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Unusual politics

/ 02:51 AM January 01, 2016

Politicians will do whatever they can to earn votes. Such is a belief of our people, and there are many stories that prove its truth. Former president Carlos P. Garcia told a story about a colleague of his, whom he campaigned with in Mindanao. In one town the candidate promised the people a bridge. The townspeople were delighted, so he promised the next town a bridge. “We don’t have a river,” the people shouted. Without thinking the candidate shouted back, “I’ll give you a river.”

Such is the legend, but there are many exceptions to the rule, such as when politicians deliberately avoid taking up very popular issues. I have come across three such issues this campaign period. Our readers surely have many other examples. The first problem area that candidates avoid discussing or acting upon is our Metro Manila traffic and the traffic in our other big cities. I doubt if there is any other problem that irritates as many people each and every day. The victims of this problem come from all economic levels. No other politician is working on the problem; there would be no competition. Yet no candidate takes traffic as an issue.

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Another example of such a problem is found in the public-private partnership program. Here the largest investments are by the richest companies, and only the very rich companies participate. We don’t hear any party criticizing the PPP. Is the PPP too big and powerful?

A third problem area that a politician might be interested in is the government’s unwillingness to provide grant and subsidy money for the social housing needs of our poor people. When he was in Washington in July, Pope Francis told homeless men at a Caritas center for old men: “There is no excuse, literally no excuse at all, for homelessness.” Our government however claims it hasn’t enough money. If we could have economists sympathetic to the homeless and find them seats at the top decision-making meetings of the PPP, they might be able to find the funds needed for the poor people’s housing.

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A fourth subject area that is not mainly economic includes the Muslim autonomy law and the Bangsamoro Basic Law. There are human forces stronger than greed at work in this matter. We have people committed to religion and ancient culture, and we have absolute villains. We are involved in the worldwide efforts to bring harmony to Muslims and Christians. This harmony may be the No. 1 issue for this election, yet we don’t see it receiving the media and political attention it deserves.

We need young politicians with daring.

If we don’t have such people, we will lack a solution. The cities will shut down. PPP will run aground on old internal rivalries, and the poor, the homeless poor, will look for other loyalties.

Money is so powerful it is able to stymie general development (traffic) or social justice (housing subsidies). In the case of traffic there seems to be no group willing to battle the oil and automotive interests. In the case of PPP management, the architects of the program have made sure the number of investors and their characteristics are controlled in order to keep it an old boy’s club of the very rich, immune to all threats, except perhaps revolution.

What we find when we get to the bottom of our investigation of grants and subsidies is our elite’s age-old lack of generosity toward the poor.

This writer is not under any illusion he has come to a systematic critique of our economy. We wish to say: 1) In all our cases, big money overpowers any opposition, political or otherwise; 2) really big money controls the wealth of the nation (Who outside of the PPP network knows if the funds of the partnership are being used for the best purposes of the country?); 3) big money can control outcomes at the level of an individual family (it may not even know it is determining grants and subsidies); 4) if the crux of a problem moves away somewhat from money, it will be harder to deal with.

Our politicians do not dare challenge entrenched big money, leaving the people vulnerable. Politics is not the people’s answer unless it is the people’s political party. Until that day comes, workers, farmers and urban poor people need the strong support of the churches and religion.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates ([email protected]).

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TAGS: homelessness, Metro Manila traffic, Private-Public Partnerships
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