Sometime last August, I found myself between two friends doing a post mortem of the results of the presidential elections over a cup of coffee. “What is wrong with our country?” asked the fellow on my left. Without batting an eyelash the friend on my right sarcastically replied: “Everything is terribly wrong with the Philippines today!”
I nodded my head expressing agreement with the spontaneous remark while I mentally sifted through historical facts and data stored in memory pointing out that not much seems to be going right for a country that has been derisively criticized as a basket case.
Nothing Right About the Philippines?
To begin with, the Filipinos were the first in Asia to win their independence at the time when the struggle for freedom against the waning tide of colonialism was sweeping the globe. And yet those nations that were liberated from their colonizers much later have already left us far behind in freeing their people from the bondage of poverty and underdevelopment; after World War II up to the late 60s, we were only second to Japan in terms of economic and industrial growth. Today, we are nearing second to the last in the Far East; we were the showcase of U.S. democracy in the region, and yet we produced a dictator under the auspices and patronage of the Americans. Together with his glitzy and flamboyant conjugal partner, he established a spurious and harsh martial regime that lasted almost 20 years. This further held back our course towards development.
We were already at the doorsteps of being a so-called Tiger Economy in 1997. But because of the incompetence of the subsequent leadership we chose, the enormous gains that we achieved especially as an attractive destination of foreign capital were ruined and supplanted by a lingering loss of investor trust. We only succeeded in restoring our image as “the sick man of Asia”. We were the least affected by the Asian financial debacle of 1997, and yet those severely hit, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have fully recovered from the devastating effect of the crisis and have now surpassed us by leaps and bounds.
We proudly call ourselves the only Christian nation in Asia, and yet, we are also known to be one of the most corrupt.
We ousted a very popular president for abuse of power and corruption, and spent hundreds of millions for his prosecution for the capital offense of plunder. And yet, even before the uproar of his conviction had died out, he was granted absolute pardon by his successor, who feared meeting the same terrible fate should she be booted out of office for her own misdeeds. This former President ran again for the highest office in the last elections to vindicate his name and to allegedly serve the term which he claims was stolen from him. Paradoxically, he would have thrashed all his opponents had Noynoy chosen not to run. What is even more disheartening is that his successor who is perceived to be the most corrupt president we ever had, and who is responsible for giving the country the reputation of being one of the most corrupt in the world, remains free as a bird, and now comfortably sits as a Congresswoman. Many of her supporters believe she is plotting to get back to power.
We spent billions of pesos to install a computerized voting system to eliminate massive cheating that was common under the old system of canvassing ballots. And yet, our Comelec deliberately failed to provide a compliant and reliable verification feature informing the voter that his choice had been registered and counted. As a result, millions of ballots were automatically invalidated without anyone knowing the reason why. This made the mechanization of the election like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Now we are back to the frying pan from the fire as shown in last Monday’s manually operated Barangay Election that appears to be tarnished with reported massive irregularities.
Today, the total number of our people stands at an alarming 94.3 million with poverty incidence rising even more, draining our resources, depriving our people of much needed basic services and further heightening the level of their sufferings. And yet, government has not been able to set up an effective program to arrest the rapid population growth, which remains an urgent and unmet need.
Last year, a national tragedy struck causing numerous deaths and damage to property as a consequence of the severe flooding of metro Manila. Since time immemorial, the Philippines has been in the way of catastrophic typhoons that hit us on an average of 20 each year. That would be more than enough to continually improve our preparedness for these calamities. And yet, we still keep on experiencing preventable, costly and tragic casualties and losses not so much for the severity of the natural forces that strike us but rather because of our failure to learn from past mistakes. Ondoy and Pepeng have exposed the continuing malpractices and corruption associated with relief efforts and the management of our waterways, esteros, dams and natural flood control systems, which resulted in unnecessary deaths and the massive destruction of properties.
Rice is our essential staple crop and as far as I could remember, every new administration of government always vowed to achieve rice sufficiency for our people. And yet we have not taken advantage of the technological advances in rice production provided by the International Rice Research Institute that is right in our doorsteps in Los Banos and our comprehensive land reform program - that was aimed at giving land to the landless in order to competitively maximize productivity of the soil - has been a dismal and unsettling failure. Now we are heavily dependent on rice imported from our Asian neighbors whose students acquired the technological knowhow from Philippine universities to become major rice suppliers and agricultural producers of the world.
Because of severe and permanent shortage of jobs at home, many of our people have been forced to seek employment opportunities overseas as OFWs where they brave and endure cruel conditions for the survival of their families at home. Their yearly remittances, which stood at $17 billion in 2009, have long rescued our country from financial collapse and have caused the stabilization of the value of our Peso. And yet, while we call these OFWs our new breed of heroes, government could not even provide them with adequate support when they are exploited or violated by their employers, or give them the assistance required to soften the impact of the resulting great social cost they have to bear. Ironically, they are also the victims of our own government’s neglect.
This litany of incontrovertible facts shows how dysfunctional and ineffective many of our government agencies have been, thereby making our situation even more distressed and urgent. I am sure that it is for this reason that our Church is impelled to review its existing programs for social witnessing and I am encouraged and hopeful that the purpose of this National Consultation is to plan out and strategize the Church’s response in helping out address and resolve our pressing problems.
In fulfilling its distinctive mission of improving the quality of life of human communities and in standing up against all appearances of wickedness and unrighteousness, it is important that our Church fully understands why it must be involved in helping seek out solutions to the nation’s woes and in championing the cause of the poor, the oppressed, and the disadvantaged the way Jesus did. read more page2.