Thursday, January 15, 2009

On Tracy, Malu and the great divide

The Philippines is divided into two worlds--the "haves" and the "have nots". Some "have nots" pretend to be a "have" and the "haves" always make it a point to prove that they have and that they have a lot. Somehow, these two worlds very rarely meet and when they do, both have a tendency to deny each other's existence. For me, this is the prime reason why the Philippines is poor.

In my mothers time, it was quite fashionable to look down on the poor. Being matapobre was cool. The poor are poor because they are stupid and lazy. Rich people, on the contrary, are intelligent and hardworking. Growing up, somehow, I really thought that was really how things worked.

For me there were two events that broke the deal. The first event happened when my Italian friend Marido visited the Philippines last year, she was shocked when she saw the shanties near the airport. She has never seen real poverty before. My mom promptly assured her that what she was seeing were not real Filipinos, they were merely squatters. I was shocked! I then argued with my mom in Tagalog that what she said was complete BS. The second event rocked me to the core. Caught in traffic in Manila, there were some street children knocking on our car window asking us for money. I told my daughter to give the boy the McDonald happy meal that she bought just for the toys but had no intention of eating. She then replied to me, "but mommy that's not a boy that's a beggar!" My goodness! She definitely did not learn that from me. Somehow, the two worlds separate very early in life.

The point is, the accident of being born into a well to do family doesn't make a person more superior. A stupid rich person without a rich family would end up in the slums too, maybe even worse. If you are driving a BMW or going to an expensive school that your parents paid for, that doesn't mean you are cool or a better person. If you never have to work your whole life, that doesn't mean you are above all the rest. These things only mean that you are a low life parasite sucking on your parents blood. Under no circumstances can you look down on people who unlike you have to work hard merely to have food on the table.

Tracy and Malu are not unique. I know so many Filipino expats who are irritated when they are mistaken to be OFWs or domestic helpers. I know so many people who make fun of the Aetas because they have curly hair and dark skin.Unfortunately, Tracy and Malu exist in all of us. That's the problem. The only way to move forward as a nation is to start thinking that we are ONE nation.

Most politicians are coming from the "haves" (or was a "have-not" but became a "have" then got amnesia). If they don't consider themselves to belong to the same world as the "have-nots", how can they alleviate poverty? How can they improve on the lives of the poor when they can't internalize the hardships or even the existence of poor people? Filipinos for them are only the people having the same background, educational attainment, social status as themselves. How can the Philippines have sincere programs for poverty alleviation when rich policy makers don't understand what poverty is?

The fact is, there are a lot of rich people in the Philippines. If let's say, 10% of Filipinos are rich that means there are about 8 million rich Filipinos. That's the population of Switzerland. If this minority would care enough for the other 90%, we wouldn't be where we are today.

So people of the Philippines, look around you, observe, and see. Because only after you have seen, can you make a difference.


Madley said...

Thank you for this powerful insight...

Unknown said...

hey Cathy-

so the journey back to the country has awakened you to the realities here in the Philippines?

if only "they" have seen what you saw...

but somehow it's a matter of personal discipline. almost all of the Pinoys contributed to what the Philippines is now, be he rich or poor.

Anonymous said...

She then replied to me, "but mommy that's not a boy that's a beggar!" My goodness!

That sure is something you would not want any kumadre to say that your kid learned from you or your mom.

Michal said...

Hi Cathy... Serious story. Reminds me the lunchtime discussion of us and one of our coleagues that I concluded asking him "and how many poor people do you know..?". I feel a bit like that when I am back to my country - maybe not to that extent, but hope that I understand what you mean. Hope to see you soon. Smiles! :) M

PS. I dared to link to your blog in mine :)

dddd said...