Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Today’s Filipino Youth Amidst Impoverishment

The Speech I never gave.


I am more than proud to be with you today on the occasion of the 3rd Expanded Students’ Grants-In-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA) Regional Assembly with the student stakeholders or grantees (I refuse to call you “beneficiaries” for the word connotes, at least to me, a sort of mendicancy), together with their respective focal persons from all over MiMaRoPa Region, also with our guests from the Department of Social Welfare and Development or DSWD led by RD Wilma D. Naviamos, those from Commission on Higher Education or CHED and the Department of Education or DepEd representing their respective state colleges and universities or schools. To all of you, welcome to Occidental Mindoro!

Allow me to thank, too, the distinguished individuals from my alma mater, the Occidental Mindoro State College (OMSC) who with full trust and confidence invited me to be one the lecturers in this Regional Assembly. They are Marilyn Guilas Nielo, PhD, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Dr. Allan Paul F. Catena, Coordinator for the Student Affairs Services. My gratitude too is extended to Dr. Arnold N. Venturina, SUC President II. Let us give them a warm round of applause!

The topic assigned to me is, “Today’s Filipino Youth Amidst Impoverishment” and I pray that I could do justice to this very challenging topic I am about to discuss. Indeed, this is a very universal and broad topic. You guys really placed a heavy yoke upon my shoulders. I am an avid fan of boxing and in the sport we call “sweet science”, there is a strategy called “cutting the ring”. I will tell you about that later.

I am glad you used the word “impoverished” instead of “poor”. There is a big difference between the two. We use the word “poor” when talking about living status it means “people without material possessions or wealth”. While on the other hand, “impoverished” (adjective) according to my own understanding, is used to better describe the circumstances in which a person became poor. For instance, "Filipinos are impoverished by the unjust social structures we are in".

This lecture is a journey and like any other journey, we ought to have travel companions. Learning is a pilgrimage that is not overly concerned with the destination but more on the lessons we learn, re-lean and unlearn from the road and our co-pilgrims. As we go along with the subject, we will thread the gem of ideas and concepts shared to their respective generations and audiences by Gustavo Gutierrez, a theologian from Peru and a practitioner of Theology of Liberation and the late Jose “Ka Pepe” W. Diokno, a quintessential nationalist and a former Philippine senator. (Google would be of great help if you want to know further about them) Let us see what will happen when we put the ideas of a Third World theologian from Latin America and considered as founder of Liberation Theology; a Filipino senator, an anti-Martial Law crusader and founder of developmental legal aid, together.

As they say, there’s no harm in trying. I will “cut the ring” and focus only on the following two slices to share: (a) Spirituality and Human Rights as Essential Elements in Poverty Alleviation, and (b) The Philippine Economy and Social Realities: Why Are We Impoverished? I will only limit my topic on these two important concerns. Towards the end, I will be giving some challenges and call to action that hopefully would serve as guideposts towards your journey beyond this momentous gathering. My final challenge, by the way, is anchored on a basic biblical question. “Cutting the ring” in boxing, by the way, is never giving your opponent enough space. Say, pin him in a corner to deliver punches in bunches or unleash your most lethal blows.

But before that, let us look at the larger picture.  Record shows that the country is unable to meet international and national goals for education. And still is. Poverty is one of the main causes of the country’s poor education record and has affected participation in education in more ways than one, according to “Education Watch Preliminary Report: Education Deprivation in the Philippines," a study done by five advocacy groups including E-Net Philippines, Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education, Action for Economic Reforms, Popular Education for People’s Empowerment, and Oxfam in 2003.

Years later, the ESGP-PA came into existence. As we all know, ESGP-PA found its legal basis through the CHED’s Memorandum Order No. 09, Series of 2012. It is an initiative taken by the government to provide access to the poor but capable students to higher education. The objective of the program is to increase the number of higher education graduates among poor households by directly providing financing for their education in selected SUCs. I will not dwell much on the details of ESGP-PA for our next speaker from DSWD is more competent on discussing it to you in the most extensive and more credible manner.

From here, let us now seek the help of our first travel companion.

To “fathom impoverishment” as what Dr. Catena put in his invitation letter to me, we need first to ask what is the aspiration of the Filipino youth amidst impoverishment. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Catholic priest and a Latin American theologian used a very symbolic material: the drinking well. “Everyone one has to drink from his own well,” wrote Gutierrez in his book, “We Drink from our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People”. And to contextualize this in the Philippine setting today, this question is imperative to pose: “From what well can the impoverished youth of the Philippines drink?”

Allow me to emphasize that my supposed “esteemed knowledge in the field of community development”, (again, these are words of Dr. Catena’s taken from his letter to me) is anchored on my 20 years of working with the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) of our Local Church, the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose, initially, allow me to spiritualize a little bit about the topic. The impoverishing social situation in our midst, from my spectacles of faith, needs to be rooted from the main source of the living water: our spirituality. Spirituality was often equated with religious aspects like prayer, sacraments, rituals, penance or even fasting and bible-reading. Yes, they are part of it but those are not enough. Spirituality, no matter what religious belief you are practicing or denominations you are into, it is a lived faith in response to the Spirit. Therefore, it involves a way of viewing and experiencing God, others, self and the world. “Spirituality,” Gutierrez writes, “is like living water that springs up in the very depths of the (historical) experience of faith.” Truth to tell, aside from the Spirit of Jesus, to drink from our own well is to live our own life, individually and collectively, rooted in our individual freedom, our basic human rights.

Today is December 10, 2016 and the whole world commemorates the 68th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it is but opportune time to reflect on how we encounter basic issues of human rights and human dignity in the concrete historical reality and context unfolding in our midst. This is a real experience that can be a foundation of our life project as stakeholders and implementers of ESGP-PA. Poverty caused by inattention, violation, distortion to and of the very essence of human rights brings about gradual and, in case of extra judicial killings, instant deaths. The death caused by impoverishment is not only physical but mental and cultural as well.

According to Gutierrez, “It [death] refers to the destruction of individual persons, peoples, cultures and tradition.”  In sum, Spirituality and Human Rights are main themes and dimensions to loosen the chains of impoverishment among our youth. Human rights are the well where we must drink from. Our human rights are our wells and we much fetch water from it with buckets of responsibility and obligations. How? I cannot offer an answer. I might as well reserve that on your organizational and individual undertakings as well as in the competence of your respective focal persons. Your dynamism and creativity will flow like a thirst quenching well, I am sure. Just remember that strategy without ideal is a menace and ideal without strategy is a mess. Take it from a Gustavo Gutierrez reader.

Let us now go to our economy and social realities and our travel companion this time is the late Senator Jose W. Diokno. Though this talk was delivered in September 6, 1980 before Inter-School Business Association at PICC, Diokno’s message titled “Economic and Social Consciousness” is still relevant today. From Diokno’s time up to the present, though I do not have the statistics to back this up like the situations of educational system and national poverty that I have mentioned a while ago, just looking from the realities around us today, beyond any possible doubt, the life of the Filipino poor is one of hunger and exploitation, inadequate health care and lack of suitable housing, difficulty in obtaining an education, inadequate wages and unemployment, struggles for their rights, and repression. Diokno asked: “What has gone wrong with our economy?” Why is our economy still undeveloped? Well, our economy was run by politicians and businessmen and we, the impoverished, learned to regret it. It is the biggest bane in this equally impoverished country of ours.

I can only cite two major reasons for such a sorry state from said speech of Ka Pepe. First, our economic policy makers have given too much importance to the problem of economic growth and not enough to the problem of economic development; that efforts are concentrated on increasing production to the neglect of improving distribution and equalizing consumption. Second, our economy is export oriented, import dependent. Instead of organizing our resources, our capital and our manpower to the needs of the people, especially the impoverished, the past and present administrations geared them toward the demands of multi-national corporations and capital-greedy businessmen. This economic policy resulted, then and today, to privatization, contractualization and liberalization. Diokno taught us that “economics is more than an exchange of goods; it is also an exercise of power. And just as concentrated power is politics, so politics is concentrated economics.” Our economic and educational policymakers must realize that we need a Filipino economy and education where their goal should meet the needs of the impoverished Filipino people, it should make our workers enjoy just wages to buy the goods the economy produces and the key to economic progress is not on how much foreign loans we get or foreign investments we can attract, or exports we can ship. We need an educational system that would boost a nationalist economy. Regardless of what profession you will be involved in the future, you are all economists and educators, in one way or another, in the privacy of your homes and in your respective spheres of influence.

The Diokno Challenge from my lenses is this: What we need are educators and economists who are socially conscious and politically aware, educators and economists who can distinguish structural problems from personal problems, who for example, seek the solution to poverty, not in foreign aids but in structural change, because they see poverty is caused, not by defects in the character or training of the impoverished, but by the injustice of our social system. A sound policy on poverty reduction best serves the appropriate educational system and vice-versa.

At this point, allow me to share that impoverishment or being poor is also a way of feeling, knowing, reasoning, making friends, loving believing, sufferings, celebrating and praying. We, the impoverished, constitute a world of our own. But life is larger than what we have and what we are. This situation must be remedied and struggled through legal and moral bounds, without resorting to violent means. We may get angry with the situation, but please, do not hate life!

For Gustavo Gutierrez and Ka Pepe Diokno, spirituality and economy are community enterprises and a communal quest. And from the apparently different and sometimes diverse dimensions of spirituality and economy, we draw the promise and hope of reducing, if not dismantling poverty through higher education.

Let me conclude my topic citing my favorite biblical question. After The Fall God came to the garden seeking Adam and Eve asked, “Where are you?” (cf. Gen. 3:8-9) If God is all knowing, why God would ask such a silly question? Philosopher Martin Buber offers a rationally good answer. Buber says God asked that question not to learn something new or to know a certain truth or predicament of things. Rather, God asked that question in order to make Adam and Eve confront their current state in life. It was a question of challenge. If we believe that God also suffers with us in our impoverishment and our co-deliverer from injustice and poverty, our answer to this question must be: “With you, Lord. With You!”

Thank you very much for such a brief but meaningful journey. My congratulations to all who made this pilgrimage a fruitful reality.

Good morning everyone....

(This speech is supposed to be delivered on the 3rd Expanded Students’ Grants-In-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA) Regional Assembly on December 10, 2016 at Hillside Farm and Resort, Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro but due to the Regional Committee’s last minute alteration of the topics and speakers, I was not able to deliver this. Photo: Don Sevilla of webpages at SCU)

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