(A commentary by Harvey S. Keh)
In one of my interviews with ABS-CBN, the news reporter asked me, despite all the scandals and corruption (Hello Garci, One Billion Peso Fertilizer Scam, Irrigation Scam and Six Billion Peso NBN-ZTE Broadband Scam) that have hounded this present administration, why do you think do majority of young Filipinos choose not to do anything about it. She further added that there seems to be no uproar from the Filipino youth and young professionals from all over the country, does that mean that we are okay with all these scandals that are mushrooming almost on a weekly basis? I asked these same questions to my students and friends and here are their answers (summarized already):
Student A: Sir Harvey, Naiinis naman talaga kami sa nangyayari pero wala naman kaming magagawa eh, estudyante lang kami at kahit sino namang ilagay sa gobyerno natin, pareho pa rin silang lahat na magnanakaw. They will only protect their own self-interests.
Student B: Sir, I’m not happy with how our country is being led by our government leaders but I think the best way I can contribute to this country is by becoming a good student, study hard, find a good job and be a good citizen in our country.
Yuppie A: I don’t want to get involved in politics masyadong magulo yan kaya I’d rather just stick to doing my job well and helping my own family besides I’m already helping this country by helping send my younger siblings to school.
Yuppie B: I was part of EDSA II and actually took helped organize the concerts at the EDSA Shrine but as much as I’m very frustrated with how this government is being run, I am no longer convinced that political engagement is the way to go for our country. I would rather focus my energies and resources to helping NGOs and Foundations like Gawad Kalinga and Pathways.
Reflecting upon these answers which I also often receive from the e-mails Filipinos here and abroad send me, I believe that their answers are all valid and I respect them although I don’t totally agree with all of them. Allow me to share with you what I think on each of these answers:
Student A’s answer is typical of a person who is disgruntled with what is happening to our country but who apparently feels helpless about the situation. When I receive this kind of an answer from people and my students, I tell them about what they can do and organizations they can join like Team RP but when they are invited to take part in activities that aim to promote good governance and greater transparency in our government, theyfail to join and act. Sad but true, many Filipinos just love to criticize and point out what is wrong with our leaders but when they are given an opportunity to act about these pressing issues, they refuse to make time and move out of their comfort zone.
Student B’s answer is for me a selfish answer, yes, I believe that a student’s main and foremost responsibility is to study hard and finish education but what about our own responsibility as citizens of this country? In a utopian society, this answer would have been okay but in our present situation as a country in crisis where the gap between the rich and the poor continue to grow and where more than 20 million Filipino families grow hungry each day, this is no longer acceptable especially for students and young professionals who study at the top universities and who come from the middle to upper class of our society. This answer is an easy cop out and
it’s selfish because at the end of the day, just by confining yourself to you own life won’t help our country as much as it will help you.
Yuppie A and B’s answer is all well and good since I admire them for continuing to work hard to provide for their families while at the same time continue to get involved with volunteer work for Gawad Kalinga and Pathways to Higher Education. I admit that I was like Yuppie A and B who just confined myself to working towards helping poor but deserving students go to college and finish their education but I realized that this isn’t enough. I realized that if we are able to reform our government institutions and leadership then there won’t be a need for organizations like Gawad Kalinga and Pathways. We need to realize that in order for us to help uplift the lives of the poor we need to attack the problem at its roots and that is the inability of our government systems to provide these basic services to them.
Isn’t the National Housing Authority supposed to be the one to help provide adequate shelter to every Filipino family? Isn’t it the Department of Education’s job to assist every Filipino child gain access to quality education? A recent study by the World Bank has said that more than 30 billion pesos goes to corruption every year. Imagine if we are able to work together and pressure government into being more transparent and accountable towards curbing corruption then we would have more resources to provide housing for every poor family, irrigation and fertilizers to farmers (which would help alleviate our growing food crisis), higher salaries for our public school teachers, enough textbooks for our students and access to quality healthcare for every Filipino. Working for and helping Gawad Kalinga, Pathways and other non-profit organizations are very much needed in our society today but let us also not forget that unless we work hard towards fighting for and institutionalizing credible and lasting reforms in our government and its leaders, then we will always have to do the fire-fighting because we have failed to solve the cause of the fire.
In summary, what I would like to share with all of you are the following:
a.) We deserve the country that we have. If we want a prosperous and just country, then we should all work hard towards it. If you look at the history of South Korea and Singapore, they were able to turn their country around in less than 30 years. I believe we can do it in less time and do it even better if every Filipino will just care enough to go out of his or her way to help push for reforms in our government. As the saying goes, “Walang makakatulong sa Pilipino kundi kapwa Pilipino rin.”
b.) Genuine Hope of this country does not lie on our government and church leaders and especially not in the ruling elite and oligarchs, it rests in each one of us. As I have always said, every Filipino whether you live here or abroad can complain about the rampant corruption and problems that is present in our government but after the complaining have you asked yourself, what will you do about it? Are you willing to sacrifice some of your time and resources to making yourself heard by our government leaders? If we want change in our country, we need to change ourselves, change starts with each one of us. We need to stop making excuses about why we cannot act and why we cannot take part in actions that will reform our present government systems.
c.) If our government and its leaders were doing their job effectively then there wouldn’t be a need for a Gawad Kalinga or a Pathways. I support and firmly believe in Gawad Kalinga, Pathways and other non-profit organizations that are working hard to deliver basic services to the poorest of the poor in our country but don’t you think it’s also time that we start holding government accountable to these basic services that they have failed to provide our people? Of course it will be harder to do this and it may take a longer period of time but if we are able to institutionalize these reforms then we will be able to make our government more efficient and effective and in the end we will be able to help not just seven thousand but seven million Filipino families.
I am not calling for another People Power Revolution nor am I asking for our President’s outright resignation. I’m not also saying that people should quit supporting and volunteering for Gawad Kalinga and Pathways. In fact, I believe that we should continue to support these very laudable and inspiring initiatives. All I’m saying is that these efforts can only yield lasting benefits for the poor and the powerless if all of us would be more involved in activities and movements that would push for greater truth, accountability and reform in our government because in these times of crisis, despair and growing hopelessness in our country, the poor can’t wait and Gawad Kalinga may not be enough.
Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government. Harvey as a Filipino social entrepreneur has co-founded Pathways to Higher Education-Philippines and AHON Foundation, both these organizations help in promoting access to quality education for every Filipino child. Aside from this, he is also Chairman of Team RP, a youth-led organization which is part of the BUSINA movement that promotes truth, accountability and reform in our government.
If by some chance you were moved to act by this e-mail and want to join us in pushing for genuine and lasting reforms in our government, please let him know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.