A STORY attributed by many to be part of Aesop’s Fables refers to a group of mice that cannot hunt for food because of a cat that hunts the mice.
In a meeting – as the fable goes -, one of the mice proposed a solution. By placing a bell around the cat’s neck, the mice can be warned of the approaching marauder and be able to get food, thus avoiding hunger, poverty and death.
By recognizing the problem and finding a solution, the mice ensure their survival. But who among them will be brave enough to try?
The Philippines has its share of marauding fat cats – in official or unofficial capacity. In fact, these fat cats have acquired the status of an oxymoron: honest politicians. This is an oxymoron that Filipinos need to understand and take care of – for the country to enhance its ability to win the war against poverty and lack of opportunities at home, the main reasons why Filipinos go abroad.
The nature of a politician is to attract and distract: attract voters to instant, over-the-counter issues, while distracting them from the long-term problems and matching prescriptions. It is in the nature of politicians to influence attitude by espousing platitudes. Talk about ending poverty without details. Promise a government of the people, for the people while obfuscating the last part, buy the people.
It is a politician’s nature to confuse and defuse. To say “Why should I be detained for corruption when everybody else is doing it? “ By spreading the guilt, an accused politician defuses a growing resentment of the politician’s wanton display of arrogance of power. It has become natural for politicians to wrap the facts with silver wrappings, to avoid the truth at all costs simply to get elected. In other words, to lie, holding on to the adage that lies repeated often enough will be perceived as the truth.
Politicians do not answer questions directly. They respond with colorful language, but mostly with white lies. But lies nevertheless.
Newspaper poll and ADB report
Three years ago an informal poll by a newspaper showed that most Filipinos consider graft and corruption as the main reason for poverty in the Philippines. In the same year, an institutional and respectable source confirmed this malady. The Asian Development Bank in its report “Poverty in the Philippines: Causes and Constraints” agreed that the government – run by politicians — is to blame. Almost everybody you ask seems to be aware of this problem, especially after having elected Mr. Benigno Simeon Aquino 3rd as president with his winning slogan “Kung walang corrupt, walang Mahirap.”
Yet four years after harping on that pledge, the SWS reported last month that the Philippines suffered the worst poverty rate in eight years. Therefore, if the President’s slogan is correct, corruption has become worse in his administration. Clearly, we know the problem, but who will implement the solution? As the Aesop fable asks “Who will bell the cat?”
Let’s take a look at the April 29, 2011 informal opinion poll.
Majority of the respondents – 24 — cite graft and corruption as the cause of poverty. Overpopulation came second with 10; Lack of job opportunities, 7; Inefficient government, too much politics, dysfunctional political system, 6; indolence, laziness, reliance on dole-outs, 6; ignorance, lack of education, 5; ruling elite, 5; social injustice, 2; colonial mentality, 2; OFW culture and poverty as a choice got 1 vote each.
The ADB report acknowledges corruption as the cause of poverty without directly referring to it.
It is also important to note that what the ADB refers to as “causes of poverty” should actually be in the “effects” instead of the “causes” classification.
For example, who should take the blame for the following causes of poverty?
Low to moderate economic growth for the past 40 years
Low growth elasticity of poverty reduction
Weakness in employment generation and the low quality of jobs generated
Failure to fully develop the agriculture sector
High inflation during crisis periods
High levels of population growth
High and persistent levels of inequality (incomes and assets), which dampen the positive impacts of economic expansion
Who should be blamed?
Government, of course! For these are the results of government policies not implemented or bills that never saw the light of legislative dawn. Cause-oriented groups and certain party-list representatives may have introduced and filed bills aimed at reducing or eliminating poverty. However, these resolutions die on top of subcommittee or committee tables.
Chairmanships of these legislative sub-groups are assigned by politicians who win the election. Even simple memberships in committees that matter are reserved for members of the ruling party, or those who have turned coats.
Poverty after all, encourages begging. Dole-outs institutionalizes patronage politics. Those who cannot make it to level positions perpetuate their provincial fiefdoms. Better a consistent winner in local and provincial elections than a defeated national candidate. Humiliation and humility are not two sides of the same political coin.
Best to stay in one’s comfort zone than to stray into unfamiliar and untested territory. Unless one is already a familiar face or a household name an actor, actress, celebrity – even a boxer.
The performance of such politicians is measured not by relevant legislation that makes a dent in the country’s structural problems. Being a godfather in weddings, providing funds for funerals and fiestas, identifying projects that generate temporary employment as well as recurring commissions are all cosmetic, non-invasive procedures designed to delay, not solve the main problems.
Surely, we do not expect the politicians to end their profit-making venture: going into politics and getting their hands on taxpayer’s money to further enrich themselves. Later have their wives, mistresses, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and other relatives take over, preserve their seats to perpetuate a political dynasty.
How do we get rid of this type of politicians?
By not getting them elected. By not selling your vote, trading instant benefits for perpetual failure.
Overseas Filipinos registered to vote – and can vote beyond the reach and riches of this species of politicians – have a distinct advantage and an opportunity to bell the cat. To be heroes in the real sense of the word. Not just by lip service from politicians, but Real Heroes that their family members at home can emulate.
In fact, every registered voter can be a hero. Each bell around the fat cat’s neck will be a warning.
Millions of bells would also weigh down the cat to immobility. Hopefully to oblivion.
May your tribe increase and your votes be counted by the PCOS machine. We hope this story rings a bell.