Quo vadis, Pilipinas? (Part 1) | Inquirer Opinion

Quo vadis, Pilipinas? (Part 1)

12:30 AM March 03, 2023

Every day of our lives in uncertain times is an experience of highs and lows, of hopes and fears. I have been blessed to be part of the 20% who know and admit they are not poor. Though there may have been great improvement from an apathetic posture to one where involvement in helping others, through mostly church and non-government organization work, a great disparity in security and opportunity remains. Because there is a huge 80% that either is so sure of their poverty or afraid that they, again, can fall below the poverty line.

It would be less difficult to transform Philippine society from a steeply hierarchical formation – socially, politically, economically, and even psychologically – if we Filipinos are freed from global dynamics. Left to ourselves, despite the fractures that plague us, we have a better chance to transcend the malaise of centuries of colonization and its pitiful aftermath. But that is not the case, and I cannot see anymore the possibility of that ever happening.

It might have to be the opposite direction from which we will be forced to learn, from adversity within and from a world in increasing turmoil. I do not believe that many Filipinos really understand, except the very few left who experienced the last world war, just how challenging a turbulent environment can be. Having said that, I can still point to the great numbers of poor families, meaning those born into poverty, as the most prepared in their capacity to absorb pain and survive, generation after generation. However, what a heavy price they pay. And the heavier price that a once-noble culture pays.

I now draw on two most influential factors that guide me, as they have for almost four decades. The first is my immersion in community development work, from a personal effort and from being part of a greater collective endeavor. It did not come from a vision. I learned early that meaningful and sustainable change begins from small steps and subtle prodding from the heart. I thought I only wanted to know the mainstream Filipino more, the 80% (used to be higher, too) that I was not so much in touch with. I did not anticipate that one step led to an unending journey.


The second was a serious consequence of the first. What I thought would be mostly personal, historical, and cultural slowly and steadily brought me to be interested in the whole shebang. What I thought would be a journey of intellectual discovery has now become an established advocacy in my being. Which means, in the context of the Philippines, very political as well. And today, in the context of the world, is geo-political. Over thirty years, a non-involved and privileged Filipino is deep in patriotic and nationalist waters.

The last four decades have not been lost on me. I paid attention and learned. But what one Filipino achieves easily becomes lost in the collective quagmire of collective life. The poverty of most degrades the prosperity of the few. The corruption of the powerful debases the spirit of the whole. Prosperity is less about money and material progress as it is more about shared opportunities and collective well-being. Integrity is personal yet can hardly stand alone when it is not a shared value of a society.

This is the moving background within which my fundamental understanding flows today, understanding the past better and deeper, anticipating that the future will bring in more lessons to expand my worldview today. From this running total of a perspective, from my personal eyes, I look at what is happening today in our society and the global village that influences us powerfully.

From the onset, let me share one fundamental factor that drives personal and national decisions – one’s capacity to be self-sufficient. No man, and as an extension, no country, is an island that can stand alone. At the same time, the proportionate capacity for self-sufficiency determines our independence. In the case of most Filipinos, thus translating to the nation, it is the abject lack of that capacity that severely limits our options and our opportunities.


I believe that this is the one area that we must focus on – building our capacity to be self-sufficient. I believe this is the one and only master key towards a future that can promise security and independence, the same security and independence we seek for ourselves and our families. And the understanding that the whole, or the national, is basically made up of its parts – you and me.

On a daily basis, we find ourselves having to make decisions, mostly small but, once in a while, also major ones. We may not realize it but many of our decisions are simply repetitive, narrowly limited by physical and monetary parameters. For the less fortunate because of poverty, decisions are based less on what they need and more for what they can get. Beggars can’t be choosers is the popular way of articulating this grim reality.


Countries can be beggars, too. They just need to host a vast majority of impoverished and incapable residents. The rich and powerful at the top who probably control almost all of the economy and political power are super citizens. They may be an integral part of a beggar country but as virtual exploiters or colonizers. At their whim, too, they can relocate residency and wealth elsewhere.

But the rest of the country, including the middle class and the not-so-rich, realize that they have no choice but to bend to the dictation of other nations who either prop them up economically or politically. Where there is a low level of material independence, meaning little capacity to produce what we need and making the same available to all, there will be, at most, only a false sense of freedom and democracy.

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Our very weakness stifles freedom and disables democracy. There remains little room now to blame others because our ignorance is gone. Only we can grow our capacity and rise above our dependency.

TAGS: democracy, economy, freedom, Philippines, Poor, Poverty

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