THE Philippines is a beautiful and rich country, no question about that. But why are many Filipinos very poor? Why are our basic infrastructures in such a mess?
A recent news article said that a UN report had blamed Executive Order No. 003 issued in 2000 by then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza for the worsening poverty incidence in the city because women were deprived access to reproductive health services and contraceptives.
Because of that, the news article said, “many constituents (were consequently driven) further into poverty as they were unable to manage the number of their children and suffered the consequences of unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal deaths.”
The news article was culled from a report released in April by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (UNCEDAW).
I have yet to see and read the report on which the story was based but I beg to disagree that the ban on contraceptives and the Manila mayor’s stand against the reproductive health law could be blamed for the growing number of poor families in the city.
It is how the city government spends its revenues, including the P1.9-billion annual internal revenue allotment from the national government. How much of it goes to corruption should be pruned to the barest minimum, if it could not be completely stopped.
If you go to the inner streets of Manila in Intramuros, Divisoria, Escolta, Malate, Pandacan, Sta.Mesa, anywhere, the city stinks, sidewalks are either occupied by hawkers or shanties. It doesn’t feel safe to walk even when you are not alone.
On separate occasions recently, I had a chance to meet three Americans who have been in the country for a few months and they were quick to conclude that the Philippines is a rich but mismanaged country.
My new American friends, a man and two women, have read a lot about the Philippines and they have visited some places on weekend escapades.
The guy disagreed with Imelda Marcos, the flamboyant former first lady, who said during the reign of her husband Ferdinand that the Philippines was a rich country pretending to be poor.
Well, she could have said that to justify her ostentatious lifestyle when her husband was president. “People say I’m extravagant because I want to be surrounded by beauty. But tell me, who wants to be surrounded by garbage?” That was a quote attributed to Mrs. Marcos.
Strangely, she is adored by many of the poor, particularly those who benefited from her dole outs. The extravagant lifestyle of the current occupant of the Manila city hall is not far from Imelda’s, and he is also admired by the poor constituents.
Something seems really, really wrong in the way voters choose their political leaders. A candidate’s management acumen is not necessary for as long as he can sing, dance, make them laugh and give dole outs to get elected. That is probably why we have political leaders who are more interested in how to recoup the money they spent during the campaign than how to make sure that every peso of public money is judiciously spent for activities and projects with the most benefit to the constituency.
“The Philippines has many really beautiful places, it is rich in natural resources, it is rich in culture, but it seems that these are not given the needed attention and promotion,” said the guy who we shall call Alan.
One of the ladies who takes the jeepney and the LRT/MRT in going around Metro Manila observed that basic services like public transportation and roads have not been given adequate budget for maintenance and improvement to ease traffic and make commuting convenient, especially for harried workers who have to juggle responsibilities at work and at home.
She said it is not good management to keep LRT/MRT fares low when commuters have to wait in cramped platforms for 30 minutes to one hour, or even more, waiting to get into a train and get shoved and mashed once inside the train coach.
The second lady dreads crossing Metro Manila’s streets, afraid that reckless drivers would sideswipe her. “It was very scary. Even if you are already on the pedestrian lane they would not stop. I got used to the US when cars would stop and give way once you step on the pedestrian lane,” she said.
All three have been to some of the beautiful beaches and have been going around Metro Manila in the last five to seven months, observing Filipinos’ way of daily life, loving the local cuisine and meeting news friends while going about their work.
From the news stories and opinion pieces they read in the newspapers, and in their conversations with people from different walks of life, the American visitors feel deeply for the Filipino poor.
With a population of 100 million, of whom only 38 million have jobs, the Philippines ranked 12th among the most populous and is among the poorest countries in the world.
Thanks to the $26 –billion annual remittances of Filipinos overseas, the economy is doing fine.
In 2013, World Bank country director Motoo Konishi said that the Philippines is finally becoming an Asian tiger economy, and no longer a sick man of East Asia. However, 25 million, or a quarter of the population, still live on $1-a day or less as of 2009.
My new American friends commonly believe that corruption and wrong spending priorities aggravate the sufferings of the poor.
Alan said it would be a wise move to provide more money for the development and promotion of tourism, and the improvement of infrastructure facilities so that tourist receipts could prop up state coffers.
If only the percentage of public money that flows into the pockets of corrupt politicians could be cut down to the barest minimum of, say, 10 percent, which is substantial enough given the government’s trillion-peso annual budget, then we would probably have a better country where people live decently.