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WHY THE PHILIPPINES IS SO POOR?

In one of the luncheons he hosted recently for clients of the Rizal Commercial
Banking Corporation, Ambassador T. Yuchengco asked the writer Francisco Sionil
Jose to share some of his observations of the current scene. This is the paper Mr.
Jose read on that occasion:

What did South Korea look like after the Korean War in 1953? Battered, poor -- but
look at Korea now. In the 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 jungle and rubber
plantations. Bangkok was crisscrossed with canals, the tallest structure was the Wat
Arun, the Temple of the Sun, and it dominated the city's skyline. Rice fields all the
way from Don Muang Airport -- then a huddle of galvanized iron-roofed bodegas, to
the Victory monument.

Visit these cities today and weep -- for they are more beautiful, cleaner and
prosperous than Manila. In the Fifties and Sixties we were the most envied country
in Southeast Asia. Remember further that when Indonesia got its independence in
1949, it had only 114 university graduates compared to the hundreds of Ph.D.'s
which were already in our universities. Why then were we left behind? The
economic explanation is simple. We did not produce cheaper and better products.

The basic question really is why we did not modernize fast enough and
thereby doomed our people to poverty. This is the harsh truth about us today.
Just consider these: some 15 years ago a survey showed that half of all grade
school pupils dropped out after grade 5 because they had no money to continue
schooling. Thousands of young adults today are therefore unable to find jobs. Our
natural resources have been ravaged and they are not renewable. Our tremendous
population increase eats up all of our economic gains. There is hunger in this
country now; our poorest eat only once a day.

But this physical poverty is really not as serious as the greater poverty that afflicts Commented [c1]: It was instilled in us the catholic
us and this is the poverty of the spirit. doctrines yet, unfortunately, the spirit of our country - the
culture, the will, and the identity – were lost as time
continued to flow.
Why then are we poor? More than ten years ago, James Fallows, editor of the
Commented [c2]: We built systems and empires of
Atlantic Monthly came to the Philippines and wrote about our damaged culture different families and groups. We allowed corruption to
which, he asserted, impeded our development. Many disagreed with him but I do thrive in the name of the masses yet the truth cannot be
find a great deal of truth in his analysis. This is not to say that I blame our social overshadowed. We’ve built social classes separating the elite
and the poor and we leave each as they are. The elites thrive
and moral malaise on colonialism alone. But we did inherit from Spain a social in their corruption whilst the poor perpetuate themselves in
system and an elite that, on purpose, exploited the masses. Then, too, in the laziness, drunkenness, idleness, and gossip. Hardwork pays
Iberian peninsula, to work with one's hands is frowned upon and we inherited that yet those in the slums do not work for even the smallest of
vice as well. Colonialism by foreigners may no longer be what it was, but we are income.
now a colony of our own elite. Commented [c3]: I have an uncle who grew up in a life of
poverty. Meals were a couple of spoonful’s of rice and a bit
of coffee. He was not able to finish his education. His sisters
We are poor because we are poor -- this is not a tautology. The culture of toiled and were able to get a degree and started earning. He
poverty is self-perpetuating. We are poor because our people are lazy. I pass worked as a tricycle driver but lived a live of gambling and
by a slum area every morning -- dozens of adults do nothing but idle, gossip and drunkenness. One of his sisters left the country to work as a
caretaker. She gave him a chance to migrate to another
drink. We do not save. Look at the Japanese and how they save in spite of the fact country.He left the Philippines and started living their. Yet
that the interest given them by their banks is so little. They work very hard too. not more than a month later, he wanted to come back. He did
not want to work so hard, he said. He liked his life in the
Philippines, idling by the days. So he came back.
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"The culture of poverty is self-perpetuating. We are poor because our people are
lazy...We are great showoffs...we have lost our ethical moorings."
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We are great showoffs. Look at our women, how overdressed, over-coiffed they Commented [c4]: That’s the sad thing about the
are, and Imelda epitomizes that extravagance. Look at our men, their manicured Philippines, we tend to decorate ourselves with high-end
brands, even at the expense of becoming poor, to show off
nails, their personal jewelry, their diamond rings. Yabang - that is what we are, and some form of “status”. We love to buy branded things for
all that money expended on status symbols, on yabang. How much better if it yabang.
were channeled into production. We are poor because our nationalism is
inward looking. Under its guise we protect inefficient industries and
monopolies. We did not pursue agrarian reform like Japan and Taiwan. It is
not so much the development of the rural sector, making it productive and a good
market as well. Agrarian reform releases the energies of the landlords who, before
the reform, merely waited for the harvest. They become entrepreneurs, the
harbingers of change. Our nationalist icons like Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo
Tanada opposed agrarian reform, the single most important factor that
would have altered the rural areas and lifted the peasant from poverty.
Both of them were merely Anti-American.

And finally, we are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings. We
condone cronyism and corruption and we do not 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. This first choice: a
nationalist revolution, a continuation of the revolution in 1896. But even Commented [c5]: We got the first step but we tripped on
before we can use violence to change inequities in our society, we must first have the next.
a profound change in our way of thinking, in our culture. My regret about
EDSA is that change would have been possible then with a minimum of
bloodshed. In fact, a revolution may not be bloody at all if something like EDSA
would present itself again. Or a dictator like Marcos.

The second is through education, perhaps a longer and more complex


process. The only problem is that it may take so long and by the time conditions
have changed, we may be back where we were, caught up with this tremendous
population explosion which the Catholic Church exacerbates in its
conformity with doctrinal purity.

We are faced with a growing compulsion to violence, but even if the communist
won, they will rule as badly because they will be hostage to the same obstructions
in our culture, the barkada, the vaulting 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 ways of thinking. Let us go back to basics
and remember those American slogans: "A Ford in every garage. A chicken
in every pot. Money is like fertilizer: to do any good it must be spread
around."
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Some Filipinos, taunted wherever they are, are ashamed to admit they are
Filipinos...
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Are there redeeming features in our country that we can be proud of? Of
course, lots of them. When people say, for instance, that our corruption will
never be banished, just remember that Arsenio Lacson as mayor of Manila
and Ramon Magsaysay as President brought a clean government.

We do not have the classical arts that brought Hinduism and Buddhism to
continental and archipelagic Southeast Asia, but our artists have now ranged
the world, showing what we have done with Western art forms, enriched with our
own ethnic traditions. Our professionals, not just our domestics, are all over,
showing how an accomplished people we are!

Look at our history. We are the first in Asia to rise against Western
colonialism, the first to establish a republic. Recall the Battle of Tirad Pass
and glory in the heroism of Gregorio del Pilar and the 48 Filipinos who died
but stopped the Texas Rangers from capturing the President of that first
Republic. Its equivalent in ancient history is the Battle of Thermopylae where the
Spartans and their king Leonidas, died to a man, defending the pass against the
invading Persians.

Rizal - what nation on earth has produced a man like him? At 35, he was a
novelist, a poet, an anthropologist, a sculptor, a medical doctor, a teacher and a
martyr.

We are now 80 million people strong and in another two decades we will pass the
100 million mark. Eighty million -- that is a mass market in any language, a mass
market that should absorb our increased production in goods and services -- a
mass market which any entrepeneur can hope exploit, like the proverbial oil for the
lamps of China.

Japan was only 70 million when it had confidence enough and the wherewithal to
challenge the United States and almost won. It is the same confidence that enabled
Japan to flourish from the rubble of defeat in World War II.

I am not looking for a foreign power for us to challenge. But we have a real and
insiduous enemy that we must vanquish, and this enemy is worse than the
intransigence of any foreign power. We are our own enemy. And we must have
the courage, the will, to change ourselves.

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"We are our own enemy. And we must have the courage, the will, to
change ourselves."
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