Again, why we are poor

HINDSIGHT - F Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - May 5, 2013 - 12:00am

The Secretary of Labor, Rosalinda Dimapilis Baldoz and her Director, Nicon F. Fameronag, dropped by Solidaridad last week; I never met her before but have held her in high esteem. In my Padre Faura eyrie, I get a lot of information and gossip, some of which I have to confirm myself through further inquiries. The Baldoz slate is clean; she is also known as hardworking and though she rose from the ranks, she is capable of venturing out of the box.

We mulled over our basic problems, our dysfunctional political system, our poverty, the massive unemployment, the ongoing diaspora, our thousands upon thousands of workers now all over the world, and finally, our irresponsible oligarchs.

Our OFWs could very well be the harbingers of progress like the thousands of Spaniards who left Spain after the victory of Franco in the Spanish Civil War in 1939. When they returned to Spain, they ushered in that country’s economic development.

If these Filipinos would return, would they do the same?

In the meantime, they could also protect our interests abroad. For instance, they could be organized to demonstrate before Chinese embassies all over the world whenever China encroaches on our territory.

Why was their massive remittances not utilized in an organized way to develop the countryside from which most of them come?

We traced the origins of the Filipino diaspora, and I reminisced about Blas Ople, Marcos’s long-lasting Secretary of Labor. He was its major architect.

I first met Blas in the late ‘40s when I joined the old Manila Times; he was then a reporter in the afternoon Daily Mirror, the sister company of the Times, he was a very good writer, sincerely committed to the lower classes to which he belonged; he was born to a poor family in Hagonoy, Bulacan. When he joined the Marcos camp in 1965, to the best of my knowledge, it was he who fashioned the labor policy of sending our workers abroad. It was an almost inevitable option because by that time, although we were just over 30 million then, we already had so many college graduates who had no jobs.

When we were living in Hong Kong in the early ‘60s, there were no Filipino domestics there; our maid was from Canton. Wealthy Filipinos in Manila before World War II usually had Chinese amahs, too.

Then when Marcos declared martial law in 1972 the diaspora became a flood. This was Marcos’s big mistake. With so much power in his hands, he could have hastened the industrialization of the country to create jobs; he could have told the rich Filipinos what Gen. Park Chung Hee told the South Korean chaebuls — that if they did not industrialize the country, he would “cut off their heads.”

This is, of course, easier said than done. Marcos should have forbidden the exit of precious foreign exchange from this country as did Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, until there was enough capital to start massive industrialization.

As for the billions of OFW remittances, why is there no master plan to invest all that money in the industrialization of the country?

We concluded how important it is for Filipinos to know their history, to be rooted in this land, to love it and express that affection with deeds. For in the end, it is patriotism that will bring about prosperity and justice and redeem us.

Then, last week, after this most memorable dialogue with Ms. Baldoz and Mr. Fameronag, the government statistics came out: in the last six years, the poverty index has not improved. Millions of Filipinos are still poor — and will continue to be so stricken maybe till the end of P-Noy’s term.

How could this be when Manila’s skyline is now studded with so many skyscrapers, so many fat and glossy cars are in the streets? So many tony restaurants, and pompous mansions even in the sticks?

President P-Noy shouldn’t be surprised or skeptical about the poverty figures. It takes time for prosperity (and food security) to trickle down particularly in an archipelago short of infrastructures that will bring people and goods closer. More than this crucial impediment, as our neighbors have so explicitly shown, it takes at least a generation — more than 20 years — for a laidback economy to recover. That this is not happening is obvious.

This is basic: economic development starts with capital formation but this capital was sent abroad by the rich mestizos to Spain, the Chinese to China and Taiwan, and the Indios like Marcos to Switzerland.

Our economists tell us now that billions are gathering mold in the banks, uninvested because the rich do not trust our economic future, riven as it is now with two ongoing rebellions, and massive poverty.

And if they do invest, look at their nonproductive ventures — fancy condominiums, lavish resorts for the very rich, and gambling casinos.

I’d like our highest officials to answer these questions.

First — our dollar reserves. It’s more than $60 billion. Why then can’t we pay off our foreign debt and get rid of this liability that has crippled us for years? Why should our reserves be only in dollars? Why not in currencies from strong, vibrant economies?

Our foreign debt — why do we continue borrowing? Is it because every time we borrow, someone upstairs makes a lot of money?

I’ve heard this rumor — that some very high officials have foreign bank accounts supported by our foreign lenders so that the government will not abort its foreign debt, but continue to pay instead.

In the meantime, what P-Noy should do is strengthen and work faster on the infrastructures that must be made in the next three years, and most important, work for the institutionalization of his reforms by seeing to it that the bureaucracy is strengthened, and that leaders are in the wings waiting to continue the beneficent programs he started.

First, to show his commitment, he must hasten the distribution of Hacienda Luisita — as mandated by the Supreme Court — to the beneficiaries. As it is, the process is much too slow, making even those who expect so much from him suspect that he cannot go against his clan.

I once made a trip around the hacienda way back in the ‘60s with Ninoy, and having seen the sorry hovels of the workers, I asked Ninoy what he would do about them. He said, “Frankie, naman. You know I don’t own this place. Just wait till I get to be president.”

Well, the son is now President. Will he betray his class?

It is P-Noy’s third year now. He could have preempted the Supreme Court decision to award the hacienda to the workers. But he did not.

We are now awaiting the implementation of that court order. Now while he holds office, now that he could do it. But will he? Therein lies the ultimate test not just of P-Noy but of Filipino leadership as a whole.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt did this to the American Eastern business establishment when he guided America throughout the Great Depression in the 1930s. He “socialized” wealth; with the government at his command, he turned away from the establishment to which he belonged and created widespread jobs for the poor, built infrastructures all over the country and fructified the American dictum that “money is like fertilizer — to do any good, it must be spread around.”

P-Noy belongs to the oligarchy which, with its barnacled, feudal attitudes, is the greatest obstacle to this nation’s progress. It is my hope that, like his father who wanted to dismantle it, he should also try, at the very least.

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