A royal mess
A few weeks ago, I had a surprise meeting with one of my readers. Sister Virginia “Jean” Calpotura RSCJ is a writer who spent nearly her entire life as a religious embedded in the slums. We spoke for only half an hour, but I felt as though I had stepped into a classroom, confronted my privileges, and meditated on my practice.
She asked, “What does it mean to truly reach out to the poor?”
Our socially accepted shortcuts might include donating money, giving clothes, sharing food. But, she inquired: have we ever allowed the poor to teach us the lessons that only abject poverty and desperation can teach? Have we truly spoken with them? Listened to their stories?
“Without this depth of engagement,” Sister Jean said, voice solemn with passion, “we have no real understanding of their plight. We cannot truly help them.”
I remembered our conversation last week, as the news of the Maharlika fund broke, and as the nation once again threatened to fall under the spell of enforced forgetting.
In our country, this forgetfulness has two dimensions, and it reflects how our so-called leaders permeate every part of the timeline of our lives.
The first: forgetfulness that is imposed because of a misguided version of Christian forgiveness. Most representative case: we are asked to forget the past, to “move on,” by forgiving the crimes of someone who drained our coffers dry.
This request also implies that we must forget the repercussions of the crime, all of which haunt us to this day: the idle buildings, the badly zoned cities crisscrossed in an entanglement of wires and roads, billions of dollars in debt.
There is no real forgiveness without repentance—that is what the Christian gospels say. It is the “repentance” part that many of us are willing to forgo, and it will be this country’s undoing. Forgetting, in this case, is not about truly uplifting ourselves; it is enabling those who want us to remain silent so that they can retain power.
This is not reconciliation. It is oppression.
The second: forgetfulness of responsibilities, where we willingly give them to leaders that promise to take care of our affairs.
This time, our leaders call for a forgetting of the present: do not worry about your immediate needs, because your leaders will take care of them with their gifts of waiting sheds, sodium-enriched relief goods, and donations/early campaign materials. And yes, trust them when they say that you need only P1,000 to have a decent meal for your Christmas gathering—because they walked the grocery aisles, plodded through wet markets, and budgeted their small savings, right?
Our leaders are also calling for us to forget the future: do not worry about your pensions, because your leaders will invest them in a system governed by families deeply, safely ensconced in government and its private bank accounts.
We are supposed to believe that this sovereign wealth fund will work because it worked in other countries that do not share our context, culture, and economic background.
We are expected to trust a government that has no real record of trustworthiness with public funds. Recall: an oversupply of overpriced, low-quality vaccines. Failure to systematically purchase the right number of high-quality vaccines. Failure to create infrastructure to allow people to efficiently get vaccinated without having to wait all day and lose their wages in the process. Refusal to regulate farmland-destroying, soil-murdering infrastructure. Indifference to the misuse of intelligence funds for reckless, subsequently deadly Red-tagging.
The purchases, roads, and intelligence failed because they are short-term spending veiled in the language of long-term investments. In the meantime, the real long-term investments are ignored: the health care sector still waits to be compensated for long-term health security, the agricultural sector still waits to be supported for long-term food security, and we all wait for someone to ensure that we have some form of national security.
It is OUR money, OUR future, that is being gambled with. This supposed fund is ideologically despotic because it is forcing us to surrender our power over our own lives. This is no longer a government that listens to its people’s actual needs. It is therefore not a government that serves.
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