Poverty fosters hate
Many years ago, I made a deliberate shift from a confrontational perspective to its opposite one to address the same problem. The Edsa Revolution opened my eyes about national concerns that did not seem to connect to me directly. It was not which side I thought was right or wrong; what became more important was the concern for collective concerns. Because whether I participated or not, whether I went for one side or the other, the clashes would happen anyway and ultimately close in on me and my family.
It was not the Marcos – Aquino conflict or the sides that Ferdinand and Ninoy became symbols of. Both are dead and the evils that both claimed to be fighting against remain quite alive in our midst.
Ferdinand said the Communists were the problem, then the oligarchs, those who were not his friends, of course. Well, lo and behold, the communist rebels are still around. And so are the oligarchs, a few old ones and many nouveau riche.
Ninoy said he fought for freedom, and he fought against the corruption spawned by martial law. Well, lo and behold, corruption remains most active and circumstances triggered by drugs, rebellion, and terrorism are giving authoritarianism a powerful push.
You know what else is funny? For all the noble causes that all warring sides are fighting for, the running total, the accumulated results do not justify their efforts. Most of all, though they may not have meant it, they were all successful in one thing – building and perpetuating hate. Because when any particular controversy of the moment finds its early and inevitable end, what does not go away but instead grows is hate.
It should not be difficult to understand that when hate is the defining feature of any atmosphere, violence is but a matter of time. Hate has no other ending but violence and destruction, destruction not only of property but especially of relationships. Not your relationship and mine, but ours – the relationships in the community, the relationships in our country. Once these relationships are frayed, once they turn partisan, they, too, become blind to what is good and bad, and see only theirs are good and the others’ as bad.
In Hong Kong, the people there are in a crisis. The relationship of many Hong Kong residents and the government of China are frayed, are now very partisan and blind to each other, and violence is just around the corner.
In the United States, Americans are in a crisis. Republicans against Democrats. Whites versus Blacks. Even the American president has asked the military to step in and neutralize the violent protests and looting. The American military has been all over the world from World War I but had never been deployed since they were used to subjugate the native Indians and support the expansion into native Mexican land. But now, not only the thought but the expressed request for the military to intervene in American civil society.
Unable to learn from the unnecessary conflict, death, and destruction of other people from many other nations, Filipinos cannot seem to avoid entering into our own hell. The newest and most powerful technology that connects us in an instant, that makes us see and hear what is happening in the streets of Hong Kong or New York, are no match for the density that atrophies our reason and good sense. We just have to join the mess.
Drugs have been a terrible scourge. From a very personal standpoint, I have seen the unmeasurable damage and misery caused by drugs, the broken lives, the tortured families, the compromised governance.
There is the communist rebellion and its death toll, the broken lives and anguished families, the chaos, fear, and violence it has perpetuated. 60 years and still distressing our transition to the 21st century.
Then, there is terrorism. Terrorism grows because its definition and labeling grow as well. It is not only the mass bombing and maiming of the innocent and civilian property, it can be almost anything that government considers a deadly enemy, a deadly act.
Finally, corruption. I need not say more. It is as familiar as the sunrise and the sunset. Because if I say more, it will boil down to finger-pointing in a society where there are more guilty ones than the innocent. Anyway, we know it very well, we live with it, and less afraid of it than Covid-19.
But all of the above have a common environment, a common base from where each is nourished and where each thrives – poverty. There is so much poverty, and Covid-19 reminded us that we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we have solved much of our poverty. Not when it feeds drugs, not when it feeds rebellion, not when it feeds terrorism, not when it feeds corruption.
When 80% of our people had to be given food assistance in a less-than-three-month lockdown, we know our people are poor. Worse, they are unprepared.
Moving forward, we realize that poverty must be central in our focus, that every program of government must have a direct bearing to dismantling that poverty. I have seen so much improvement, so much more budgets allocated to address poverty. But I did not realize that our poverty was so deep and economic measuring tools never captured its true reality.
I know, too, that poverty like ours has no overnight solution. But we must never let the impossibility of quick solutions lull us into making it an excuse not to regard it as first priority and not to move with urgency. And as we do, each department and agency of government must understand the direct connection of their mandate to precisely dismantling that perennial curse.
Covid-19 made us confront our poverty. Now is a good time to find new ways to end it. After all, we as a whole led by government tried to save the poor from hunger. Why not save them from their poverty?
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