A second look at poverty | Inquirer Opinion

A second look at poverty

12:30 AM August 11, 2023

I would like to be upbeat. What is life if we have nothing worthwhile to wake up to? No matter how many obstacles and challenges we face every day, there must be something of greater value up ahead. A reason to live, so to speak.

Life itself is desirable. It has a built-in beauty and magnetic attraction. We do not have to debate with ourselves – we just know that life is valuable and offers so much. And there lies the question for many, why life offers very little, why the magnificence of the potential is reduced to the scarcity of reality.

The traditional and primary nourishment for life has always been family. Through and with family, we have our first taste of security and innocent happiness. Unless we are poor, homeless, and hungry. If that is the case, with a family that is unable to shield us from the basic threats to life, we experience our first fears and painful deprivation.

I recall that the poor have always been with us. Even a religious book says so – that the poor will always be with us. I do not know why it has to be like that, but it is quite difficult to swallow – not even as a victim but only as an observer. If life naturally attracts, poverty naturally repulses. Poverty must be so anti-life.


I was raised as a Catholic, went to Catholic schools, and much later discovered my Filipino citizenship. Religion demands more from its faithful at a much younger age than one’s citizenship – in peace times, that is. It has been a blessing that peaceful times have reigned more than violence. At the same time, not anticipating war or violent conflict in our environment, our parents did not teach us the more serious aspect of citizenship at an early age. Perhaps, they were thinking of the terrible times they experienced in World War II and hoping we would not go through similar situations.

Because precisely there was an absence of societal violence as my generation went through our youthful days, the only visible enemy out there was truly harmful to a large segment of the population was poverty. Unfortunately, I do not remember, from the home and from the schools, such a perspective about poverty as a destructive enemy of the people. If one was not poor, then poverty was not an enemy. A narrow, selfish understanding, I now realize, but that was the case in the 50s and 60s.

In fact, before poverty was really pronounced as a national enemy, it was corruption that was distinctly identified as the scourge of Philippine society. When there was little high-lighting of poverty as a primary enemy from the political, economic, and religious fields, there was already a growing loud noise against corruption. Maybe, politicians and businessmen were just noisier than priests and academicians at that time.

Also, at that time when feudalism or authoritarianism was more in practice in our region, poverty loomed smaller than corruption in the global value index. That, again, is simply a lingering pattern of human history where slaves were even worse off than the poor in democracies, including floundering ones like ours.


Indeed, corruption was like the new kid on the block, especially for nations controlled or influenced by the West. Even the new dictatorships like the one that Mao led, corruption was a great enemy – except the corruption committed by the powers-that-be. The ruling regime always ran after corruption outside of the ones they committed themselves. Thus, advocacy against corruption was a high priority.

Today, however, poverty is gaining more ground as a global threat that has to be dismantled. Economies pay more attention to poverty and poverty alleviation. Economic aid is raised and directed to the poor everywhere in the world, as if the more developed nations are trying to show that they have become more humane, not just powerful and rich.


As an underdeveloped nation wanting to rise in the global ladder, the Philippines has tried to follow the trend that the West had set. After all, part of the money of the world has been gathered in institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Finance Corporation, the European Investment bank, the ADB, and more all demand a certain focus on poverty – if nations want to borrow money from them.

Our longer awareness of corruption as an evil can now be understood as an insidious tool in extending poverty. On the other hand, poverty is not yet clearly seen as a great enabler of corruption. Few realize how an anti-poverty drive is also a powerful and effective mechanism against corruption.

However, going against poverty with simple assistance can end up like alms in charity – good in itself but not effective in raising people to the next levels of development. In fact, it can make people more dependent and promote an even worse beggar mentality. This is what politicians and populist regimes are usually accused of, and with good reason.

Enabling the weak and the poor among us, though, is not the duty of the government alone. In fact, it always remains a collective obligation. A nation is like a family where the stronger ones protect and develop the weaker ones.

I leave us with a rather provocative thought. If we who are members of our communities cannot find it in us to take care of the needy and helpless among us, what makes us expect that the government can be more caring? Therefore, it must be our own commitment and action to assist the less fortunate. In doing so, that may motivate the government to do the same, or do better.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Poverty enables corruption. Strange as it may sound, if we are angry at corruption, we must do our utmost to dismantle poverty. Remember that saying about one finger pointing out and three fingers pointing back?

TAGS: Glimpses, Poverty

© Copyright 1997-2024 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.