The poor should be considered equal participants in the economy, not ‘victims’ of it

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How can we “help the poor”? It depends on one’s definition of “helping”. At its worst, “helping the poor” is seen by many as simply dropping a few coins in the poor box at church or donating stuff to a charity. The poor, in this regard, are seen as charity cases, and this has come to be the default way many Filipinos deal with the banality of poverty in their society. Indeed, the classic platitudes that form fodder for a typical election campaign reflect this mentality. Politicians pitch themselves as “for the poor” or as being “in solidarity with them”.

The subtle message this sends across is that the poor are “victims” that are in need of a saviour. And it is this “saviour” that politicians then fashion themselves into during their campaign. Small wonder then that we get the sorts of leaders we see today. They come across as saint- or father-figures and, astoundingly, actually ellicit a response from their constituents consistent with that made-up persona! Filipinos regard them the way one would a venerated celebrity or patriarch rather than as a public servant measured on results and the quality of their vision as should be the case.

Pandering to poverty is easy. The needs are so basic that the campaign platitudes that address them are quite straightforward. Developing platforms around the nebulous notion of “uplifiting the poor” is child’s play. Even halfwits can do it. Compare this to addressing the needs of the middle classes and up. Campaign rhetoric to address the needs of the non-poor are far more complex. From the middle classes and up, scrutiny of campaign platforms goes further to involve nuances of taxation, quality of education, environmental concerns, social justice, and other sophisticated issues that are relevant to people further up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. But when you have a population dominated by superstitious people who cannot think beyond their next meal and their next Eat Bulaga fix, mono-syllabic campaign slogans suffice.

This is compounded by social “activsts” who paint the poor as “special people” who require special treatment. Despite the Philippines being a democracy with a free market economy, its “thought leaders” see the poor as exempt from the expectation that everyone be equal participants in the free market. Whereas “well-to-do” people are expected to compete and account for their own success or failure, poor people are considered to be people who need to be given a break — given a break from taxes, given a break from complying with the law, and even given a break for being stupid. Indeed, if the poor are regarded as subject to the same rules the middle classes and up abide by, the jeepney would long have been consigned to a museum, squatters would have long ago been scraped off public land, and certain crooked showbiz celebrities and politicians accused of sexual misconduct and rebellion thrown in jail.

If Filipinos really want to “help the poor” they need to begin by focusing on being consistent — in the application of their laws and in the quality of public services delivered. Perhaps the reason Filipinos feel that their poor need to be treated special is because they feel they owe them compensation for copping the short end of the stick in an inherently unjust society. But, really, the poor remain poor not because of injustice but because society encourages them to be poor. Parents who send the same message to their kids as what Filipino society send to their poor end up with grownup bums living in their house and eating off their fridges for most of their lives. Perhaps it begins by being less patronising and less giving to the poor. It may sound counterintuitive in that context but to the average parent trying to raise kids to be independent and productive adults, it makes perfect sense.

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15 Comments on “The poor should be considered equal participants in the economy, not ‘victims’ of it”

  1. “Erap para sa mahihirap”, was the political slogan of Erap Estrada, who was running for President. After being elected, he was convicted of running a “jueteng syndicate”…the “mahihirap” were used by a self serving politician, to get elected…

    Being poor, is really hard. We cannot help people, who cannot accept responsibilities of making their lives better, and get out from the cycle of poverty. Most of the poor, have many children, that they cannot take care of their children’s basic needs.

    The Churches forbid birth control. So, the poor procreates and procreates children, they cannot feed.

    If we really want to get out of poverty; we can get out of poverty…however, the good question is: do we really want to help ourselves and get out of poverty ?

  2. This reminds me of one the spokesperson for the Kadamay group who expressed in a televised interview their three demands from the government. (1) full educational scholarship for their children, (2) free medical services for their members, (3) free housing for their families. At the end of the interview, their spokesperson even said that taxpayers’ money won’t actually be wasted if the government will grant their demands. So much for making a living out of poverty.

  3. Hyden,
    pls answer your own question. “do we really want to help ourselves and get out of poverty?”
    Oh and pls use the singular title (I not we) or can/do you speak on behalf of the entire poor PH population?

    What are the pro’s of staying poor (or of wanting to stay poor)?
    What are the pro’s of getting out of poverty?

  4. @Robert Haighton:

    I use the pronoun “we”, to emphasize and empathize myself with the Filipino poor. Some just want dole outs/freebees, from the Philippine government; they do not want to help themselves. They rely on God and their religions, to help them also. “God helps those who help themselves”, states a good saying.

    To be always poor, is not a good thing. Poverty is dehumanizing and degrading to your humanity…

    To get out of the cycle of poverty; opens the door for more opportunities, in our lives…

    “I had been poor; and I have been rich…it is better to be rich”, from a good Broadway song…

    1. Hyden,
      I think it was our friend – Thaddeus Grimwald (BTW: where the hell is he?) – who constantly expressed that it was an honnour to help the needy ones. Now, I dont what it constituted, to help the needy. Was it financially? But it sounds so much that it was useless bec they still are poor. Oh and mind you: when I speak about poor and poverty, I dont mean financially poor alone but also in mind and ehavior.

      So do I relate with/to them? No. Do I symphatize with them? No. Tjhey are poor bec they made themself poor. And I will not and dont even blame the RCC (strange right, said by an atheist).

      One does not have to be rich (financially). People in the middle class are also NOT rich. People in the middle class are even worse. They eagerly want to join the upper class and at the same time are afraid to relegate into poverty. So they are the ones who want the status quo. They are the ones who can and will lose the most.

  5. “Give a man a fish & you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish & you feed him for a lifetime.”

    This is true but how we could apply this famous quote to the poor Filipinos? If we could eliminate the 60/40 ownership quota in our country & in order to bring more foreign investment in our country, will that bring a great beneficiary to them? Yes, but this is just temporary. The best way to make those poor Filipinos to become a rich people is to give them a PROPER EDUCATION & INFORMATION. And this is a huge problem to our education system in our country today. Those corrupt & traditional politicians are stealing our taxpayer’s money, and even worse, the Filipino children who are suffering the poor quality in our country’s education & paying higher tuition fee costs no matter what schools they go, they’re becoming less disciplined & more lazy by checking their FB status or playing Pokemon Go on their smartphones during & after school classes. And don’t forget, the two giant TV networks, ABias-CBN and GMA Network are showing more adult oriented telenovelas & tagalized Koreanovelas & Hollywood movies instead of showing more child oriented shows (and yes, I’d missed Batibot & Sesame Street in the 80s & 90s while watching them on free tv & not on cable at that time). So this is the REAL problem on why Filipino poor are becoming more poorer and our president Rody and our government should solve on this one, first!

  6. mrericx: teach a Filipino to fish, and he’ll curse you and threaten to have you kicked out of the country unless you give him at least fifty fishes. Then he’ll get drunk, leave the fish in the sun to go rotten, and still have nothing to eat.

    No point blaming the government for all this. The government are thieves because they’re drawn from the Filipino populace, and Filipinos are thieves. It’s really that simple. I was just reading an article explaining that the government is going to spend 20 billion pesos on a ‘tent city’ for the displaced people from Malawi. Let’s overlook that fact that doing 20 billion pesos of damage to the economy is a terrorist’s dream come true. They could never have achieved anything close to that by themselves: it took the AFP to help them out.

    But let’s get back to the point: 20 billion pesos spent on tents for about 20,000 people. Well, in the same newspaper, there’s a report that some construction company is building a luxury development, with a price tag of 30 billion, on 30-something hectares, which would almost certainly accommodate a similar number.

    Now, I have some experience in this area. I’m absolutely confident that given 20 billion pesos, and a somewhat larger area of land – say 4000 hectares – I could deliver state-of-the-art housing, power, water and sewage management, etc etc etc., for about 200,000 people, as long as the potential residents could be recruited as casual labor.

    If you really, really insisted on using tents, you could achieve the desired result for about US$500 per person, or P0.5B at most. You’d still need at least 100 hectares of land.

    Considering these three observations, we can conclude that somebody is going to steal about 95% of that 20 billion peso budget.

    Quelle surprise, as they say in countries that aren’t populated by thieves.

    1. @marius “teach a Filipino to fish, and he’ll curse you and threaten to have you kicked out of the country unless you give him at least fifty fishes. Then he’ll get drunk, leave the fish in the sun to go rotten, and still have nothing to eat.”

      That quote you said is a best example of a Filipino culture of being a PASAWAY or ignorant and this is another reason why our country is on a backward development and not forward. In order to prevent that & to make sure that this kind of culture should disappear is to pass this law called the Anti-Pasaway Bill & surely it might upgrade it under Duterte’s administration.

      Hopefully that law should be passed and become a priority one before his term will end so that the Filipino people will learn their own lesson to become a disciplined & progressive people just like Singaporeans & Japanese or face their consequences. I don’t care if this law will violate human rights, as long as we could see a REAL change in our country from being a poor & ignorant country to well develop & discipline one.

  7. There is a fine line between compassion and a victim mentality. Compassion though is a healing force and comes from a place of kindness towards yourself. Playing the victim is a toxic waste of time that not only repels other people, but also robs the victim of ever knowing true happiness.

  8. Just a question to anyone…

    In an inherently unjust society that will be less patronising and less giving as suggested, what exactly are you going to do if you’re born poor (really dirt poor as in the “hand-to-mouth” type of poor) to escape such poverty?

    Let’s say, you belong to a family of five whose net income is only barely enough to feed everyone, with no permanent home, no television (to watch dramas and noontime shows), no permanent mode of livelihood and equipped only with some elementary education.

    What are your chances to make it realistically through life? (Not depending in luck, not begging in the streets, not selling your body and/or not engaging in some criminal activites like kidnapping, robbery, selling drugs…and other usual fares of the needy and the perrenial desperates!)

    Ideally, answer in the first person and identify what exactly (and honestly) are you going to do and how do you intend to realistically achieve your goal within your own given time frame. And please don’t answer the question with questions!

  9. Stu: I actually know several people like that. Dirt poor family, way too many siblings. The short answer is: work hard, be honest, and don’t bring your drama into other people’s lives. You won’t necessarily get RICH, but simply by working with whatever you have, you’ll do just fine. Just turning up on time (as I think Woody Allen remarked) will get you half the way there. Being a decent human being will get you to the finish line.

    Incidentally, public school in the Philippines is an enormous waste of time. Every single Filipino who attends “school” here learns precisely nothing (except how to cheat, lie, bribe the teacher, and memorize pointless facts – usually incorrect ones). Those who can’t afford the minimal fees (and the bribes) are probably better off.

    I also know several people born into similar circumstances who seem intent on perpetuating it.

  10. When confronted with a real-life scenario, then asked/tasked to be in the middle of it for once, the self-styled, outspoken and educated community of bloggers in GRP started invoking their right to remain silent!

    It appears that the Bright Rah! Rah! Boys of GRP, who seem to know or pretend to know better to everything, especially while in their partisan attack mode, are now shying away from a very simple and real query such as the above! Yeah! Living is easy with eyes closed.

    It’s funny that the Cheerleading Bright Boys who are independently-proud, self-achieving intellectuals, supposedly armed with a much higher education (mostly from western ideas), regard illiteracy as stupidity (rather than educational deprivation), sneer at the poor (for generally being viewed as lazy people whose social condition of poverty being declared as a natural choice(?) and seen as always playing the victim card) ironically cannot even provide any specific ideas (with exactness) that has the potential to be emancipatingly feasible/viable and realistically/scientifically repeatable for the benefit of the so called marginalized poor (and the society in general!) on how to break away from the generational vicious cycle of poverty.

    Apparently, after a display of virtual claim of arrogance of intellect usually reserved for the rich and the influential, what we are shown here is a potentially even more dangerous kind of poverty- the poverty of the rich being apathy and neglect (loss of sense of social purpose) in their society of privilege under their own social arrangement!

  11. ZOOM: I’m not sure if you’re referring to my post above, or to the silent majority. I’ve posted on several occasions about positive steps that the poor could take. Those steps are based on my own experience of being poor.

    I also mentioned above three simple things that I see poor people ACTUALLY DOING in order to become less poor. It works.

    I can identify with your frustration: I issued a similar challenge to Ilda a few weeks ago. She wasn’t interested in responding. While it isn’t up to the article-writers to hand out solutions on a plate, I do think it would be nice to start discussing how we get from HERE to THERE. One big mistake that analysts make is assuming that the solution has some connection to the original cause of the problem. It usually doesn’t. For example, after ranting about the legacy of colonialism, what are we supposed to do? Build a time machine and kick out the Spaniards? We can only change the future, and it’s often not entirely obvious WHAT needs to be changed.

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