Children of the motherland
Like millions of other Filipinos, I made sure I could listen to the first State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte. I thought it would only be 38 minutes, but it went more than double that. Actually, it did not seem that long to me because my attention was caught and became totally fixed on two portions which seemed unrelated but so intimately connected to me. After he had talked about the Muslims and lumads of Mindanao, and the situation of squatters in the country, my attention simply could not move on. It just couldn’t.
For over 30 years, I have paid consistent attention to what never interested me before than time. My younger years from school to more than a decade of corporate life, my focus was mostly on enjoying my boyhood, my grade school to college days, building a young family, and lots of work to improve our financial capacity.
In the early ’80s, I discovered rural life during weekends in a mountain barangay where I was led to doing community development work. Community building is about all the important matters that impact on a community, and these are never finished. When a Filipino or a Filipino family start from being poor, and especially dirt poor, goals are low, simple, yet difficult to reach. Goals can be as basic as land, homes, and food. Resolving landlessness, homelessness and hunger, however, have been impossible for the majority for generations. If it is not one, it is the other—or all three.
Almost 20 years later, I discovered Gawad Kalinga and its powerful community development template. As its worker and advocate, I understood better where the poverty begins and where we can also begin to dismantle it. It puzzles me why the classical Western model for poverty alleviation or eradication is riveted on livelihood as though the lack of livelihood created poverty in the Philippines. If it is not the primary cause of our massive poverty, it should not be the primary answer. Livelihood is important, but security of tenure, a decent home, and food are primal. With our poor unable to assure themselves of their primal needs, poverty cannot disappear.
The poverty of the Filipino has historical roots, not economic ones. Our people did not become impoverished because they lost their jobs, they were simply born poor. Poverty, then, to the Filipino, has been an inheritance, the natural consequence of being born to parents who were themselves born poor. It does not mean that a Filipino or a Filipino family cannot rise above poverty by hard work, by earning consistently and earning more. It simply means that a Filipino or a Filipino family rise above a poverty they were not responsible for, a poverty they inherited, a poverty that is not an inherited disability to the rich.
Let me now return to the first Sona of President Duterte and why I did cry inner tears of joy. He is the first President I heard who anchored his yearning for peace by publicly accepting a grim history. Beyond peace, I believe, he saw that the violence began when superior force stole the land of the Muslims and lumads in Mindanao. The President knows there was a historical anomaly, and he wants to rectify it even centuries after. This is what made me cry tears of joy in my heart.
President Duterte also spoke of Filipinos who have become squatters by force of circumstance. Squatting means living in an area that one has no legal right to. Well, Filipinos who are poor are also born squatters because they have no legal right to be anywhere in their own motherland. They are not squatters because they leave the places where they were born because they were squatters there as well. City or town, flat lands or mountains, our poor have no right to be anywhere—and that poverty made them squatters.
Because he must have a deep intuitive understanding and connection to the poor, the President declared that there would be no demolition without relocation facilities already available for the squatters. This made me smile, but I know that President Duterte can still make me cry my inner tears of joy—because tens of millions of poor Filipinos will cry their tears of joy.
I do not know President Duterte except as one of thousands who have once shook his hand in the course of his long public service for the people of Davao City. I have no way to reach him, and it is not me anyway that is important, only what I know that he must know, too. Because he is the father of the Filipino people, not just the President of the Republic. And as father, I know he will try his utmost to be fair, even to be generous if the nation as a whole will not be prejudiced.
So I ask any reader who may have access to the President’s ear and heart to please deliver a message that is not mine though I have put words in it. I would like the President to know that the same native land stolen from the Muslims and the Lumads were stolen from all other Filipinos, too. Christians did not steal the land of the Muslims and Mindanao, a Spanish government did. Christians did not steal the lands of indigenous people either, a government incidentally run by Christians did. And that is why most Filipinos were born landless—whether Muslim, Lumads, IPs or Christians.
President Duterte sent a message to the Muslims and lumads of Mindanao—that he cannot return anymore everything they lost, but that he will try his best to give them the most he can. I also want a message the President may want to know—that he cannot return everything stolen to all other Filipinos, but he can give them the most that he can. In fact, there is a formula that is available, and flexible for further improvement.
May the curse of centuries on our people be finally exorcised.
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