The upcoming visit to the Philippines of Pope Francis, arguably the most popular and well-loved Pope in recent history, presents many opportunities for our country most especially the millions of families who continue to live in poverty.
Being a Jesuit, Pope Francis has shown that one of the main priorities of his leadership is to promote genuine social justice for the poor and powerless of our society. He has shunned the material trappings of this world and has called out priests and other Roman Catholic Church leaders who continue to live a luxurious lifestyle.
When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina, he was known to even take public transportation when he travelled and was well-known in his country for living a simple lifestyle.
In a world where the gap between the rich and poor continue to grow each day, Pope Francis' leadership is certainly a breath of fresh air that has rejuvenated a once ailing Roman Catholic Church.
In his visit here, I hope and pray that he uses his considerable influence to call on every Filipino, most especially our political leaders, to give priority to the following issues that have brought poverty to the doorsteps of many Filipino families.
1.) A stronger conscience and concerted action against graft and corruption
The recent scams at the Department of Agriculture (DA) has once again reminded us how graft and corruption has been one of the major reasons why many Filipinos continue to remain poor and hungry.
Take for example the rice smuggling, rice hoarding and rice cartel issues that came into light when the leadership at the National Food Authority (NFA) was changed. How do these scams work? NFA rice which should sell for only P 27 per kilo was being repackaged into commercial rice and sold at up to P 40 per kilo. Thus, the NFA rice that was supposed to be sold to poor families was no longer accessible to them because of the very high price.
Rice has been known as the main staple of Filipinos, whether rich or poor, thus it has been known to be a lucrative source of income especially for unscrupulous traders and businessmen who were favored by those who used to lead the NFA.
The corruption at the NFA clearly shows a direct link to why so many Filipinos still continue to go hungry each day despite all the reforms in governance that the present administration has already done.
Aside from this issue, another scam came out just last week when a whistleblower exposed the garlic cartel that was working in cahoots with some DA officials. This cartel was successful in jacking up the prices of garlic last year to more than P300 per kilo when they only paid P60 per kilo to import garlic from China.
Again, it’s the poor Filipino families who have to suffer because of the greediness of a few. Sadly, despite all of these billion-peso scams happening in the DA, no one among Sec. Proceso Alcala and his leaders has had the delicadeza to take full responsibility for these scams happening under their watch.
Hopefully, Pope Francis will make a strong statement against graft and corruption and call on our leaders to follow their conscience when they are faced with the temptation to use their power for their own personal gain.
2.) Do not sell your vote in the 2016 polls
Pope Francis is arriving at a time when the country is just a year away from once again trooping to the polls and again, electing a new set of government leaders. While many of us continue to complain about how corrupt our government officials are, we often fail to remember that we were the ones who elected them to their current positions.
One of the major reasons why many of our political leaders are corrupt is because many Filipinos continue to sell their vote during elections. As one politician told me, “Paano kami hindi mangungurakot eh tuwing eleksyon ang laki ng hinihingi ng mga botante para sa kanilang boto, kailangan mabawi naman namin yun (We become corrupt because during elections, many of our voters ask money from us in exchange for their votes thus, when we get elected we need to recoup the amount that we spent during the elections)”
Hopefully, Pope Francis can also strongly encourage every Filipino to shun away from vote-buying and selling their votes so that we can finally take a major step toward having genuinely clean and honest elections in 2016.
3.) Stop illegal gambling
Another root cause of poverty in our country has been our government’s inability to stop illegal gambling such as jueteng and masiao in our country.
Instead of saving their hard-earned money or using it for more important things such as the education of their children, many Filipinos continue to test their luck and take part in these illegal games.
Worse, the money earned from these illegal activities are often used by many corrupt politicians to buy the votes of their constituents to ensure that they will stay in power.
Like vote-buying, illegal gambling is also a demand-driven activity; thus, if many Filipinos no longer continue to patronize it, then the ones who run these illegal gambling activities will stop.
Hopefully, Pope Francis will also make a call for every Filipino to have a renewal of faith and stop taking part in illegal gambling activities and use their hard-earned money to create a better life for their families.
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Harvey S. Keh is currently the Executive Director of the Institute for Governance and Strategic Partnerships (IGSP) and is also a Board Member of the Jesse Robredo Foundation.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.