Freedom without food, justice without jobs WHAT MATTERS MOST

Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - June 12, 2020 - 12:00am

Today's 122nd Independence Day has no meaning to the poor, homeless, jobless, and hopeless Filipinos. The squatters, tenants, marginalized “lumads”, and 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 for food, shelter, medicines, and many other needs. Even the street urchins roaming around the many avenues, roads and alleys in our cities prefer to be rounded up by the DSWD and be confined in social welfare centers than be starving and sniffing rugby in the sidestreets. 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 give a pittance to the poor.

Today's freedom has no meaning to the 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, the 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 cannot eat freedom. The many political ideas and ideologies cannot 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, and elsewhere. Many of them have been raped, molested, physically and psychologically abused, and insulted daily, while working for no less than 12to 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 away 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 ten kilometers to reach a dilapidated classroom in the hinterlands, while fearing for her life against the rebels and the drug-addicts lurking around to rob and rape her. 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 be paid 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 own health, safety and welfare.

And what meaning has independence 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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