THERE’S no quick fix to poverty.
Then Social Welfare Undersecretary Cecilia Capadocia Yangco six years back had to remind politicians about that just as the season of promising the moons and the stars was about to begin.
She had to say that, after candidates started swearing they could – and would- eradicate poverty - if only we shoo them into Malacanang during the presidential polls that May six years ago.
She saw no need to tell that to the poor, with whom she has been working for four decades now. To do so would make her an arm-chair consultant who gets paid to tell the poor what they already know – the squalor they’re in for years, if not for a life-time now. Or, worse, a traditional politician who knows getting elected and re-elected is a sure-fire formula, not in addressing mass poverty, but in nurturing a personal sense of material acquisitiveness.
“You can not let go of a poverty alleviation program after only a year,” Yangco, a veteran in poverty alleviation work, was quoted in a news report that year by Nikko Dizon of the Philippine Daly Inquirer.
Thing is, some politicians can’t let go, as if the seats they glued themselves to are the only way they can serve the world-wide cause against poverty. (It gives me the sneaky suspicion they’d empty the hardware stores of Vulcaseal and Epoxy so they could stick their behinds on the elective’s chair, leaving our carpenters with nothing to work on to cope with poverty.)
Lucrative political position may be, but it’s all too obvious the poor can’t run and win a seat so they, too, can improve their lot. They can’t even be allowed to run when they’re perceived – quite realistically – to be financially unable to mount an honest-to-goodness campaign. That seems to be the case then with Nick Perlas, an accomplished environmentalist whose contributions are known only by fellow environmentalists.
From experience, Yangco noted it takes at least five years of sustained intervention to deliver a family from poverty. And only if circumstances are normal, she qualified. It would take longer, she said, for “difficult cases” such as dysfunctional families with “problems with values”.
Poverty breeds dysfunctional families with values problems, in the same token that it nurtures the dysfunctional politics we have that breeds politicians with values problems.
The quick fix for the poor, albeit temporary, is a bottle of gin. Or something more potent like shabu, whether sold or sniffed. Or clinging to the hope offered by lotto. Or the so-called poor man’s numbers game that offers a real quick fix for politicians, police officers and even media men belonging to that exclusive “Jueteng Press Corps”.
If you get the drift, the best antidote for poverty is humor. You grin and you bear it.
Humor is a gift that keeps the Filipino afloat through years of discontent. We are the happiest people in the world, according to a survey some years back. I was in a course on the plight of indigenous peoples when our teacher at Shumacher College in England told us that redeeming survey result. His revelation proved to be a refreshing juxtaposition to our poor rating in another survey about corruption.
It’s fun to look at the bright side of our misfortune, our rate of poverty. We need not look far. Soon, we’ll have the annual report on the Cordillera, on our own region’s annual growth rate. Based on previous years’ readings, I’ll bet we will again be near the bottom among the poorest region of the country.
Still, the Cordillera, with its mineral wealth, forest and water resources, remains almost proud as the country’s resource base. It still is the uncontested watershed cradle of Northern Luzon . There’s still gold to be mined, if only Igorots sitting on top of the lode would budge in the name of national development.
As an Ifugao, my humor appears intact, however dysfunctional. I had viewed the continuing inter-regional growth imbalance being a result of the tongue-in-cheek implementation of the build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme of development up here.
They had the mines and dams built, only to transfer the gold and electricity to spur national development down there in Metro-Manila. It’s a dysfunctional “user-friendly” arrangement that left our region poor and still begging for long-overdue shares from the so-called national wealth tax. That’s why our fellow Igorots are begging down there.
Soon, our opposition to fresh efforts to extract whatever gold remains up here will soften up with that new battle-cry - “responsible mining”. It means previous mining was not responsible enough.
Soon, the Cordillera will again join the rest of the Third World in registering the biggest count in the annual “Stand Up Against Poverty” campaign of the United Nations.
Taking the cue from then Undersecretary Yangco, however, the fight against poverty goes beyond standing up and being counted. It requires a program that takes years to sustain, not a project that is renamed after every election to differentiate the “in” from the “has-been”.
We have a long way to go from form to substance, from the conference table to the field, from a culture of development for the development workers, consultants and politicians to a culture of development for the masses.
We need not be elected to pursue anti-poverty programs, as Efren Penaflorida, CNN’s Hero of the Year, showed us. After all, political platforms only get lost the moment we win or lose, only to resurrect and be recycled in the next election campaign.
But that’s hardly the reason why I never run any political position. It’s because I haven’t lost my head. Dreaming of running and winning is no quick fix for the poor. (email:firstname.lastname@example.org for comments).