Nothing to crow about if we remain poor
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2014 - 12:00am

When I was in college I read a beautiful poem by Thomas Gray entitled “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” that was first published in 1751. This poem left a deep imprint in my mind and I vividly recall the opening of the second stanza: Full many a gem of purest ray serene/ The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear/ Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen/And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

I thought of this stanza again when Malacanang proudly announced that the Philippines has achieved a 7 percent economic growth rate over the last few quarters, making it one of the fastest growing countries in Asia and a so-called “bright spot” in the region. While it is true that we appear to be outgrowing our neighbor countries, I can’t help but feel (as I know many others do), that this growth means absolutely nothing for our growing population of which most are living in poverty and not feeling any of these growth indicators whatsoever.

This has always been a problem in the Philippines and something we need to address in order to see real growth and real change. The numbers keep claiming we are growing the economy, but the growth is only really felt by a very small percentage of the population. Honestly, one can’t help but ask how can we be “achieving so well” and yet so many of our people are still not able to afford to feed their families. In the last quarter of the 2013 alone — prices went up (and continue to do so), many workers have been laid off, and people are admitting overall to not be able to afford their lives.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again — in the Philippines, the rich just keep getting richer, while the poor just keep getting poorer. The middle class is almost non-existent. What little economic growth we experience only serves to widen the gap even further, which is not only not going to help in the long run, but also creates a society of greed and envy. If there was a way we could somehow find a way to close the gap I think everyone would be better off.

Even Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said that the benefits of our economic growth have yet to trickle down to the people, especially the farmers in small rural communities, yet these farmers continue to be the backbone of the agriculture and rural sector. If only they were allowed the support they need they could easily contribute to even further growth and become active market players in the economy.

Indeed, if there was a way to empower the bulk of the population to unleash their potential and contribute instead of just empowering a select elite few, the country could certainly sustain an even higher growth rate with benefits that could be fairly shared by all. Uplifting the lives of the poor will not only help them, but will help everyone at the end of the day. However, this is just not the case at the moment. Hopefully the outlined Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016 that promises to give greater support to small farmers in rural areas truly works with combined efforts of everyone. If we do this right, we can produce more, grow more, and share more and maybe all experience the direct fruits of our labor.

*     *     *

I have written about Pope Francis in the past. I think he is a great leader for the Catholic community and is just the person to bring many wayward back to the church. He is constantly surprising me with his kind and generous acts and his open-minded outlook. I especially am always pleasantly surprised by how open and kind he is towards the poor in society. Now that may seem like a no-brainer for a religious leader, but we all know that it has not always been this way in the past. Sometimes, having so much power makes it easy for a leader to forget that they have a duty to be humble and approachable and open to those they serve.

Pope Francis is not such a leader. In fact, he is the exact opposite. In just a short time in his papacy, he has already shaken things up in one of the world’s oldest and largest religious institutions. He has proven time and again that he is willing to change the way things are done in the Vatican and more than anything he continues to show that he doesn’t want the clergy to be seen as “above” or “apart” from the congregation. It is honestly not only heartwarming but refreshing as well.

This began with his own humble life — he was never into pomp and circumstance and instead opted for a more humble and down-to-earth life. He has also urged his fellow priests and bishops to do the same. He has been known to tell them not to spend too much on material things and focus more on the people. He has been known to frequently tell priests to get closer to their communities, and often repeats priests should be “shepherds with the smell of their sheep on them.”

His latest testament to changing things up at the Vatican is his choices for new cardinals. Pope Francis has looked beyond Vatican circles for appointees from more humble dioceses in developing countries instead of the traditional choices. This is yet another step in a series of changes that herald key reforms in the Roman Catholic Church.

While some may not be fully onboard with the pope’s choice of direction, I think it’s the perfect time for Catholic Church to instill changes like these. In recent history, too many church leaders and officials have inadvertently distanced themselves from their communities and it’s time to bridge the gap again. Andrea Tornielli, a Vatican expert who knows the pope personally, said “Without starting any revolution, this (Pope Francis’ choices of new cardinals) choice clearly shows an interesting reasoning. In all his public comments, this pope has shown the world he wants a Church in which the clergy is not seen as a cast apart.”

I think Pope Francis is definitely on the right track and is doing amazing things for the Catholic Church at a time when we need it the most. It is definitely divine providence that sent him to guide the flock. I look forward to seeing what more will happen in the years ahead.


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