WHY ARE WE POOR?
In one of the luncheons he hosted recently for clients of the Rizal
Banking Corp., Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco asked the writer
Sionil Jose to share some of his observations of the current scene.
This is the
paper Mr. Jose read on that occasion.
What did South Korea look like after the Korean War in 1953?
Battered, poor -
but look at Korea now. In the Fifties, the traffic in Taipei was
bicycles and Army trucks, the streets flanked by tile-roofed low
Jakarta was a giant village and Kuala Lumpur a small village
jungle and rubber plantations. Bangkok was criss-crossed with
tallest structure was the Wat Arun, the Temple of the Sun, and it
city's skyline. Rice fields all the way from Don Muang Airport -
then a huddle
of galvanized iron-roofed bodegas, to the Victory monument.
Visit these cities today and weep - for they are more beautiful,
prosperous than Manila. In the Fifties and Sixties we were the most
country in Southeast Asia. Remember further that when Indonesia got
independence in 1949, it had only 114 university graduates compared
hundreds of Ph.D.'s which were already in our universities. Why then
left behind? The economic explanation is simple. We did not produce
and better products.
The basic question really is: why we did not modernize fast enough
doomed our people to poverty. This is the harsh truth about us
consider these: some 15 years ago a survey showed that half of all
pupils dropped out after grade 5 because they had no money to continue
schooling. Thousands of young adults today are therefore unable to
Our natural resources have been ravaged and they are not renewable.
tremendous population increase eats up all of our economic gains.
hunger in this country now; our poorest eat only once a day.
But this physical poverty is really not as serious as the greater
afflicts us and this is the poverty of the spirit.
Why then are we poor? More than ten years ago, James Fallows, editor
Atlantic Monthly came to the Philippines and wrote about our damaged
which, he asserted, impeded our development. Many disagreed with him
but I do
find a great deal of truth in his analysis. This is not to say that
I blame our
social and moral malaise on colonialism alone. But we did inherit
from Spain a
social system and an elite that, on purpose, exploited the masses.
in the Iberian peninsula, to work with one's hands is frowned upon
inherited that vice as well. Colonialism by foreigners may no longer
be what it
was, but we are now a colony of our own elite.
We are poor because we are poor - this is not a tautology. The
poverty is self-perpetuating. We are poor because our people are
lazy. I pass
by a slum area every morning - dozens of adults do nothing but idle,
drink. We do not save. Look at the Japanese and how they save in
spite of the
fact that the interest given them by their banks is so little. They
We are great show-offs. Look at our women, how overdressed, over-
are, and Imelda epitomizes that extravagance. Look at our men, their
nails, their personal jewelry, their diamond rings. Yabang - that is
are, and all that money expended on status symbols, on yabang. How
if it were channeled into production. We are poor because our
Under its guise we protect inefficient industries and monopolies. We
pursue agrarian reform like Japan and Taiwan. It is not so much the
of the rural sector, making it productive and a good market as well.
reform releases the energies of the landlords who, before the reform,
waited for the harvest. They become entrepreneurs, the harbingers of
Our nationalist icons like Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Ta�ada
reform, the single most important factor that would have altered the
and lifted the peasant from poverty. Both of them were merely anti-
And finally, we are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings.
cronyism and corruption and we don't ostracize or punish the crooks
midst. Both cronyism and corruption are wasteful but we allow their
because our loyalty is to family or friend, not to the larger good.
We can tackle our poverty in two very distinct ways. The first
nationalist revolution, a continuation of the revolution in 1896.
before we can use violence to change inequities in our society, we
have a profound change in our way of thinking, in our culture. My
EDSA is that change would have been possible then with a minimum of
In fact, a revolution may not be bloody at all if something like EDSA
present itself again. Or a dictator unlike Marcos.
The second is through education, perhaps a longer and more complex
only problem is that it may take so long and by the time conditions
changed, we may be back where we were, caught up with this tremendous
explosion which the Catholic Church exacerbates in its conformity
We are faced with a growing compulsion to violence, but even if the
won, they will rule as badly because they will be hostage to the same
obstructions in our culture, the barkada, the vaulting egos that
revolution in 1896, the Huk revolt in 1949-53.
To repeat neither education nor revolution can succeed if we do not
new attitudes, new ways of thinking. Let us go back to basics and
those American slogans: A Ford in every garage. A chicken in every
is like fertilizer: to do any good it must be spread around.
Some Filipinos, taunted wherever they are, are shamed to admit they
Filipinos. I have, myself, been embarrassed explain for instance why
her children and the Marcos cronies are back, and in positions of
there redeeming features in our country that we can be proud of? Of
lots of them. When people say for instance that our corruption will
banished, just remember that Arsenio Lacson as mayor of Manila and
Magsaysay as President brought a clean government.
We do not have the classical arts that brought Hinduism and Buddhism
continental and archipelago Southeast Asia, but our artists have now
world, showing what we have done with Western art forms, enriched
with our own
ethnic traditions. Our professionals, not just our domestics, are
showing how an accomplished people we are!
Look at our history. We are the first in Asia to rise against Western
colonialism, the first to establish a republic. Recall the Battle of
and glory in the heroism of Gregorio Del Pilar and the 48 Filipinos
who died but
stopped the Texas Rangers from capturing the President of that First
Its equivalent in ancient history is the Battle of Thermopylae where
Spartans and their king Leonidas, died to a man, defending the pass
Rizal - what nation on earth has produced a man like him? At 35, he
novelist, a poet, an anthropologist, a sculptor, a medical doctor, a
We are now 80 million and in another two decades we will pass the 100
mark. Eighty million - that is a mass market in any language, a mass
that should absorb our increased production in goods and services - a
market which any entrepreneur can hope exploit, like the proverbial
oil for the
lamps of China.
Japan was only 70 million when it had confidence enough and the
challenge the United States and almost won. It is the same
enabled Japan to flourish from the rubble of defeat in World War II.
I am not looking for a foreign power for us to challenge. But we
have a real
and insidious enemy that we must vanquish, and this enemy is worse
intransigence of any foreign power. We are our own enemy. And we
must have the
courage, the will, to change ourselves.
Wealth Dependence (back)