Is there hope in the Philippines?
By Mila Glodava
Halleluiah! Manila and the Philippines did not make the top 5 dirtiest city or the most corrupt country, respectively (see box below). Whew! We can breathe a sigh of relief, for now, but not for long. I have not seen the entire list, and therefore, don't know where Manila or the Philippines stand on these issues. What I can see though is that the Philippines did not make the top 5 least corrupt country either. So, is there hope in the Philippines?
The Asian Development Bank lists the following as the top 5 dirtiest cities in Asia:
1. Beijing (China)
2. Xi'an (China)
3. Kathmandu (Nepal)
4. Dhaka (Bangladesh)
5. New Delhi (India)
The Transparency International lists the top 5 of the following:
Most corrupt countries:
Least corrupt countries:
3. New Zealand
There are two issues about the Philippines that make me hide in shame when it makes the headlines. Let me point out here that the Philippines, or any other Third World country, often does not make the headlines in the United States unless it's about something negative -- calamities, poverty or the two issues that bug me -- the dirtiest and the most corrupt lists.
I often bring up these issues at workshops I conduct on stewardship. I have conducted several workshops for dioceses in the Philippines since 2002, including one for the entire Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines in 2005. There's not much we can do about natural disasters, other than to assist in emergency efforts and to bring a sense of hope after a calamity. We have seen what the Social Action Center of the Prelature of Infanta did and is still doing after the typhoons of 2004.
On poverty, I tell them that it doesn't bother me, or other people for that matter, that the Philippines is a poor country. There's nothing shameful about being poor. As Jesus in the Gospel, "The poor will always be with us." The government, church and non-government organizations try to address this issue in many different ways. The Pondo ng Pinoy of Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales is certainly making a dent in addressing the feeding and housing projects and educational initiatives for the poor. Filipinos also can be proud of Gawad Kalinga and its desire to eliminate Philippine ghettos in dumpsites. I like to think that Metro Infanta Foundation, which has become an invaluable resource for Infanta and neighboring towns, belongs to this group that serves the community. We know, however, there's only so much we can do, and that we cannot eliminate poverty completely in our midst. We must continue our efforts nonetheless.
Poverty is no excuse, however, for being dirty or being corrupt.
Ambassador Rudy Arizala once noted, "We are clean individually, but do not seem to care about the cleanliness of the rest of the city or society." It seems we have forgotten the saying, "Cleanliness is next to godliness." Why have the Filipinos tolerated such an existence? Why is it acceptable to go to unclean, stinky bathrooms? I often ask these questions at my workshops, which promote stewardship as a way of life, including taking care of the earth –– to keep it clean and beautiful, to plant flowers and trees, and to promote the three “Rs” – reduce, reuse and recycle.
I have seen some signs that people get it though. In Bauan, Batangas, I saw a sign in front of stores, "Tapat ko linis ko." (I am responsible for cleaning my area). I have also seen cities and towns making an effort in cleaning their surroundings. Some are making use of old tires from the junk yards as trash receptacles or pots for flowers and trees. I applaud and would like to encourage these efforts.
The last time I wrote about this issue was in 2000, when Manila made the top 5 at No. 4 as the dirtiest and ugliest city in the world. In this particular article I suggested the "Adopt-a-Street Litter Control Program" which is quite popular in Colorado, and perhaps in other states. The Philippines can do this program easily because of the number of schools and non-government organizations that can sponsor a mile or two.
I am happy to say that during my last visit in August, I saw a glimpse of this possibility. On our way home from a conference in Lucena City for seven dioceses of the Southern Tagalog, we saw hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students at each side cleaning up the shoulders of the Super Highway. It was certainly an incredible sight, making me say to myself, "There's hope in the Philippines." Of course, we need to encourage such positive events and activities so that it is not a one-shot deal, but rather a habit.
On the climate of graft and corruption, I have often lamented on the apparent disconnect between the faith and behavior of corrupt Filipinos, who take pride in being a Catholic or Christian country in Asia. While the Church is still “a trusted institution,” according to Mr. Denis Murphy in an article in America Magazine, it also has failed, not only in being the “church of the poor” but also in teaching about morality! The Catholic schools, as well as the public schools and the government, have failed the people. We must teach our children about right and wrong! We must teach them that corruption does not jibe with our faith! Edu Punay noted in an article in Philippine Star (1/1/07) that while in the past the bishops simply issue pastoral messages, they are now taking a more active stand on issues including gambling, mining, sex education, corruption in government and others. That's good news, indeed!
In stewardship spirituality, we teach not only about trusting that God will provide us with everything we need, but also about being trustworthy, about being honest in all our dealings. We must become people of integrity. Corruption, therefore, has no place in stewardship spirituality.
Shelley Ortiz recently opined, "The more I think it (the Philippines) can’t get any more corrupt, current leadership always proves me grievously wrong."
Yet we cannot give up hope! As they say, "it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Individually, we can light a candle in our own way. Professionally and personally I like to promote the good things about certain subjects (that's why I am in the public relations field) -- Filipinos, the Philippines, Metro Infanta, the Catholic Church or St. Thomas More -- to counteract the negative news about these subjects. Collectively with institutions such as civic organizations, the Church, schools and others, we can do more. Some people have the gift of saving the whole world, but thinking in such a grandiose manner usually is an exercise in futility. What I advocate is for each one of us to find a way to make a difference one person at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time, or one town at a time.
Metro Infanta Foundation believes in this wisdom. Our scholarship program is one way we are collectively lighting a candle. There are a number of institutions and organizations in Metro Infanta working for the common good, and thus lighting their own candle. I hope that, together, we can address the various needs of Metro Infanta.
Can you imagine if expatriates from different towns would concentrate on just their own town; if all of us "light a candle," so to speak, what a difference it would make in the "darkness" in the Philippines. What do you think?