Philippines: A tale of pride, progress, poverty

This year marks the 120th anniversary of Philippine Independence from Spain, the 147th birth anniversary of our national hero, Jose Rizal, and the 200th birth anniversary of his father Francisco Mercado Rizal. These memorable events highlight our nation’s rich history and heroic past.
Ten years ago, on June 16, 2008, Abdullah Al-Maghlooth from Saudi Arabia wrote “The world without Filipinos” for the Arab News. Many echoed his sentiments and added to his observation that the world could come to a standstill without Pinoys.
Foremost of all, Al-Maghlooth pointed out that Filipinos make up 20 percent of the world’s seafarers who deliver people, goods, fuel, equipment and services to all parts of the globe. If they suddenly decided to go on strike, there would be disastrous consequences.
He went on to mention the Filipino nurses who make up 23 percent of nurses deployed all over the world. Saudi hospitals could not do without them. He ended his article, saying, “We must remember we are dependent on the Filipinos. We could die a slow death if they choose to leave us.”
It may be an exaggeration but it is still something good to remember.

Filipino achievers
We should also celebrate Filipino achievers, investors and scientists, outstanding professionals and artists, service workers and government leaders in other countries.
Let me share what CNN Philippines featured last year: “Six Filipino scientists who are changing the world” (http://cnnphilippines.com/life/culture/2017/06/27/6-filipino-scientists.html).
They are radar meteorologist Irene Crisologo, astrophysicist Andreia Carrillo, molecular epidemiologist Kamela Ng, anthropologist and archaeologist Migs Canilao, geophysicist Sarah Oliva and Julius Sempio, a scientist specializing in geoinformatics and remote sensing.
Add to that list Filipina scientist Aisa Mijeno who made the Sustainable Alternative Lighting (SALt) lamp, an ecologically designed lamp that runs for eight hours on saltwater – just mix two tablespoons of salt in a glass of tap water. The lamp is suitable for remote barrios, especially in coastal areas.

Those who struggle
As we celebrate the achievers, professionals and overseas Filipino workers all over the globe, we should care even more about the people for whom life is a daily struggle. The importance of historical events is lost on them, especially when they have to think about feeding their hungry families, sending their children to school, or buying medicine for their loved ones who are sick.
To these people, memorable historical dates are just dates. Many of them don’t see their relevance to the present. Sad indeed.
Despite all the promises of better lives, poverty alleviation, a brighter future from all administrations since after the war, majority of Filipinos still live below the poverty line. The conditional cash transfers have helped some, especially families who used the money to send their children to school. But for many of the poor who continue to have no access to social services, the vicious cycle repeats itself.
National television recently showed scenes of informal settlers living over esteros and dumping their waste into the waterways. These cause severe flooding even during brief thunderstorms. Seeing the hovels, one wonders how anyone can live in such subhuman conditions.
Informal settler communities such as these are sore reminders that our country, rich in natural and human resources, has experienced only exclusive – not inclusive – growth and prosperity.
Likewise, livelihood opportunities and public education have not trickled into the Aeta community in Sta. Rosa, Bamban, Tarlac. In a visit this May by Parkway Love Fellowship and Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, a big number of families lined up for our care plastic pails containing rice and basic necessities. More than half of them were carrying infants and toddlers. A grandmother with a young girl in tow said the baby she is carrying is the girl’s, who is just turning 13.
In only 12 years, this Aeta community has burgeoned to 157 families today from only 67 in 2006. They don’t have any livelihood. The only productivity they have is producing children. Most of the residents, old and young, are still completely illiterate in this 21st century.
Where is the affirmative action, the poverty alleviation that our elected officials so readily promise every election campaign?
Our masses, huddled and hungry, have remained just that.
I cringed at what Rizal would think about the future of the nation with its population remaining unproductive. Much intervention is needed to lift up these people from abject poverty.

TRAIN and Build, Build, Build
The ambitious Build, Build, Build infrastructure program of President Duterte is an excellent move to bring us forward and push development several levels up. To fund the program, however, is the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion, also called the TRAIN law.
The immediate and perceivable effect of the law has been a surge in prices of basic commodities from food to fuel. It hurts the middle class and, most of all, the poor.
Faced with this new round of inflation, middle class families are learning to forego even more non-essentials. But those who already have limited budgets for necessities are truly suffering. How much more should they have to do without? They are clamoring for relief by lifting some of the taxes that cause this inflation.
Even as the urban poor struggle to get better pay and better jobs, the rising costs of living seem to drag their financial progress one step backward for every two steps they take forward.

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