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Why Are the Filipinos So Poor by F Sionil Jose

Why Are the Filipinos So Poor by F Sionil Jose

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Published by: Lara Narvacan Marqueses on Sep 12, 2013
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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
g airport
 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.
We are great show-offs. Look at our women, how overdressed, over-coiffed they are, and Imeldaepitomizes that extravagance. Look at our men, their manicured nails, their personal jewelry, theirdiamond rings. Yabang
that is what we are, and all that money expended on status symbols, on yabang.How much better if it were channeled into production.We are poor because our nationalism is inward looking. Under its guise we protect inefficient industriesand monopolies. We did not pursue agrarian reform like Japan and Taiwan. It is not so much thedevelopment of the rural sector, making it productive and a good market as well. Agrarian reform releasesthe energies of the landlords who, before the reform, merely waited for the harvest. They becomeentrepreneurs, the harbingers of change.Our nationalist icons like Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Tanada opposed agrarian reform, the single mostimportant factor that would have altered the rural areas and lifted the peasant from poverty. Both of themwere merely anti-American.And finally, we are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings. We condone cronyism and corruption
and we don’t ostracize or punish the crooks in our midst. Both cronyism and corruption are wasteful but
we allow their practice because our loyalty is to family or friend, not to the larger good.We can tackle our poverty in two very distinct ways. The first choice: a nationalist revolution, acontinuation of the revolution in 1896. But even before we can use violence to change inequities in oursociety, we must first have a profound change in our way of thinking, in our culture. My regret about EDSAis that change would have been possible then with a minimum of bloodshed. In fact, a revolution may notbe bloody at all if something like EDSA would present itself again. Or a dictator unlike Marcos.The second is through education, perhaps a longer and more complex process. The only problem is that itmay take so long and by the time conditions have changed, we may be back where we were, caught upwith this tremendous population explosion which the Catholic Church exacerbates in its conformity withdoctrinal purity.We are faced with a growing compulsion to violence, but even if the communists won, theywill rule as badly because they will be hostage to the same obstructions in our culture, the barkada, thevaulting egos that sundered the revolution in 1896, the Huk revolt in 1949-53.To repeat, neither education nor revolution can succeed if we do not internalize new attitudes, new waysof thinking. Let us go back to basics and remember those American slogans: A Ford in every garage. Achicken in every pot. Money is like fertilizer: to do any good it must be spread around.Some Filipinos,taunted wherever they are, are shamed to admit they are Filipinos. I have, myself, been embarrassed toexplain, for instance, why Imelda, her children and the Marcos cronies are back, and in positions of power.Are there redeeming features in our country that we can be proud of? Of course, lots of them. Whenpeople say, for instance, that our corruption will never be banished, just remember that Arsenio Lacson as

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