(The Human Person In Philippine Society)





God created man in the image of himself,

in the image of God he created him…  (Gen. 1:27)

Reflecting on the above text of Holy Scripture, against the background of Philippine society as we know it today, we find our imaginations assailed by a host of shocking pictures:  the lifeless body of Senator Aquino sprawled on the tarmac; the brutalized corpse of Father Favali; starving children in Negros; young soldiers lying dead after an NPA attack; the bloodied heads of demonstrators beaten with truncheons.  And we ask ourselves, “What is happening to the image of God among us?  Why is it being so desecrated, and what can we as pastors say or do to uphold the dignity of man against the forces that are daily trampling it in the mud?”

We speak to the Filipino people as pastors , not as politicians, nor as economists or social scientists, although we have attempted to familiarize ourselves with the thinking of these specialists.  As pastors in the present circumstances we must recall the double message of the prophets of Israel:  on the one hand, the divine outrage at human brutality and injustice, and on the other the promise of divine forgiveness if men will repent.

“Take your wrong-doing out of my sight.

Cease to do evil, learn to do good,

search for justice, help the oppressed,

be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.

“Come now, let us talk this over, says Yahweh.

Though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be white as snow;

though they are red as crimson,

they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:16b-18)

As pastors we must also attempt to provide guidelines, based on our Christian faith, for a way out of the present impasse.  We can not and should not provide technical formulas, but we hope to show that a Christian vision of man, does have consequences in the real world and may help us to avoid “solutions” to the present crisis which are neither Christian nor truly human.

The optic which we have chosen, namely what is happening to the poor majority in our society, is, we believe, the most relevant one for us as pastors and for a Church which, in the words of our present Holy Father, sees solidarity with the poor to be “its mission, its service, a proof of its fidelity to Christ…”1

As a final prenote to our reflections, it may be well to recall that this is not the first occasion on which the Philippine Bishops have written on the subject of development.  We would call attention particularly to the “Pastoral Letter on Evangelization and Development,” issued in July of 1973; much of the analysis and reflection contained in that letter remains valid and will serve as background for our discussion.


“I  have seen the miserable state of my people…  I have heard of their appeal to be free of their slave drivers.  Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings…”  (Ex. 3:7)

Poverty and Suffering

The most evident reality in Philippine society today is that very many, particularly among the masses of the poor and the weak, are suffering.  This is true despite the generous efforts of many individuals and organized groups at all levels:  government officials and civil servants, members of the military, church-related and private charitable and civic organizations, social workers and community and labor organizers, and self-sacrificing doctors and health workers who are dedicating their lives to the urban and rural poor.  Despite their efforts, suffering may indeed be more widespread and severe today than at any time since the days of the Japanese Occupation.  The early termination of the milling season in Negros, for example, has meant unemployment, partial or total, for hundreds of thousands who have no means of staying alive other than their daily wage.  The seasonal hunger and malnutrition which have long been the lot of plantation workers whose labor produced a large part of the nation’s foreign exchange, have given way to the threat of actual starvation.  Statistics on the extent of the problem raise the specter of a whole generation of brain-damaged children on the plantations who, if they survive at all, may in time become a generation of feeble-minded adults.

Negros may be the most catastrophic case at the moment, but we are all aware that inadequate employment and the suffering which accompanies it is a national problem, and one which is growing worse over time.  Statistics here only confirm our own observations:  in the last quarter of 1978, 14.7% of the Philippine labor force was either unemployed or working but seeking more work 2.  In the same quarter of last year the percentage was 32.53.  Nor do these figures reflect the total reality even of the employment situation:  the thousands who can find no work in established business or industry and have joined the ranks of the “self-employed” as cigarette-vendors and peddlars; the mothers of families and the children who have entered the labor force because of the inadequacy of the wages received by the father, or been driven into prostitution by the same necessity; the hundreds of thousands who have been obliged to seek employment abroad because they could not find it in the land of their birth.

But even for many of those who have work, life is very hard.  For a long time, prices have been rising faster than wages and the living standards of the poor have consequently been declining.  By 1980 (when the government ceased publishing the figures) the wages of a skilled worker in Manila would buy only 63.7% of what the wages of a similar worker would have bought in 1972, and those of an unskilled worker would buy only 53.4% of what his 1972 wage would have purchased4.  Poverty studies have uniformly demonstrated the inadequacy of the legal minimum wage to provide the basic necessities for the average Philippine family5.

In agriculture, despite the improvements in irrigation, the introduction of high-yielding varieties of rice, the Masagana 99 and other government programs which have undoubtedly contributed to the increase of productivity, the situation of the small farmer is in many cases no better than it was ten or twenty years ago.

The increased cost of fertilizer and other agricultural inputs, rising faster than the price which the farmer receives for his produce, has caught him in a “cost-price squeeze” while the real beneficiaries of the “Green Revolution” have been the urban consumers and the suppliers of credit and technology.  Land reform itself, although it has provided greater security of tenure which is important, has not produced significantly greater equity  in the rural areas; the number of landless workers has increased as a consequence of population growth and the expansion of commercial farming, and real wages have gone down in agriculture as elsewhere6.

It would require far more space than we can devote to the subject if we were to try to discuss the other groups which are suffering economically in our society today, for example tribal Filipinos whose ancestral lands are being invaded by logging and mining firms or are being taken over for development projects, or small fishermen whose livelihoods are being threatened by commercial trawlers. Here we wish only to call attention to the spiral of conflict, criminality and violence which stems in many cases from economic hardship and which in turn brings further suffering to the poor and the weak.  There is conflict in the form of strikes by workers, too often met with violent repression on the part of management and the police.  And an upsurge of street crime, met it seems by policemen with “licenses to kill.”  Many rural areas and some urban areas have fallen under the control of armed gangs, whether sheer criminal elements, “lost commands” or CHDF, NPA or MNLF.  Terrorism and murder as strategies for imposing compliance on a reluctant population are becoming common even in some urban areas, as are acts of vengeance under the guise of ideological conflict.  Thus there appears to be a breakdown of law and order, together with the reappearance in some provinces of local “warlords” with their private armies.  But however one analyses the situation, it is the poor and the weak who suffer; and indeed, in the armed clashes that occur, it is the “little people” on both sides who are killed and leave behind young widows and fatherless children.  Correspondingly, it is the poor and the weak who suffer more from the prevailing climate of fear and uncertainty.

The future does not offer much assurance of early relief.  The more “optimistic” of two scenarios prepared by the World Bank, scenarios which focus on measures judged necessary for overcoming our present economic crisis, sees personal consumption expenditures dropping behind the 2.4% rate of population growth for the next several years, new employment possibilities insufficient to absorb the 700,000 job-seekers that enter the labor force annually, and per capita income 9% lower in 1990 than in 1983.  The other scenario is indeed frightening:  per-capita consumption 21% below  the 1983 level by 1990 with “growing under–and unemployment in the economy and significant declines in the living standards for the majority of the population, declining  real wages and increasing proportions of people living below the poverty line”7.  Nor is the prospect made any brighter by the divisions within the political opposition, by the activities of those who see armed struggle as the only alternative to the existing situation, or of those who are building private armies in order to maintain it.

Lest we be accused of painting too black a picture of the future and contributing to the very demoralization of which we shall speak below, we should note that economists of various schools are seeking and proposing strategies whereby the recovery time might be shortened .  But the solutions proposed are not without their own difficulties in the judgment of the experts, who in many cases differ strongly among themselves.

Moreover, the long-term future lies under the shadow of our wanton destruction of the environment and waste of the nation’s patrimony of natural resources.  We are polluting our inland waters and the sea around us with household waste, industrial waste, mine tailings and agricultural chemicals8.  Even the air-pollution indicators in Manila seem to have been asphyxiated, and no longer function.  The long lines of logging trucks which clog the roads in various parts of the country testify to the continuing destruction of our forests, and with them, in many cases, of the farmlands ruined by floods and erosion.9


A second tragic feature of our society today we shall call demoralization, in the sense of a loss of hope.  Many thousands, often highly capable and idealistic individuals who could under other circumstances have made a major contribution to the welfare of their fellow citizens, have emigrated abroad; and thousands of others are seeking to do so, despite the loneliness and exploitation which may await them, because they see no possibility for a better life for themselves or their children, if they simply remain here in their own land.

Parallel to the emigration abroad of our skilled manpower, but far less justifiable, is the flight of capital:  a consequence of the demoralization of which we are speaking but also a cause of further discouragement, joblessness, and suffering.

There is widespread doubt too about the prospects for seeing justice done in the case of the Aquino murder, and no hope at all in countless other and less publicized cases.  The intimidation and even murder of witnesses is frequent enough that few dare to testify in court against powerful individuals.  One takes it for granted that, though petty criminals may be dealt with harshly or even hunted down on the streets, those with powerful connections will never see the inside of a prison though they may be responsible for the misappropriation of hundreds of millions of pesos or the torture and “salvaging” of scores of individuals.

The frequent changes in the Constitution, and the subordination of the Supreme Court to the Executive during the period of martial law have cost these institutions much of their credibility as instruments for the defense of the people’s rights.  Nor has the Batasan been able to establish its own credibility as an instrument of the popular will.  There is little confidence in the integrity of the electoral process or of the COMELEC, and a prospect of further disillusionment if the forthcoming elections are not conducted with fairness.  The police, the military and particularly the paramilitary CHDF are seen as threats, together with the NPA, to the democratic process and the people’s freedom.

Massive corruption in high places, misreporting of economic data to international agencies and the manipulation of the economy for election purposes, as well as mismanagement of other people’s money (public funds, the savings of individuals, payments made to our war veterans), by those responsible for safeguarding it, have weakened confidence both in government and in the banking system.

People no longer believe much of what they receive through the mass media, or what is told them by government officials, politicians, or by groups which are attempting to promote their economic interests or ideological points of view.  “Truth” has become, not a value in itself but simply an instrument for the promotion of economic and political strategies.

And finally, disunity, personal ambitions and manipulation within the political opposition groups seem to leave little hope for constructive change coming from that direction.  All of which helps to explain the growing attraction of counsels of desperation such as armed struggle and revolution.

part 2 >



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