Freedom without food, justice without jobs
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B Jimenez (The Freeman) - June 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Today's 121st Independence Day has no meaning to the poor, homeless, jobless, and hopeless Filipinos. The squatters, tenants, marginalized “lumads”, and the poor maids working as OFWs don’t understand freedom while many of them are being raped, murdered, and jailed for no reason at all. Can people eat freedom for breakfast?

The perpetual dilemma confronting the millions of poor in our country is how to understand the true meaning of freedom when they are not free from perennial worries about food, shelter, medicines, and many other needs. Even the street urchins roaming the streets would prefer to be rounded up by the DSWD and be confined in social welfare centers than be starving and sniffing rugby. But the social workers don’t have enough space for all the starving children. They don’t have enough budget for food and shelter or enough trained personnel to handle all the demands for services. The government has enough money to build infrastructures and buy armaments for war, but gives a pittance to the poor.

Today's freedom has no meaning to poor farmers who still don’t own the land they and their ancestors had been tilling for decades. The hacienderos and their cohorts in government refuse to implement the Agrarian Reform Law. Take for instance, Hacienda Luisita and the hundreds of big landed estates in Negros. The poor tillers of the soil continue to be virtual serfs in the land they work on, while their feudal masters and lords control both politics and the economy. How can you lecture freedom to them? They can’t eat freedom. The many political ideas and ideologies can’t assuage their hunger and starvation. They have been exploited, hoodwinked, and manipulated by politicos and traders, and they remain poor forever.

Today's freedom has no meaning to the Filipino domestic helpers, the poor women who work as maids in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Libya, Egypt, etc. Many of them have been raped, molested, physically and psychologically abused, and insulted daily, while working for no less than 12 to 18 hours per day, with no adequate food, rest and medicines for ailments and fatigue. How can we teach freedom to these people whose passports and cellphones are confiscated by masters who have no basic respect for their dignity and human rights? And the government still keeps on sending them abroad to be fed to the tyrants who pay them pittance for their honor and self-respect? What kind of freedom are we espousing when we allow Filipinos to work in dirty, difficult, dangerous, deceptive, and degrading jobs?

Freedom is an empty word to a teacher who has to walk five to 10 kilometers to reach a dilapidated classroom in the hinterlands, while fearing for her life at the hands of rebels and drug addicts. Freedom is a hazy concept to a lowly job order and casual worker who is being exploited by the same government officials who insist that private sector employees pay all the wages and benefits provided for in the Labor Code. Freedom has no genuine significance to a public health nurse who exposes herself to contagious diseases, while the government, her employer, is not mindful of her health, safety, and welfare.

And what meaning does independence have to a jobless man who has no job to earn a living for himself and his growing family? Can there be true freedom when millions have no food and tens of millions have no decent shelter?

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