Published in Manila Standard Today on 5 May 2012
By Elizabeth Angsioco
Scene 1: “Pagpag”
Woman meticulously going through the garbage of fast food stores scavenging for left-over food. The same woman washing and re-cooking the thrashed food she managed to salvage. Several children happily feasting on their mother’s “culinary creation.”
“Pagpag” is a Filipino word used when dirt is removed from something by dusting it off. It is also used for re-cooked food from the garbage consumed by the poorest and most desperate of our people.
“Pagpag” maybe the ugliest image of poverty in the country. This was recently shown by CNN for its feature on the Philippines and the reproductive health bill.
Scene 2: “It’s more fun in the Philippines” advertisement
Our most beautiful places, beaches, touristic activities, our heritage, vibrant and happy people—these were captured by the ad showing that indeed, it’s more fun in the Philippines!
The advertisement is part of government’s campaign to boost our tourism industry. And we paid many millions for CNN to air this.
Both scenes are quite powerful. “Pagpag” showed how bad the poverty situation is especially for big Filipino families. The ad showed how beautiful and rich our country is, how much fun we have here.
Thus, when CNN showed them one after the other, I was jolted. Such contrast! And both are true images of one country—ours.
According to the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS), 55 percent of our people rated themselves as poor. This was a significant leap from last year’s 45 percent. How could a country such as the Philippines, with our rich natural resources, have millions and millions of families living in poverty, with the poorest reaching the point of surviving on “pagpag”?
There is no simple answer to this. Poverty is a complex problem caused by many factors and therefore, requires a multi-faceted set of strategic solutions.
No one law can solve poverty.
As an RH advocate, I say that the passage of the RH bill is one crucial step to curb poverty. At the very least, a rights-based, comprehensive, and pro-poor RH law will make available RH information and services that will:
• educate poor young people about their RH-related rights AND responsibilities including protection from abuse and making intelligent choices and decisions. RH education is known to significantly bring down numbers of adolescent pregnancies.
• make family planning options accessible to poor couples who want to use them to achieve the number of children they want and can adequately provide for; and
• save poor mothers from pregnancy and childbirth complications that cause maternal deaths.
These will unquestionably redound to the improvement of poor families’ quality of life.
Better quality public education is another key to solving poverty.Improved training for our teachers, addressing the disconnect between courses schools offer and the demands of the market, more scholarships for poor but deserving young people (on condition that they will work in the country for a number of years after graduation), more schools, better facilities, equipment, and books—all these will help the youth from poor families overcome intergenerational poverty and make a better future for themselves and their future families.
Education, after all, is a right.
Good governance is also crucial in fighting poverty. I cringe whenever cynics say that we deserve the kind of leaders we get. But, there is some truth to it. Those who win elections determine the type of governance we have.
Good governance will only happen if we put people with integrity, capability, and bias for the poor in government positions AND make them accountable by closely monitoring their performance while in office.
In short, citizens need to be intelligent voters and active players in governance. If we want good governance, we must take our right to vote very seriously. We must also drastically change our perception that those in government are above us.
For all intents and purposes, the voters are the employers and candidates are the applicants. We employ them to be at the forefront of OUR fight against poverty and see to it that they perform as needed.
Yes, the fight is ours.
Health, education, and good governance are some crucial steps but more is needed. Citizen’s action is one.
We will only win against poverty if we do our share. Government should do a lot but so do we.
The case should be: People of the Philippines vs. “Pagpag.”
firstname.lastname@example.org and @bethangsioco on Twitter