Why are we poor?

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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.

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16 Comments

  1. Amado Aguila on

    The Philippines is rich; we only have to discover it, or in our case put it together. It reminds me of a story about a farmer who sold his farm and travel to distant places in search of wealth. Just to learn later on that the land he sold was a deposit to countless precious metal. His fortune have always been under his feet but he never bother to mine it. The Philippines greatest asset is its people, yet also present as major disability. We celebrate the over seas remittances, but we don’t realize the OFWs are playing for the other teams. Forget about the brain drain, the strain in family, but sometimes we don’t realize the world economy is a zero sum game. When the OFW’s and millions of other Filipinos who live in foreign land provide their expertise and contribute to the economy of their host countries, their gain will appear as losses to other countries, and maybe indirectly even to the Philippine economy. We have the talent, the resources, we just need to start playing and competing in our own turf. The government in every level presents the biggest obstacle to our path to richness. We need to understand that our best character traits: loyalty to family and friends, pakikisama, kumparehan, padrino system, utang na loob, if left uncheck actually makes all of us vulnerable to graft and corruption. Fortunately, we have gone to so many different forms of government that by now we should know what works and what doesn’t. Finally our secret weapon is our relationship with God. There is a reason why the Philippines is the only major Christian religion in the region. Unfortunately even the church failed us, but out of the three path to our richness, this should be the easiest to correct. Just talk and work directly with God until our church leaders start taking care of their flocks. God will never let us down. So let’s get busy, get to work, and finally claim our riches.

  2. Silinglabuyo on

    This country will be forever “poor” unless;
    1. Start with electing statesmen that are truly dedicated to eradicate corruption in the government. Not just the opposition to their political party but everyone.
    2. Control the rapid increase in population.
    3. Creation of jobs, this one is directly related to population control (not enough for everyone).
    4. Education, starts with proper up-bringing of child/children up to the education system.
    5. Stop the political dynasty, make each and everyone accountable, no cover-ups.

  3. Consult the history..circa WWII and the reparation from Uncle Sam…RP chose money..the JAps machineries and tech. We chose money because our government yet then is money eyed..and spent the money nary a masterplan. The Japs persevered with their machineries/tech and came out very prosperous. Now tell me Ms. writer why we are poor…wrong decisions

  4. 1. Poor because they choose to become poor , why not not go to squatter areas and you wil saw family of six , seven and so on . 2.Most of the families just depend on the earnings of most ofws. 3.Most they do not want to work , in our place you can see early in the morning they start having drinking session instead of finding things that can help their families. 4.Most of us don’t know how to used our natural resources to be self reliant , we have everything compare to other countries . I lived now in Canada but during our time our family never buy rice , we plant our own we grow vegetables we raised goats pigs and most our incomes come from farming.

  5. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    11 May 2015

    In this troubling Commentary in The Manila Times of 10 May, Tita C. Valderama, poses the question, “Why are we poor?”

    I happen to know something about the widespread and chronic Poverty which even now afflicts around 30 million Filipinos who are stuck in a quagmire which has consigned them to a life of tragic degradation and dehumanization, because for some 50 years now this is a subject that has engaged my attention without let-up.

    Since the Philippines gained “independence” way back in 1946, the Establishment–those who wield power in the country–has been pushing that old rickety cart of rotten tomatoes [to use a graphic metaphor] which has so far failed to put the country on a sure, solid, inclusive and enduring path to prosperity and progress. It has been ignorant, myopic or clueless of two fundamental national programs that have made it possible for its neighbors Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea to make it as Asian “economic tigers” in terms of wealth and real progress, in the process eliminating Poverty for their peoples.

    These two national programs are 1] Industrialization encompassing heavy, medium and light industries; and 2] population control moving parri passu with No. 1.

    Note that after he saw with his own merciful and compassionate eyes how truly “poor” poor Filipino families are after his epochal January 15-19 visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis–who is not an Economist–but obviously sure what the underlying cause of Poverty among Filipino families is, warned ‘CATHOLICS NOT TO MULTIPLY LIKE RABBITS!”

    MARIANO PATALINJUG
    Lapulapu1927@yahoo.com

  6. Bakit mahirap ang pilipino,una maraming taong katulad ng utak mo,nakatapos ng pag-aaral ang tingin sa sarili ay superior na sa mga taong hindi nakatapos,isa lang. Ang alam sisihin kundi ang mahihirap!
    Bago palang naging malaya ang pilipinas,lahat ng naging pangulo atmga mmambabatas ay mga nag-aral at may mataas na natapos,mga haciendero, ang elite ang halos nagpatakbo ng bansa natin,anong pundasyon ang ginawa nila upang guminhawa ang bansa,wala!!kinamkam lahat nila ang mga lupain ng mga inosenteng pilipino,itinaas lahat nila ang bayad sa lahat ng Universidad,upang hindi maabot ng mga normal na pinoy,
    Hanggang ngayon sila ang may hawak ng halos lahat ng lupain at kayamanan sa pinas,ito ang mga taong may pinag-aralan,katulad ng maraming tao nakatapos lang ay nag-utak Elite na!
    Ang totoo ang mga mahihirap ay sawang-sawa na sa mga taong may pinag-aral at mayayaman pero inuna pang magnakaw at busugin ang sariling tiyan,ngayon halos nasa kanila na ang lahat!
    Kaya sana bumalik naman kayo sa nakaraan upang hindi kung sino-sino na lang ang sinisisi niyo!
    Walang mahirap kung walang taong ang utak ay ginagamit lang para ipagmamalaki ang tinapos nila pero wala naman ginawa para matulungan ang mga wala!

  7. Take a look at the situation: the country is not earning but it is buoyed up by the remittances of our overseas Filipino workers. Hence, it goes to show that despite the corruption, there is income because those Filipinos have jobs. Therefore, it is not the corruption that is the problem but the unemployment. If all Filipinos have jobs, who cares if those so called “leaders” continue to plunder government coffers? Will they care? Does an OFW say in Riyadh or a seaman in Newfoundland care whether the funds for a road project in Bohol has been missing? They will care only for the monthly allotment they will send to their families. Make the unemployed employed and we will have a robust economy. Then, when everybody’s stomach is always stockpiled, we can start jailing all those guys and gals who have participated in the rape of the country. Anyway, the statue on limitations will never cover the more recent criminal acts of guys and gals in the civil service. People who keep talking about solving graft and corruption as the panacea for the country’s ills do not know that they do not know. There is corruption in tsaynah, HK, US and UK but their economy continue to be vibrant. The solution is to create jobs and employment.

  8. Venerando Desales on

    The reason we are poor is that the huge billions of public funds which could have been spent to alleviate the general welfare of the citizens went to the pockets of Napoles, the corrupt politicians, technocrats, and bureaucrats, compounded with the greediness of the oligarchs and bad governance!

  9. Ric Haldane on

    Yes OFWs support their country in a big way. Why should citizens have to leave their country and family to earn a decent living? The Philippines has the least reliable, poorest quality and most expensive electrical power in South East Asia. Fix it and the manufactures will come. The work force exist as well as the educational system. Politics and greed are the brick wall. If you check a dictionary, you will find that renewable and reliable do not have the same meaning. Don’t the Philippine people deserve better?

  10. It’s quite simple: The rich (aka. ilustrado families, celebrities, athletes, etc.), who populate “elected” government positions here have no intention of allowing the creation of a middle class.

    Why? Well, if a middle class suddenly sprung up in this country, the following would occur:

    1. The women would be forced to raise their own children
    2. Wives would be forced to clean their own homes and cook food for their families
    3. The men would be forced to drive their own cars
    4. Both would be forced to go to Hypermarket together once a week
    5. Neither would have access to cheap squatter camp desperado assassins with which to kill people they don’t like, or anyone who dared to write / speak the truth about them.

    In other words, they would all be forced to live like (perish the thought!!) Americans.

    But, we all know the rich here would never let that happen.

    They will attempt to continue telling the world that its “mas masaya sa Pilipinas”….

    And, it definitely is – for them – just not for the other 90% of the country who desperately seek any way possible of escaping the penal colony they were born into.

  11. Vicente Penetrante on

    Choosing to be poor, we were taught for more than 3 centuries, is one sure way to heaven.

  12. I think the answer to both questions lies in each & every consecutive government. It suits them to keep people poor. It suits them not to spend on infrastructure. Why i have no idea. I know if you keep people uneducated its easy to fool them. It seems since ive lived here time after tin=me the filipino is fooled. For instance i think everyone sees what marcos did to the philippines, now imelda was a huge part of that, she knew exatly what was going on & to this day reaps the rewards of the stealing they did from the philippines but still the people vote for her & her kin. Its like the people like to be kept down. Educate them & they will demand more of their governments, so is that the answer, possibly part of the answer.

    • Also, another reason why the Filipinos were still poor is mis-information and the poison from media.

      I see in your comment that it seems that corruption from Marcos was the main cause (as always told from the yellow media). But you disregarded much worse corruption starting with Cory to FVR and GMA. Now with PNoy corruption in broad daylight

  13. Braincleaner on

    That is a step in the right direction Tita C. Valderama. Asking yourself why we are poor. But never giving the right answers. Try to do it some more and you will realize why everything you stand for, believed all these years, and people who you voted for is the cause why we are poor. If you and your kind in the corrupt and mercenary tri-media are able to discover the true definition of what constitute Filipino national sovereign interests, you will find out why we are poor.

  14. too much religion. catholism has some negatives on it. like refusal to accept family planning. we have a narrow minded people, lack of reality and practicality. we vote politicians who not even qualified just because they popular like Pacquiaos, celebrities,dynaties even late Cory Aquino became president when she has no experience at all and had been a housewife for decades. how the hell will she et al manage and govern? the result is this backwardness and poverty forever. Until we as a people change then we will remain poor. if we need advice just ask the Japanese, Taiwanese, Singaporeans and south Koreans how they made it in prosperity.

  15. Poor because many youth lack proper family guidance and values. Poor because the government lack support ( like better educations , better infrastructure , decent housing support and most of all , corruption of elected and non elected officials . Poor because they are used to cheat themselves. Poor because they themselves allowed it to happen.