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Monday, March 10, 2008

A lot to learn from the poor and the lowly

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:45:00 03/01/2008

Months ago, there was a report about fishermen who, at great risk to their lives, scour the depths to gather sea cucumber for livelihood. On a daily average, a diver produces one to two kilos of the exotic seafood and earns P150 for the effort. However, without any value added, the same item commands a price averaging P1,400 per kilogram in Metro Manila.

The inequity of an economic order where labor is not fairly rewarded is manifest almost everywhere. In Eastern Samar province, where I come from and where I worked for a World Bank-funded anti-poverty project, a great number of upland farmers toil all their lives but still end up without adequate means to meet their basic needs. A farmer sells a 50-kilogram sack of bananas in the “poblacion” [town proper] at P150 but loses P120 of that amount to transport cost. It is even tougher for farmers in western and northern Samar, whose farms have been rendered largely unproductive due to soil erosion brought about initially by massive commercial logging and, in later years, by “kaingin” [slash-and-burn farming].

And yet the poor have been a profile of resilience and hope, whether they are in Samar or elsewhere. In ways that sometimes enlighten the rich, they have shown a capacity to win their daily battles through hard work, integrity and genuine concern for others. They are willing to sacrifice everything they have to earn an honest living, as the Sumilao farmers have shown. The World Bank-funded project I mentioned has helped the poor communities gain not only skills and experience in planning and managing projects that address their socioeconomic needs, but also the discipline to conduct procurement processes in a transparent manner, free of graft and corruption.

Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., in his Senate testimony, recounted an encounter he had with a poor farmer gathering guava fruits to sell in the market. When Lozada saw that the farmer was not picking all the fruits, he asked why. The farmer replied that he had to leave some fruits for the birds to eat.

Lozada said the farmer’s concern for the birds touched him. More so because the farmer himself looked like in need of help.

By his courage, Lozada has shown that there is in every person a capacity to respond positively to an inner calling, like serving the ends of truth at the expense of personal comfort, liberty, and even physical existence.

It seems that, despite the demoralizing morass we’re in, there is nothing which is really beyond redemption. A “probinsyanong Intsik” [provincial Chinese], named Lozada, can teach the government how procurement involving public funds should be conducted. The farmer can teach us how to put in practice our concern for others, for nature and for the environment.

Who knows, maybe next time we have elections (don’t laugh), the poor might just show to everyone that money could no longer win votes. When that happens, officials of the Commission on Elections will lose their part-time jobs as sales agents, and they can therefore focus on counting the votes right.