Let us yet again (there is certainly no way we can do this enough) revisit my brilliant definition, of poverty:
Poverty is a habitual entering into commitments one is inherently unable to honour.
In embracing the above definition, we begin to see poverty for what it really is — not an ideological construct of emo activists but a basic resource management issue. Poverty is a symptom rather than the root cause of a society’s most fundamental problem: a lack of inherent ability to convert low-value input into high-value output coupled with a pathetic dependence on the low-value input component of this equation for livelihood.
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Despite the Philippines being host to abundant natural resources, and now, an enormous supply of people, the society as a whole lacks a collective ability to apply this enormous number of people to the task of turning these resources into any sort of valuable economic output of consequence. Instead, natural resources are harvested raw and sold raw — mineral ore, logs, overseas foreign workers. Overseas, these then get turned into iPhones, karaoke machines, those shirts with the Philippine islands embroidered onto their left breasts, Honda Civics, Havaianas, and Starbucks tumblers after which they are shipped back to the Philippines to be purchased using OFW cash.
The Philippines, in short, is a perfect self-perpetuating poverty equation.
Anemia, a physiological condition marked by an impoverishment of the substance of one’s blood, does not necessarily mean a deficit in essential minerals needed for production of key blood components. It could be a symptom of a body’s inability to process said minerals even when these minerals are present in abundance within said body. It’s like being desperately thirsty while stuck in a little boat in the middle of the sea. You’re toast because your system is unable to metabolise sea water.
Indeed, the Philippines, a resource-rich island nation, suffers from that famous curse of the naturally-endowed. The lush forests and abundant minerals that had for so long hung low enough to be picked by any Filipino schmoe sitting squat on a banig have proven toxic to the Filipino system just as sea water eventually kills a marooned shipwreck survivor.
Poverty is not the problem. It is a symptom.
Thus the Philippines remains impoverished. And it will remain so until it addresses the root cause of its impoverishment: its consistent and chronic inability to process what resources it has on its own backyard.
Is there hope?
That depends. Any discussion on “solving” Philippine-style poverty should begin with an honest regard for questions derived from key components of my definition:
(1) Why is poverty deeply-entrenched in the Philippines?
(2) Why is poverty hopelessly chronic in the Philippines?
To answer Question 1 requires an effort to understand Filipinos’ habitual behaviours that exacerbate and deepen their impoverishment. To anwer Question 2 requires an effort to understand Filipinos’ inherent lack of collective ability to prosper.
Habit and inherent ability are functions of character. That’s good news because if there is anything one is an expert on it is one’s own character. Presumably. That means to “solve” poverty the starting point is pretty obvious. One simply starts with understanding one’s own character. In the case of Philippine-style poverty this means starting with the key aspect of the national character — its culture.
What is it about Filipino culture that predisposes Filipinos to latch on to bad habits and suffer from a deficit of ability?
These are the hard questions that every Filipino needs to face.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.