My queasiness with poverty deliverance is caused by the high probability of its advertising to be predominantly false in the total universe of the poor. Since time immemorial the politicians’ promises of poverty elimination or alleviation have been notorious for being colossal failures. Nevertheless, such promises will always be made. Perception, they say, is the name of the game.
Deliverance from poverty sells hope, just like what new moisturisers promise to do with the wrinkles of little old ladies disappointed with their old moisturisers. But the wrinkles remain. During elections, you can’t fool wisened electorates. They’ve been burned too often.
The most pragmatic view of poverty alleviation I know comes from Fernando Poe Jr., the late film superstar who ran for president and lost. He said, "The poor should at least be able to eat three meals a day." FPJ made more sense. Increasing food production in our village farms is a perfectly doable task. All it needs is to grant more easy-to-pay loans to farmers and implement agri-technology transfers more efficiently. This can guarantee plentiful food and bigger income from harvests.
Worldwide poverty is a fact of life for the poor. Poverty is a sequel of feudalism, traceable to the middle ages. In modern times, poverty became the inevitable downside in free enterprise societies where capitalism created industrialists and oligarchs who, like ancient feudal lords, became predators in their opportunistic and abusive pursuit of money and power.
Communism attempted to eliminate poverty by establishing a classless society but ended up dehumanizing people and devaluing human virtues. Dictatorship rule homogenized massive poverty - not only the poverty of material things but also the poverty of hopelessness. Bad economics did not destroy communism. The death of the human spirit did it.
Now comes wad-blowing presidential front-runners proclaiming deliverance from poverty. Manny Villar, with his billions, bamboozles us with TV ads to the point of surfeit. We are over-exposed to scenes of urban decay, children in tattered clothes with soot on their shrunken faces, all shot in cinema verité angles, replete with gut-wrenching kurot sa puso supplications.
The use of poor kids on TV ads is beguiling in the eyes of their mothers, but squeamish for viewers who live in posh enclaves of Forbes Park and Ayala Alabang. To most people, poverty in its stinking and putrid reality is revolting (naliligo sa dagat ng basura - swimming in the sea of trash).
Using children for their "pester power" seems inappropriate for courting votes, which call for a mature act better left alone to thinking adults. The use of children works better for selling impulse items like Jollibee Spaghetti and McDonald’s chicken nuggets.
Noynoy Aquino, all aglow with his yellow ribbon halo, removed poverty away from the sob story malaise and elevated it to the level of rationality: "Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap." (if there’s no corruption, there won’t be poverty) It’s another oversimplification. The kind of logic that’s understood by the masses. Poverty is not caused by corruption alone. Critical priorities are involved; job creation generated by new incentivised capital investments, wide and friendly access to entrepreneurial fundings, and an excellent mix of efficient access to higher education and countrywide health care programmes.
Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada keeps resting on his laurels, still basking under the shadow of his worn-out "para sa mahirap" (for the poor) slogan. Aging has diminished some of his cinematic appeal. He needs beauty doctor Vicky Belo job to simulate that smooth and firm epidermis reminiscent of his action star macho days.
Gibo Teodoro is fresh wind. Youthful, articulate, structured, polished and telegenic. His claim, "galing at talino" (street-smart and intelligent), is a niche for technocracy in governance. Sad, but Gibo lacks impressive credentials. As defence secretary, he could have plotted and executed the surrender or capture of NPA (New Peoples Army) head Ka-Roger and his top lieutenants to end a pestering 60-year-old peace and order problem. The late Ramon Magsaysay did just that in the ’50s. Had Gibo done the same, he would have acquired the big hero image to boost his candidacy today.
The "Transformers", Sen. Dick Gordon and former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chair Bayani Fernando have true-to-life positioning as proven doers. Dick is an excellent crisis manager and Bayani is an obstinate law-enforcer. Dick is a take-charge man who has led many rescue teams during calamities. Bayani is an out-of-the-box problem solver of Metro Manila’s chaotic traffic gridlock, messy sidewalks and unruly pedestrians.
Dick takes advantage of TV forums, interviews and debates where he projects his braggadocio and talks street smart on ways of achieving his vision of Bagumbayan, a vision no matter how trite and bland, is what the country really needs.
As election nears, more vitriol, toxic gasses, lies and hatred will be generated by the Aquino and Villar camps. Exasperated constituents may, for their peace and comfort, turn to gutsy Dick or theocratic Brother Eddie Villanueva or righteous Nick Perlas or youthful idealist JC de los Reyes. People have comfort zones.
(Minyong Ordoñez is a freelance journalist and a member of the Manila Overseas Press Club. Email: email@example.com)