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I lost my professor

I know that death is like night—it will come. It is only a matter of who goes ahead, and who are left behind to experience the loss. But it will come.

I had come from two visits to the wake and interment of Cayetano “Dondon” Paderanga Jr. It seems to me, and more so to his family, friends and colleagues, that the country lost a good man, a kind man, a patriot. Dondon Paderanga served institutions, two presidents, and a whole lot of students. Most of all, he served the people and the nation quietly.

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I was shocked with his sudden death, looking forward as I was to a one-on-one tutorial from an economic expert. I had asked Dondon a few months ago if he could spare both time and patience so he could educate me in a field that I could only intuitively understand—macroeconomics. Dondon knew for quite some time that I was deeply involved in the Gawad Kalinga movement. He had spoken before leaders and supporters of Gawad Kalinga when he was still National Economic and Development Authority chief, his own way of sharing his expertise to help the grassroots movement.

Even though I had confidence that Dondon would be inclined to accommodate my request, I was still so pleasantly surprised at how spontaneously and positively he said yes. He knew, because I told him, that he would be talking to someone who was light years away from his level of expertise in economics. It is not easy to teach a senior citizen a subject that he did not learn very well while in school. But Dondon made me feel that he was more than happy to do so.

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Antipoverty work through the Gawad Kalinga perspective is always grounded on behavioral dynamics that have economic consequences. The marginalization of the poor, the severe narrowing of available space for them representing the only playing field that kept them able to survive without money, their growing density in urban areas they flee to after disaster drives them out from the seas and the lands that fed them, and an economic system that considers them problems before they are citizens of the same motherland—these are harsh realities that can drive weaker people into suicide. But the poor cope nevertheless. Their coping mechanisms develop a dreaded poverty mindset, but they survive.

I and my fellow workers, believers and advocates in Gawad Kalinga have our personal engagement with economics, of course. Economics is a dimension of life, necessary and unavoidable. Whether we are conscious of it or not, whether we are good at it or not, we all are part of economics and our material life, at least, is subjected to it. But our view is mostly  personal and micro. We know it is part and parcel of the macro but we are not very clear about the many connections. Without that clarity, we may miss opportunities to be more effective in the work of raising the poor out of poverty.

In macroeconomics, it is reported that 1 percent have more wealth than the 99 percent. But wealth here is not in economic terms but as measured by money. I had looked forward to asking Dondon what economics really is and how to move closer to that reality, which means to move father away from the simplistic economics of money. While I cannot explain through economic formulae and language, I refuse to accept that the value of human beings, even the poor or at least 50 million Filipinos, can just be measured by money. But real-life politics say it is, that money is king—until superior force or firepower says otherwise.

The value of money is not intrinsic. It is mostly imaginary and assigned. In other words, we cannot eat money, we cannot drink money, we cannot breathe money. Money has value because we give it a value, not because we need it to survive. Economics must be about people, about what people need to survive and grow, about what people can do to assure that survival and growth. Economics must be talking about capacity and production, about real things, before man assigns a monetary value to them and creates a virtual world.

A long time ago, and I mean long, as in decades ago, I already read that the value of financial transactions far outnumbered the total exchange of goods and services. That means the virtual had long overwhelmed the real—even before informational technology and the new virtual world it spawned. I wonder how an imaginary dimension can dominate a real one, although I had long been told that perception is stronger than truth as a basis for human understanding and decision. I must suppose, then, that this skewed reality of perception as stronger than truth is the basis for the imagined or virtual to be more powerful than reality.

How sad, then, when one realizes that the world actually goes by that dictum because 1 percent or 700,000 persons are worth more than 6,300,000,000 people. As I said earlier, until circumstances get physical, as in violent, what 700,000 decide is what 6,999,300,000 follow. It is mostly irrelevant that 6,999,300,000 produce more, create more, and consume more because 700,000 are worth more.

I had precisely approached Dondon because his proven competence and visible sensitivity as a person would have explained more to me why economics cannot just be about money, why people matter more, and what are possible ways to reverse the perversion of values. I was so encouraged when he told me that the ground economics we were building in addressing poverty through a multi-sectoral approach was both sound and laudable economics. But he never got to explain why.

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After it all, this is the gist of it. I was seeking knowledge from an expert, and what he gave instead was something more—respect and generosity. My economics lesson can wait, but my appreciation cannot. Mabuhay ka, Dondon Paderanga, from this grateful Filipino.

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TAGS: Cayetano Paderanga Jr., economics, macroeconomics, National Economic and Development Authority
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