Why are Filipinos so Poor?
In the ’50s and ’60s, the Philippines was the most envied country in Southeast Asia. What happened?
By F. Sionil Jose
What did South Korea look like after the Korean War in 1953? Battered, poor
but look at Korea now. Inthe Fifties, the traffic in Taipei was composed of bicycles and army trucks, the streets flanked by tile-roofed low buildings. Jakarta was a giant village and Kuala Lumpur a small village surrounded by jungleand rubber plantations. Bangkok was criss-crossed with canals, the tallest structure was the Wat Arun, the
Temple of the Sun, and it dominated the city’s skyline. Ricefields all the way from Don Muan
then a huddle of galvanized iron-roofed bodegas, to the Victory monument.Visit these cities today andweep
for they are more beautiful, cleaner and prosperous than Manila. In the Fifties and Sixties we werethe most envied country in Southeast Asia. Remember further that when Indonesia got its independence in
1949, it had only 114 university graduates compared with the hundreds of Ph.D.’s that were already in our
universities. Why then were we left behind? The economic explanation is simple. We did not producecheaper and better products.The basic question really is why we did not modernize fast enough and thereby doomed our people topoverty. This is the harsh truth about us today. Just consider these: some 15 years ago a survey showedthat half of all grade school pupils dropped out after grade 5 because they had no money to continueschooling.Thousands of young adults today are therefore unable to find jobs. Our natural resources havebeen ravaged and they are not renewable. Our tremendous population increase eats up all of oureconomic gains. There is hunger in this country now; our poorest eat only once a day.But this physicalpoverty is really not as serious as the greater poverty that afflicts us and this is the poverty of the spirit.Why then are we poor? More than ten years ago, James Fallows, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, came to thePhilippines and wrote about our damaged culture which, he asserted, impeded our development. Manydisagreed with him but I do find a great deal of truth in his analysis.This is not to say that I blame oursocial and moral malaise on colonialism alone. But we did inherit from Spain a social system and an elite
that, on purpose, exploited the masses. Then, too, in the Iberian peninsula, to work with one’s ha
nds isfrowned upon and we inherited that vice as well. Colonialism by foreigners may no longer be what it was,but we are now a colony of our own elite.We are poor because we are poor
this is not a tautology. The culture of poverty is self-perpetuating. Weare poor because our people are lazy. I pass by a slum area every morning
dozens of adults do nothingbut idle, gossip and drink. We do not save. Look at the Japanese and how they save in spite of the fact thatthe interest given them by their banks is so little. They work very hard too.