Powerlessness: The root of poverty

IT IS a foremost declaration in the highest law of the land that “the Philippines is a Republican and Democratic State. Sovereignty resides with the people and all governmental powers emanate from them.”

Nothing could be further from the truth and more paradoxical than that.

Based on the studies of development experts and social scientists, the Filipinos are poor not because of the lack of resources but is rooted in powerlessness of the people to have access and control over their resources.

Please allow me first to advance three important questions: Who controls? Who decides? Who benefits? In a country oozing with ecological resources.

Based on the studies of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UN-FAO), the Philippines is the richest on earth in terms of mega-diversity per unit area.

Don’t you know that in one forest ecosystem alone in the Philippines i.e., the 4,000-ha. Mt. Kitanglad, there are more flora and fauna than what are found in the one-billion-hectare continent of North America?

This is also based on the study of Mr. Larry Heanny, an American environmentalist who had stayed in Bukidnon for six months sometime in the ‘80s.

In the North American continent (US and Canada), they only have about 300 species flowering plants while in the Philippines, being a tropical country, we have about 8,000.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that all of these mega-diversity which had evolved for billions of years have been erased from the face of the earth in just a matter of a century when we have lost the 17-million hectare dipterocarp forest.

In the past six decades, for example, six logging companies had exploited our natural forests in Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental and Lanao Provinces, earning as much as 360 million pesos per shipment of logs. Many of these loggers have become senators, congressmen, governors and even mayors from out of their raking used to buy votes.

You know what? All of these logging operations then were all illegal as the cuttings were done in the protected one thousand-meter high altitude or in slopes with more than 50 percent gradient were logging was prohibited by then existing laws. Hardwood such as Narra, Lawaan and Mahogany were prohibited by laws to be cut.

Why? Why? Why? Isn’t that in this country, no one is above the law. All must bow down to the majesty of the law because we follow the rule of law and not of men. All of these pronouncements are just rhetorical with regards to environment.

Our county’s wealth is not just found above the ground. Underneath are some 72 kind of minerals, i.e., gold, silver, bronze, copper, etc. which became the subject of greed of illegal and foreign miners.

In the ‘80s, for example, we allowed the Asian Park Development Corporation (APDC), a Korean firm, to heavily mine the uplands of Cagayan de Oro.

I visited the mining site a year ago and I was alarmed of what I had seen. The mined mountains are now cracking through liquefaction and I am afraid that with a little earthquake, the mountains may cause landslides and the communities nearby are in danger.

Imagine, a foreign corporation, coming with nothing and leaving with all the nation’s wealth, wreaking havoc on its path. This is also true to TNCs transforming thousands of agricultural lands into plantations, using chemical fertilizers and pesticides at the rate that as if some 2,000 dump-trucks of toxins are poured to our water table, to the rivers and to the sea every day.

Our ecological wealth goes beyond the shorelines. The Philippine Archipelago has been described by the UN-FAO as the “center of the center of marine life on earth.”

While this may be so, but according to studies, the poorest of the poor now are our fishing communities because of the 13 major bays in the Philippines, 10 are now biologically dead.

Look at Macajalar Bay!

In the ‘50s, our fisherfolk could attest that the bay was oozing with marine life that fish would literally jump into their bancas. Today, even after hours of fishing, fish can hardly be caught. Why???

The bay has been treated as a waste pit by surrounding industries. Tons and tons of silts coming from the logged and mined areas are pouring to the bay. The once majestic bay is now dying through the lethal combination of ecological degradation, not to mention the heavy use of toxins from surrounding plantations.

If the root of poverty is the dis-empowerment of the people, then, empowerment is the countervailing force. People are empowered when they collectively harness their potentials to create their own destiny. This is what cooperativism is all about. The individualized pursuit of wealth is now over. A collective consciousness is now in the offing to debunk materialism and consumerism in an age so much enamored in self-promotion, superficial appearances and religious trivialities.

It should dawn upon all of us that we are all inter-connected, to be one with nature and with the universe as there is oneness in life. Unity in diversity. One with God, one with mankind and one with nature. That is the essence of cooperativism, the time of new spirituality towards earth democracy.


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