The wretched of the (Philippine) earth


Posted at Mar 10 2008 10:05 AM | Updated as of Mar 10 2008 06:05 PM


Finally, the government has admitted it.  It has confirmed what Filipinos have known all along. The number of poor Filipinos is rising.


Finally, the government has admitted it. It has confirmed what Filipinos have known all along. The number of poor Filipinos is rising.

In 2006, 4.7 families were considered poor. This translates to 27.6 million wretched souls. The poverty threshold for the same year has gone up from P12,309 per capita annual income to P15,057.

Even worse, the number of the subsistence poor or absolutely poor is rising. There are now 11.0 million families or 14.6 million individuals who fall under this category.

Social Watch Philippines is mightily restraining itself from saying "We told you so!". For nearly a decade, it has been engaging the government on its claims that levels of poverty are going down.

It is to the credit of the National Statistical Coordination Board that it has released its report inspite of the claims of economic growth from the government and the TV ads proclaiming how the poor are feeling the effects of such growth.

Why is the number of poor so high? Poverty is related to unemployment. For example, the National Capital Region (NCR) which has the densest population in the country has the highest unemployment rate at 10.6 per cent. It is not surprising to see huge colonies of poor families in the Metro Manila.

Poverty and unemployment constitute a dangerous combination which can exacerbate criminality and other social problems.

Education is not necessarily a guarantee for jobs and escape from poverty. Government figures show that of the total unemployed in the country, 39.5% are college graduates. This can lead to high levels of frustration.

Where are the poor? Government policymakers have no excuse. Countless studies have been made on poverty. Poverty maps are now available. These show exactly which provinces are poor. Again, the answer is obvious. Most of the poor are in the agriculture sector. They are largely in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Among the ten poorest provinces, only two are from Luzon: Apayao with its indigenous population, and Abra. Two are from the Visayas: Northern Samar and Masbate. The rest are from Mindanao. It is an unending source of shame that the island which is richest in natural resources and the most varied in culture, should be the home of the poorest in the country.

Poverty is also linked to violence and destabilization. Tawi-Tawi is now considered the poorest province in 2006, with a poverty incidence of 78.9%. For decades, it has been associated with rebellion. Eight out of ten families are labeled as poor. What can be more scandalous than a province where four-fifths of the population live below the poverty line? Is there a more powerful indictment of the boast that the Philippines is "progressing"?

Excuses, Excuses!

Government apologists have stated that poverty has increased because of the series of natural calamities, over which they have no control. True, inspite of the efforts of a congressman to outlaw typhoons, natural disasters remain uncontrolled. However, even a high school kid knows all about global warming, La Niña and El Niño. Surely, the government can plan for these disasters which come with increasing frequency. Surely, it can improve its forecasting capacity by investing in advanced instruments. Surely, it can improve its disaster management capacity!

Fifty years ago, Frantz Fanon wrote a book in French, Les Damnes de la Terre or The Wretched of the Earth. It was an instant hit with academics and activists. It is primarily a book on the psychological effects of colonization on the psyche of a nation and its implications for building a movement for decolonization. Still, it resonates with increasingly vast multitudes of the poor in a country which claims to be prosperous.

Poverty feeds the increasing discontent, anger, and rage of the poor. Beware the wretched of the Philippine earth!

Justice for 28 military Officials

Failure of leadership, failure of command. This was the theme of the privilege speech delivered by Cong. Teofisto "TG" Guingona III last February 28 when he called for the Congressional Committee on Human Rights to inquire into the conditions of detention and violation of the constitutional rights of the 28 officers. They are now detained at the ISAFP compound in Camp Aquinaldo and the CIDG compound at Camp Crame. He told the story of Major Jason Aquino, class baron of the PMA class "91—how he was maltreated and his human rights violated. Cong. Guingona also detailed the suffering of his family and the families of all who were unjustly treated.

These are very difficult and challenging times. There are so many causes to fight for. Let us include the wretched, as well as those who are victims of human rights violations among our ardent advocacies.