The real Philippines

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    “WE WOULD like to inspire our readers to venture their own insights, deepen their own understanding, and gain new realization. Moreover, we hope to awaken interest in the Philippines in a greater number of people and perhaps enrich their touristic and learning experiences,” the two German editors – Niklas Reese and Rainer Werning – pointed out.

    But, mind you, “Handbook Philippines” is not your typical travel guide. In fact, it won’t give you which place to go and where to eat or where to stay. Instead, it gives readers in depth information why this “Pearl of the Orient Seas,” as Dr. Jose Rizal described his native land, remains poor.

    I am reminded of what former first lady Imelda R. Marcos said. “The Philippines,” she declared, “is a rich country pretending to be poor.”

    But Reese, a lecturer of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Bonn, sees the country in a different manner. “The Philippines is not a poor country, but it is a country with many poor people,” wrote the alumnus of the Our Lady of Fatima Academy in Davao City. “From 2004 to 2011, those who have periodically experienced hunger hovered between 15% and 25%. More than 4% of Filipinos ‘frequently’ or ‘always’ feel hungry.”

    The book is divided into eight categories: history, life, people, land and ecology, politics and economy, culture, religion, and east-west. Facts and fi gures abound.

    From 2009 to 2010, the 40 richest Filipinos increased their wealth from US$22 billion to US$34 billion.

    A neophyte call center agent earns from P10,000 to P25,000 a month, depending on the job location.

    Ninety-one percent of the population belongs to the Christian faith, close to 81 percent of which are Catholic and the rest are Protestants; five percent are followers of Islam. The book also has lots of quotable quotes.

    Here was what then chairperson Leila de Lima of the Commission of Human Rights said on the Ampatuan Massacre of 2009: “What kind of animals are these killers? We are so shocked and enraged. This is beyond words.

    It is most despicable. This is the work of someone who is not human. It is a bestial act of the highest order.

    I have never seen anything like it. It’s brutal ruthlessness all in the name of power. It’s an affront to all forms of civility.”

    “Everything has its price and people have to pay a real price for a real service,” President Benigno Aquino III was quoted by “Sun Star Davao.” “There are only two choices: pay a little more for energy, or live with the rotating brownouts.”

    Also highlighted in the book is the current status of the country’s ecologically-fragile environment. Although it is fast losing its forest cover, the Philippines still boasts of a high level of biodiversity. “This rich biodiversity, however, is likewise under threat,” wrote Sandra Volpp in the chapter, “From the Mountains to the Seas.”

    “The Philippine eagle, the black shama, and tamaraw are just some of the endangered animal species.”

    The Philippines is considered as having the world’s second largest coral reef. “And yet, only 1.0 to 2.5 percent of reefs is still intact and serves as habitat for diverse marine flora and fauna; 60 percent of reefs are heavily damaged,” Volpp wrote.

    Yes, the book has several chapters of Philippine politics. Reese observed: “To win an election, politicians need to court the vote of the ‘masa,’ the commoners, mostly poor people.

    Between 75 and 90 percent of voters in the Philippines belong to the socioeconomic D and E classes. Voter turnout among poor people is generally higher than among those who are better off financially.

    “That is why the poor are blamed for the insubstantial manner election campaigns have been waged in this country,” Reese continued. “Many analysts and commentators, majority of whom belong to the middle class, are of the condescending view that because the common ‘tao’ (people) are poor and uneducated, they are predisposed to patronage exchanges, vote buying, and simplistic campaign messages.

    Poor people’s voting behaviour is seen as dumb, careless, and prone to manipulation.” There is also a chapter on Philippine mass media, which is famous around the world as “being the freest and liveliest in the whole of Asia.” But along with it are the hazards of being part of media.

    Ledrolen R. Manriquez, author of the 8-page chapter, wrote: “The practice of journalism in made worse and complicated by the continuing extrajudicial killings of political activists in many regions of the country, especially in Mindanao.

    Journalists working in small towns and cities are the most vulnerable, having little or no access to support groups, training, and legal assistance.

    These journalists are often targeted by powerful clans, politicians, or individuals strung by probing and critical stories. Others are caught in a deadly cross fi re between the armed groups and the military.”

    Filipinos are supposed to be the “happiest people in Asia, if not the world,” based on surveys. But “for Filipinos, happiness isn’t a goal; it’s a tool for survival,” wrote Alan C.

    Robles in the “South China Morning Post” in 2006. Let me end this column with this statement from the book:

    “Before, if you meet a congressman, you shake his head. Nowadays, if you see a congressman, you shake your head.”

    Agree or disagree?

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