful of the pomp and circumstance of church hierarchy. I am now saddened at a focus that has veered away from the least among men. I had once aspired to be among the ranks of the powerful in governance. I am now repulsed by most of them.

My objectivity is part of a personal discipline I strive to maintain at the worst of emotional times. This is another one such moment. But my objectivity is also grounded on the harsh reality that anger and violence do little to ease the suffering of the poor, but instead forces them to go through more intense suffering for the slim chance that destruction will lead to victory over the oppressors. For my sanity, for my deep desire to see the impoverished find opportunity, for the marginalized to find empowerment, and even for the greedy to find the generosity, I can cry inside but stay focused on the work outside.

* * *

Responses may be sent to jlmglimpses@gmail.com.

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