Invisible people

Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

Is it apathy or indifference or we have just given up on them? Invisible people are all around the metropolis and more in urban areas. NEDA estimates that 25 million Filipinos currently live in poverty.

Years ago, we refer to shanties and colonies as their domiciles. Today, they live under bridges, in pushcarts and sleep on cold cements of sheds and pathways. If you happen to be traveling around midnight, you can see them around the metropolis and it seems government does not care.

You see babies carried by siblings selling sampaguitas at night, even while under the rain.

You see families cooking rice with scraps and eating lunch made up of noodles and egg.

You see kids playing in abandon on some alley and road dividers are converted into clothesline for laundry use, where clothes are washed in some road cracks or open culverts where they can get water illegally. And yet we go by in our own existence not stopping to ask why. Have we just reached our saturation point in dealing with the poor when words like “marginalized sectors” have been put to question with the bastardization of the party list system?

Recently, a padyak driver died in front of passing pedestrians near DLSU-Taft. There was no help extended by the academic institution and some just looked and went their way. Do we no longer care what happens to others or we just don’t care? And we take pride in calling ourselves Catholic and fight it over reproductive health and gender equality but why is the Church hierarchy not acting on these issues? Why don’t they donate Church land which are tax-exempt as areas for resettlement? Do they also adhere to NIMBY?

The proud chest thumping of what some say as “stellar growth” is really just plain propaganda when you asked those who have less in life. There is growth in the upper tier but the lowest tier has gone bellyaching. Hence the divide is growing bigger and bigger.

Official statistics bear the real story: poverty incidence has remained the same from 2006 to 2010. In the first semester of 2012, poverty incidence was at 27.9 percent, almost the same in 2009 at 28.6 percent and in 2006, at 28.8 percent.

The only way government can reduce poverty is to solve jobless growth. But we need to target our approach such as be location specific and industry focused. When one can’t find job, the vicious cycle kicks in. And yet government does not even push for security of tenure as a basic policy. Every six months, the contractual workers join the unemployment statistics again.

Ours is a fragmented economic model. No new manufacturing plants, no industry base but very consumer-led, living by strong remittances from our OFWs and driven by BPOs, which employ college graduates. Extraneous variables will now have to be seriously considered because of what is happening in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East nations.

More OFWs are coming home and our economy just cannot absorb them. Good thing we have BPOs or we will experience what the youth without jobs created in the Arab spring to Brazil.

Surely, the people at the helm would have to push investments in infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing because that is the only way we can get out of the rut.

When before, the call was moderate the greed; today, with the discoveries on illegal charges in electricity rates and water rates, and some labor practices of mega owners of malls, moderate profit seems to be the most urgent call.

Numbers do not lie too. With a population of 97 million, growth rate of 6.6 percent in FY2012 and adjustments in investment grade rating, our January 2013 jobless rate stood at 7.1 percent, 20.9 percent underemployed, or working fewer than 40 hours a week.

About 41.8 percent of the underemployed are in the farming sector. Three out of every five Filipinos are dependent on agriculture. Solution should have been, adjust agriculture productivity, we hit the poor and nurture rural Filipinos. Why are we not focusing on this? Where is the inclusive growth road map?

Again, numbers do not lie. A Filipino family of five needs P5,458/month to meet basic food requirements and yet they are still considered to be living in “extreme poverty.” The proportion of extreme poverty among families was largely unchanged from 10.8 percent in 2006, 10.0 percent in 2009 and 10.0 percent in 2012. A family of five would need P7,821 to meet both food and non-food needs a month. A family at that level is still considered to be living in “poverty.” So why can’t we consider an increase in minimum wage or better yet non-tax benefits? Reward companies that pay their employees correctly with some benefits too?

Government said P79.7 billion was needed to eradicate poverty for the first semester of last year. By contrast, the government in its 2012 budget under the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program earmarked Php39.4 billion. The amount for FY 2013 was Php44.2 billion and that was an election year. But what is the exit to this program? Again, a missing road map?

This administration has created a welfare state for the past 3 years because of CCT and has created a strong political base to ensure political viability of their party in the midterm and still the poor are still poor. According to NSCB, the five poorest provinces are Lanao del Sur, Apayao, Eastern Samar Maguindanao and Zamboanga del Norte. ARMM, Regions 12, 8, 9, and 10 are the top 5 regions with the highest family poverty incidence. So what has CCT done to lessen poverty incidence in these areas? Shouldn’t these provinces be the key areas for investment intervention?

We are mad at professional squatters who manipulate informal settlers. But what should we call politicians, so-called leaders, allowing these settlers to stay until May 13 for their votes and then removing them after elections because a policy has been laid out?

Invisible people need social protection. Social protection is enabling “vulnerable groups- both poor and non-poor- to prevent, reduce or cope with risks.” Social protection “consists of politics and programs designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability by promoting efficient labor markets, diminishing people’s exposure to risks, and enhancing their capacity to manage economic and social risks, such as unemployment, exclusion, sickness, disability and old age.” Time for a social protection strategy to match the still to be defined road map.

The poor suffer due to the inaction of government and too much profit by capitalists and yet they also die for the nation since the very core of the PNP and the AFP are from this sector. As Pope Francis once said: “ a person dying is not news, but if the stock markets drop 10 points it is a tragedy!”


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1 Comment

  1. Voice from the Wilderness on

    Indeed it is an apt description of the masses in the poverty line to be invisible after they were used and taken for a ride in a ferris wheel like vehicle by politicians. And these politicians are like special students in special school who have their own world.