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Eight-step process for rebuilding the Philippines

By Elgin M. Sampal

(Ed’s Note: The author is 27-year-old Elgin M. Sampal, son of  registered nurse Elvis Sampal and Cristy Martinez- Sampal, two-term and current president of Philippine Nurses Association of Nevada (PNAN). Elgin is a student at University of Las Vegas-Nevada (UNLV) where he double-majors in International Business and Psychology. His parents migrated to the U.S. when he was only three years old. Elgin’s interest in the Philippines, its people and culture, was inspired by his visits to the homeland. Like any Filipino patriot of American upbringing, he can’t help but think of ways possible to help uplift the sorry state of his fellow Filipinos. Although he was raised in the U.S. all his life, Elgin says “I am very proud of my upbringing but I am even more proud of my Filipino heritage and history.” This is his take on the current poverty and socio-economic plight of the Philippines based on his last visit to the country a year ago prior to the election of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino. A practical look at the situation as seen from the eyes of a young, caring and involved Pinoy from Las Vegas, Nevada.)

LAS VEGAS – (Note from the author:  The United Nations’ recent findings suggest that many of the countries targeted to progress from the U.N. world poverty rate by 2015 are failing. I find it disturbing and disappointing that the Philippines is one of the few countries to regress, which means it might not reach the goal by 2015. I blogged about this previously and I felt that I had to post this again. – Elgin M. Sampal)

I have actually been holding this blog off for a long time since I came back from the Philippines. I thought I might as well stop procrastinating and get on with it. This entry is about my recent visit to the land of my birth and how it disheartens me to see the continuing abject poverty every time I visit.  Especially now, since I go to Japan about once or twice a year, it actually gives me an opportunity to compare the two countries. The disparity between the two these days is amazing. Both countries were war-torn after WWII, but now only one, Japan,  emerges as the world’s Number 2 economy.

Japan, and even Korea, has emerged from their bombed houses and start to create a technological powerhouse between them, while the Philippines still has trouble providing running water to its citizens in the countryside. I am in no way talking down my heritage the way I know some people do. Far from it. I am merely going to add my input as far as certain steps I believe the Philippines should do to align itself among other powerful nations in the world.

Step 1)  Separate Church and state

I have a big problem with this one. Ever since Spain brought religion to the Philippines, it has become one of the largest Catholic populations in the world. The only problem with this is that since religion is such a big part of the culture, many people live their lives through the teachings of the Bible. I have no qualms with this except that instead of trying to find a niche that would help themselves, a lot of the poor (we call them ‘squatters’ back home) will choose to pray to God instead. “It’s in the hands of the Lord” is pretty much their motto.

In the Philippines, people are almost fanatical when it comes to religion. One of the country’s direst problems is overpopulation. Squatters from the country move down to metropolitan cities like Manila, with seven or eight  children in tow, and live in a tin shack along the Pasig River, polluting it. Since they are poor, they cannot afford to send their children to school, so what happens? Their children become another generation of squatters who also end up having seven or eight kids, as well. It’s a vicious cycle. I know the Church does not believe in contraception, but these people need it. If the Church does not want to distribute birth control or condoms or anything of the sort, they should at least give everyone some education about abstaining or practicing safe sex.

Religion mixes its way into the politics of the country, too. The late Cardinal Jaime Sin’s endorsement of a political candidate almost guaranteed victory at the poll. His calls during the EDSA Revolution were instrumental in ousting both Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada out of power. This was the only time I would ever let religion come into play because it helped oust a dictator and a dictator-to-be. In any other cases, priests, bishops, cardinals, or any other religious official should stay out of  politics in the country. Not only does it mix religion with matters of the state, but it also leads to too much power for an individual to have. (i.e., Popes during the Middle Ages).

Step 2)  Get squatters out of Manila

If you had vacationed in the country recently, you’d never miss their presence. Traveling a short distance from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, chances are you’ve made your way past the squatters’ shanties along Manila’s major roads.

A lot of these people are from the provinces who made their way to Manila with stars in their eyes but no money in their pockets. They watch movies depicting Manila as a bustling metropolis with many job opportunities, and later come to realize that what they see in those movies is far from the truth. Chances are they moved to the city,  could not find a job, and ended up becoming a jeepney or tricycle drivers. They also end up marrying some girl they met along the route, and repeating their parents’ life story,  they also begot  seven or eight children as mentioned earlier.

It really is a sad sight to see. I strongly believe that Manila could have been a very beautiful place if the squatters who have become a blight to Manila’s cityscape were not there. At night, when you look up at Manila’s skyline, it is a sight to behold! Looking down on endless streets strewn with unsightly corrugated tins and cardboard box-like shanties,  the city’s landscape suddenly becomes an eyesore.

Another obvious problem with the squatters is the pollution they bring. Since water is a scarce commodity in metropolitan Manila, many of the squatters live next to the Pasig River – considered one of the world’s dirtiest rivers and proclaimed “dead” by ecologists. Squatters bathe in, collect water from, as well as use the river as a toilet. All of the waste that comes from the Pasig River empties out into Manila Bay facing the South China Sea. The biological waste from that alone is tremendous, and I’m not even counting industrial waste.

One solution is to evict squatters from those areas, right? Wrong. It is wrong because the minute you evict a squatter from the area, in about a week or two, there will be another set of squatters to take their place. This is the human equivalent of rats. I feel it is a very serious problem that should be addressed by government officials back home. Maybe the best thing to do instead of just evicting them from that private land on which they squat, the government must implement a stiffer penalty like jail time. At least that way, if they pitch on someone else’s land, jail might make them think otherwise. Government-funded housing runs short and fail to accommodate all of them. The Philippine government should encourage these squatters to return to their respective provinces and provide them with livelihood projects to entice them to stay put. Government should put up more industries in the country sides and develop whatever natural resources are available, and provide returnees with skills and knowledge that they could apply to work in newly-developed industries in the provinces.

Step 3)   Stop electing celebrities to run the country

I have never seen a country with more actors and actresses in government than the Philippines. Vilma Santos, Bong Revilla and his wife, Lito Lapid, and Tito Sotto are just a few names who come easily to mind. Clearly it is a testament to how gullible and vulnerable our electors are in the Philippines. Because they like the way these celebrities acted in a movie, they automatically vote them into office. The public must realize that these celebrities might not have the public’s best interest at heart.

Also, one f the things that bothers me is the prevalent smear tactics politicians employ during the campaign.  Anything and everything dirty that a candidate has done in the past is highlighted and used to the full advantage of the opponent. As soon as the campaign heats up and gets violent, innocent people end up getting hurt or dead. Exaggerated? Trust me, it does. The right people with noble interest and aspiration to serve  become too scared to run for fear of their lives. So, who else do the people look up to? The actor or actress whose movie they just saw two weeks ago.

One clear example is boxing sports icon  Manny Pacquiao who ran for Congress representing the lone seat in Sarangani, Mindanao. What the hell is Manny P. doing running for office? Would I trust him to get laws passed and help pass a legislation that I might have a pension check coming my way when I retire? No way. Manny is a great boxer, but that’s where the line has to be drawn. The people can’t get caught up in the hype of a celebrity to help make decisions for the best interest of the country. (Ed’s Note: Manny Pacquiao has been elected representative last May 2010). It’s like saying I want Megan Fox from “Transformers” to run for the U.S. Senate. There’s no real reason why I want her to run, but I like the way she acted in that movie. That makes no sense, and that’s what people back home need to realize. Filipinos are slowly making the same mistake that Americans did. But that’s another story for another day.

Step 4)   Remittances?

I was very shocked to find out that one of the top contributors to the Philippine economy come from money remittances from overseas workers.  A person from overseas sends (remits) money to his family back home (i.e., an OFW in Saudi Arabia sends money to his family in Batangas). Our countrymen back home should not rely on remittances from overseas workers to get by. Thankfully, the Philippine economy is getting stronger now, due to positive response from agriculture, mining, and outsourcing (call centers and manufacturing). Government must exhaust all efforts to get our foot back in the door as an emerging market in the international arena, and not just depend on the Overseas Filipino Workers’ (OFWs) remittances to bail out the economy.

Step 5)   Take back what’s ours

When I vacationed in Boracay two  years ago, it was quite a surprise to see most of the Korean-owned businesses lining the entire stretch of Boracay beaches.  I got a little angry after I realized it because these businesses should be Filipino-owned. It’s our freakin’ island for Pete’s sake. How is it that half of the businesses there were owned by Koreans? This is where all those OWFs’ remittances come into play.  Instead of working as a  domestic helper, factory worker, nurse, teacher, or what-have-you, why don’t they use some of that remittance money to start a business back home? This idea certainly may not apply to everyone, but I feel that one of the ways to restore pride and a sense of nationalism among Filipinos is to partake in more of an entrepreneurial attitude, instead of letting someone from China, Japan, or Korea stake a claim in it.

Step 6)   Create a national roadway

The reason why the Philippines is such a risky venture for foreign investors at this time is the lack of accessibility from one place to another. Some of you might be thinking that Manila is the only large city back home and that the islands are separated. You are correct, but only to a certain extent.  American president Dwight Eisenhower had the ingenious idea of creating the interstate system back when he was the country’s honcho. He thought that by creating a roadway that went straight through the country sides, it would be easier and faster for people to get to the place they were going, as well as transporting shipments of  materials and goods at a much quicker pace. The distance from Ninoy Aquino International Airport to my dad’s province in Bicol Peninsula is about the same driving distance from Las Vegas to Victorville. It takes about 3 hours or so to get to Victorville from Las Vegas. You want to know how long it takes to get to Bicol from Manila? 14 hours. The drive was ridiculous. The twists and turns slow you down as opposed to having a straight, wide road that would get you from A to B in a much shorter time. If a road of this magnitude were built, there would be more room for economic and job growth. There would be enormous job opportunities for city squatters who could be enticed to go back to their respective provinces. If only the national government would place infrastructure all around the islands, new communities would spread out and sprung – in the process decongesting the overcrowded metropolitan cities like Manila and nearby environs. As more communities and local businesses expand in towns and provinces in the islands, more people will leave the cities, and migrate back to the provinces where there are more job opportunities and ways to sustain a living. This is a sure way to decongest overcrowded metropolitan cities like Manila and other major cities where squatting and crime rates have defined the landscape.

Step 7)   Get rid of the Spanish mentality and those siestas

It seemed to me like “Spanish mentality” has somehow been ingrained into the DNA of Filipinos. This must stop. Corruption starts from this mentality because if you look at some of the countries that were former colonies of Spain, they spill over with corruption like the Philippines, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia – the list goes on. One thing that needs to be removed from the mindset of the people back home is taking three hours for siesta or lunch. While in the Philippines, I observed kids getting out of school at 11 a.m., go home and take lunch, or take a nap, and then go back to school at 2 or 3 p.m.  This is ridiculous! Who would want to go back to school or work after resting for three hours? Productivity goes flat!

Step 8)   Re-establish nationalism

Pardon me for repeating myself: Filipinos do not want to be Filipinos. I know of some Filipinos who refuse to visit back home because they do not want to associate with their culture. I know of others who have never experienced what it is to be a Filipino because their parents never taught them. Filipinos who were born in the  Philippines talk down about their own country like it is a bastard child. I hear people say “Oh, I’m not Filipino, I’m Visayan” or “I’m not Filipino, I’m Hawaiian.” If you have a blood relative who is Filipino, chances are you might be one, too. It is sad to see how much Americanized Filipino immigrants have become. While second-generation migrants from other Asian countries take so much pride of their own culture and heritage, it is sad to see and hear some second-generation Filipinos do not even know who Jose Rizal was, or what books he wrote, or what he died for.

Observing the current mentality of most Filipinos today, and the sad state of the country, it behooves me to think that our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, died for nothing. Filipinos back home are more concerned with trying to follow the path of others (Americans, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese), than forge their own. Sadly, even the ones who have migrated to America and received better exposure, are not any better. They act like they came from the ghetto, and talk like they did not know where they came from. It is a sad thing to see. I hope we, as a people, may one day become just as nationalistic as those from other countries, and show true pride in ourselves – as Dr. Rizal had hoped for.

I realize it is going to be an uphill climb. But I also know that Filipinos are resilient. We only need to help each other out.

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