The Independent Newsweekly
|September 10, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 24
Gemma Tulud Cruz, a lay educator from the Philippines, is a doctoral student in feminist theology at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Her e-mail address is email@example.com
If "the love for money is the root of all evil in the world," pervasive and grinding poverty is the root of all suffering in the Philippines.
Poverty: daily staple of Philippine society
By Gemma Tulud Cruz
MANILA, Philippines -- Run-down houses dusty roads travel by boat to the next barangay intermittent power cutoffs These are the sights that greeted me when I visited home for a short "re-connection" to the country where I was born.
Nothing has changed. This much, I can say. The same grinding poverty echoes in most parts of my Third World country. And what's worse, it is a poverty that grips Filipinos every day -- every single day in this seemingly God-forsaken country -- so much so that it has driven millions of Filipinos out of the country in an exodus that the international community has started to call the Filipino diaspora.
The living conditions are worse in some areas of the countryside where even basic social services like electricity are nonexistent. In certain places where education is a privilege rather than a right, it means literally crossing rivers and mountains just to get to a dilapidated school building.
This does not mean, however, that life in the urban areas is better. Poverty also rears its ugly head there, and in more dehumanizing ways, at that, especially for the informal settlers, or "squatters." One can see it in the row of makeshift houses lining the railroad tracks. One can smell it in the stench coming from the murky and dead Pasig River, which is "perfuming" the illegal structures called "houses" that squatters live in along the river. One can feel it in the cramped space of the "houses" put together out of odd pieces of wood and cardboard that are hanging precariously under some of Manila's bridges. Indeed, if "the love for money is the root of all evil in the world," pervasive and grinding poverty is the root of all suffering in the Philippines.
The majority of Filipinos do not only see, smell, taste, touch and hear poverty. They breathe it every day.
Severe poverty is the root cause of the now-familiar Mindanao conflict. In Sulu, for instance, a staggering 92% of the people live below the poverty line, while in Tawi-Tawi and the Abu Sayyaff lair of Basilan -- the other two centers of the conflict -- 75% and 63% of the people are mired in very poor living conditions. The prevalence of poverty makes it very easy for the terrorist group Abu Sayyaff to lure and recruit poor, out-of-school youths to join them in their nefarious activities by promising easy money and a better life.
In Mindanao, this same gripping poverty fuels the fight of our Muslim brothers and sisters for an independent Muslim Mindanao republic. The feelings of revulsion and the consequent fight against devastating poverty has ignited other revolutionary armed struggles, such as the ones led by the left-leaning New People's Army and the Cordillera People's Liberation Army in the North.
Conflict rooted in poverty wrapped in history, ethnicity and religious identity: this constitutes the daily staple and struggle of the Filipinos. Even in the faraway Netherlands, where I am living for the moment, my country's woes haunt me with CNN news of bombings, coups d'etat and the infamous rebellion of the poorly dubbed "EDSA Tres."
But where does this leave us? At the end of the day, those challenged to take responsibility for the poverty and conflict are a diverse group. The challenge is directed at the U.S. government, which is seen as continuing to meddle in the Philippine government's affairs. In today's gloablized world, it is directed at the economically dominant G-8 and the First World countries.
The challenge is also directed at the leaders who run the country, especially, as is the case in the Philippines, when those leaders do not live up to the demands and responsibility of the office entrusted to them. Finally, the challenge is directed at the only set of players remaining: the people themselves.
Indigenous Filipino theology is characterized by a theology of struggle, which posits that the people have to be a part of the "struggle in the struggle." Indeed, in this day and age of elitist economic globalization, the struggle to combat debilitating poverty can only find authentic vision, mission and participation among those who suffer from it most: the poor Filipinos.
A decent roof over our heads food on the table education for all these are but some of the basic aspirations of the majority of the people of the country I call my own.
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