An Inquirer article regarding a certain bishop’s statement raised again the issue of poverty as a problem in the Philippines. Bishop Garcera of Daet is quoted to have said “poverty is not a problem.” But whether he said it or not, and no matter who says it, I still maintain that poverty will always be one of the core problems of the country, and no looking from a different angle will de-problematize it. However, this issue reveals that some Filipinos still have wrong attitudes about poverty. Something seems to be dressing up the condition of poverty as something attractive, or as something “good,” despite reality saying otherwise.
Benign0 raised again the question of why many Filipinos remain in poverty. My answer tries to partially explain it: I believe that there has been a glamorization of the poor that not only spreads wrong ideas about them, but actually serves as a way to keep people poor and suffering.
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Why Poverty is a Problem
Poverty basically is a problem because it brings people into harmful conditions. People in poverty have greater health risks. Some of them eat pagpag, which is dirty and is germ-filled. They are less likely to finish or even go to school. They tend to have less intellectualism, which would make their lives less meaningful and more prone to stupid actions. Poverty is also quite related to higher crime; poor people tend to get into criminal activities to support themselves. They also tend to have more children than they can support (which proponents of the RH Law say the law will solve, but it remains to be seen whether it will be effective in that).
I think it is obvious that poverty is actually a harmful thing. Why encourage people to get into it or stay in it?
Saying that poverty is not a problem can be used as an excuse for the poor to stay poor – and keep them in situations of high risk. Some may say, since poverty is not a problem anyway, why help the poor? And another fear I have is that this has been used to demonize the rich, or even just the middle-class. It’s better to be poor. Poor is good, being rich or may-kaya is bad. The poor themselves may say, we’re more saintly when we’re poor, so why bring us out of poverty?
As commenter Midwayhaven said, “a lot of the poor CHOOSE to remain poor mainly due to the ‘victim’ mindset.”
Images of the Poor
Philippine TV shows and movies often show this: poor=good, rich=evil. This is clearly wrong. Even poor people commit crimes and can themselves be corrupt. And when they get into a position of power, they are likely to become corrupt themselves. Professional squatters are a good example.
Some are trying to make the poor into â€œheroes.â€ This is yet another attempt at muddling the concept of â€œhero.â€ Probably the concept is that heroes suffers, and the poor suffer. But in truth, heroes do not necessarily suffer. Heroes are those who try to help others. They may suffer, but it is because they are trying to help others. Now the poor are mostly trying to help themselves, not others. How can they even become heroes when they’re the ones asking help for themselves!
Another image is that the poor are saints. Not just heroes; even the concept of sainthood is muddled. This is perhaps because of the common misuse of Bible verse which is part of the Beatitudes. â€œBlessed are the poor,â€ or â€œblessed are the poor in spirit.â€ People may think that this makes the poor blameless and holy. Not so. It only shows that God looks with mercy upon the disadvantaged, but it does not absolve the poor of their wrongs.
In addition, another Bible verse says non-working poor are doing wrong: â€œhe who does not work, let him not eat (2 Thes. 3:10).â€ Some, like Vladmir Lenin, have used this to attack the bourgesioe, assuming that they do not work. However, this verse equally attacks the poor – that if they are poor, but refuse to work and want to receive dole-outs, they should expect to get hungry as a return.
Rooting for the Underdog
One of the things I consider an often misused and abused concept is rooting for the underdog. This is a concept often used in modern fiction. In this country, the underdog concept has been misused as to propagate a harmful and erroneous ideal.
In society, the poor is often portrayed as the underdog. The movies often portray them as abused, downtrodden, and persecuted. But one thing I notice is that the underdogs are often portrayed as lacking intelligence, unskilled, ill-mannered and poor in breeding. The movies often play this up and try to make them look good. But this has a bad effect. It may teach other people to favor being unintelligent, ill-mannered and unskilled. And it will likely make them incompetent, lazy, pretentious and just plain useless in life.
Problem is, even incompetent and corrupt underdogs will be glorified (remember the 70s movies featuring criminals?). The overdog (my word for the competent) is often demonized, thus making it less attractive to become one. I believe the overdog is what people should evolve into when they overcome their weaknesses, because they have become stronger, more competent. Media should play up the overdog. Or at least stop portraying the underdog as the hero.
The glamorization of the poor is such that it may invite others to become poor. This can be seen in some families where some members decide that they like the poor life better and go with poor people who are also poor in living life. For example, some children eschew parents’ advice and go out with an ill-mannered, poorly educated brute, only to regret years later the choice made. They may start out rich or middle-class, but can end up poor. This can be explained as rich or supposedly well-bred people being pulled down to the level of the poor â€“ so that they can be poor themselves. This has been portrayed in TV shows as well.
Because it looks good to be poor in this country, it may have eliminated the desire of some people to solve their poverty through their own effort. As Midwayhaven and many others have said, these people will deliberately become poor and use the â€œpity effectâ€ to ask for dole-outs from others â€“ and from the government. Indeed, there are people who are â€œnagpapakapoorâ€ in order to elicit dole outs.
Perhaps my observation may have been exaggerated and somewhat simplistic. But I am certain such cases exist. It does not always need the rich to do anything to “oppress” the poor; the poor sometimes keep themselves poor. Sometimes they know it, sometimes they do not.
Of course, being poor does not make a person condemnable. But it is a an undesirable state, and it certainly harmful to those undergoing it. It is a condition that needs to be solved â€“ not maintained or exploited. Or liked. Wanting to become poor can be seen as irresponsible, and it can help propagate social ills.
And another thing is that the poor are being exploited. We hear of politicians who win elections because they get the popular or the masa vote, which we may surmise is full of poor people. They proclaim this power as the â€œpower of the poor.â€ But I doubt this power exists. The poor have no power. It’s only the masa politician who feeds on their votes to stay in office and keep them poor, while fooling them that they have â€œpower.â€
Don’t forget leaders in insurgent organizations (yes, the commies) who profess to be champions of the poor, but are actually rich people themselves. They are also riding on the supposed â€œpower of the poor,â€ which is actually â€œpower to fool the poor.â€
We need to challenge the very hyped image of the poor as â€œgood,â€ and dissociate the concepts of â€œgood-badâ€ from â€œrich-poor.â€ We need to help educate the poor and point out the error of their ways â€“ and expose how they are being used. To help bring them out of wrong thinking and show them the right ways to think and act.
Why it is better to be â€œAnti-Poorâ€
I have my own definition for “Anti-poor”: believing that there should be no poor in society and that everyone should be free of poverty. Being “Pro-poor” thus is being in favor of having the poor around, and going against their getting out of poverty.
In other words, every society should gun for eliminating the poor. No, I don’t mean using a gun to eliminate the poor. Eliminate poverty by giving people jobs and allow them to work and earn enough for their own living. This is where I partly agree with Bishop Garcera: “When you help poor people they help themselves too… Everyone, when given the chance, will strive to earn a living” (though I’m not really sure everyone will want to).
It is wrong to glamorize the poor. It may encourage them to take upon commitments that they are unable to keep. The poor are not heroes. Poor is poor. It is nothing special, nor does it make people good. There is no assurance that poverty will lead to people becoming good and responsible. In fact, the opposite may mostly be true, making poverty is a severe social cancer.
Thus, propagating poverty and de-problemizing will only serve to deepen the social ills of the country and further cut down an important institution in any society: the middle class.
Opposition needs to be fronted against glamorization of the poor, or against telling the poor that it is OK for them to stay poor. Because it never is OK. And because glamour after all is based on that dreaded demon called pride. When people are poor, it would become even worse if their heads swelled. Instead, Filipinos should seek to develop wealth-building attitudes, the proper kind, which focus on proper stewardship of wealth, and considering it a friend and not an evil. Of course, encourage values such as living within one’s means, and not following the popular mindset. And of course, encouraging people to strive to be non-poor.
I believe, as my cohorts here do, that what Filipinos embrace as their culture is what actually pulls the country down. And those who seem to be anti-dictators, who may also believe themselves to be “heroes,” are the real dictators.