by Fr. Shay Cullen

June 2014

Just before Independence Day last week, a group of newly enrolled
children from a shelter excitedly set out on the first day to walk to
school at Gala, Sacatihan, Pamatawan, Subic town, Zambales. The road up
the hill would give them an easy walk to freedom through education – the
great liberator. But then, as they crested the hill, to their dismay the
asphalt abruptly ended. The rains had turned the rest of the way into a
muddy quagmire that had the children squelching their way through
ankle-deep sticky mud, symbolic of the political corruption, waste and
abuse that mires almost one-third of the Filipinos in pitiless, grinding
poverty from which there is no freedom.

Like thousands of others, the road is a fake or ghost project that had
never been fully built. Even urgent requests to the governor to throw
gravel from the exposed river bed on to the muddy road are so far
unheeded. The children suffer and it became so bad in the past week that
26 children transferred to another school.

This mess and the plunder and looting of public funds at the highest
level of the Congress as the headlines announce daily is just one, very
small indicator of a greater harm done to the people by some depraved
and greedy politicians. How many more fake and fraudulent infrastructure
projects are there like the one in Gala, Subic? There is no freedom from
greed, it seems.

Besides these small, allegedly corruption-ridden projects, the extremely
wealthy ruling elite in the Philippine Congress have allegedly plundered
and looted billions of pesos from the treasury. Three prominent Senators
have been charged, arrest warrants are imminent and many Congress people
will join them in jail. Their “jails” are posh, luxurious tiled, well,
appointed bungalows built for ranking officers.

They are incomparable to the stinking jail cells where the hungry street
children are incarcerated, abused, beaten and raped for taking a banana
in the market. The indictments by the Aquino administration are a
glimmer of hope that change is possible but with billions of bribes at
hand, justice is likely to be thwarted and they will never answer for
these alleged crimes. These funds came from the taxes imposed on the
people especially the 17 to 20 percent VAT that were supposed to be used
for rural development to alleviate poverty and build barangay roads to
bring the children to school.

Independence Day last June 12 was to celebrate the political freedom of
a nation from colonial domination and exploitation. It’s a tortured
history. First, the impoverished oppressed Filipinos struggled for
liberation from the Spanish and almost succeeded. On the eve of
independence, the North Americans declared war on the Spanish, landed
troops in Manila in 1898 and took over, then sent home the defeated
Spanish. The Filipinos fought back but after a few years of bitter war
marked by atrocities, the American forces conquered them. They subdued
and tamed most of the Filipinos, then the Japanese invaded and ousted
the Americans in World War II. The people suffered greatly and the
Japanese were eventually defeated and again the Filipinos struggled for
independence from the United States of America and in 1947, they got it
with string attached. But was it real freedom?

They got political independence and a lot of unfair and exploitative
trading arrangements and unequal treaties that enabled American
corporations to exploit the country at will until the present. They were
swamped with Americanization. So it was not true independence, a great
dependency has been skillfully arranged. The democracy was a sham, in
reality, the rich Spanish-Filipino families in close cooperation with
the American corporations ruled without much opposition.

The vast majority of Filipinos remained bitterly poor peasants and
isolated tribal people. Philippine natural resources were ruthlessly
exploited, enabled by unequal treaties, the riches of the nation flowed
across the Pacific to America. The people were exported also. Filipino
overseas workers flowed to the pineapple plantations of Hawaii to work
in slave-like conditions.

Little has changed. Eleven million Filipinos still go abroad to find
economic freedom. The majority live with 25% unemployment and the
freedom from poverty for the majority of Filipinos is still a dream. The
economic news may boast of 7% economic growth but that is only for the
oligarchy who have 70 percent of the wealth in their pockets.

To quote from an Editorial in a national broad-sheet of March of last
year: “The increase in the wealth of the 40 richest families in the
Philippines that made it to the 2012 Forbes list of the world’s
billionaires accounted for 76 percent of the growth of the gross
domestic product (GDP). It’s one of the biggest rich-poor gaps in the
free world and”, Habito observed, “the highest in Asia”. That is what
they call “independence”. [shaycullen@preda.org, www.preda.org]

(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications
in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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