It was an old refrain which she’s intoned whenever it suits her, but Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is right: “Many people are poor because there are Filipino leaders who place politicking and their self-interests and ambitions above [the interests] of the nation.”

It’s not exactly a brilliant formulation, but one gets the point, although some will argue that it’s not “many people” who’re poor, but “most Filipinos” (the government says 30 percent, but some estimates say between 67 to 80 percent of the population are poor). The “leaders” Mrs. Arroyo referred to are also most of the time self-proclaimed ones who qualify as “leaders” only because of their official positions. They have neither the vision, the moral compass nor the capacity for self-sacrifice of the real leaders this country needs to pull much of its population out of the deepening pit of poverty to which they have been condemned.

Although she was obviously exempting herself from this category of “leaders,” bitter experience since 2001 has shown that these “leaders” include Mrs. Arroyo herself and her own coterie of crooked politicians, who incidentally were once again in action the other day, doing what they do best by throwing out the latest impeachment complaint against her–which was so “insufficient in substance” (it consisted of all of five pages) it could only have been part of a plot to prevent any other impeachment complaint from being filed until next year.

The beneficiary of this latest act of “leadership” in Congress, however, went on to proclaim that “there are politicians who are heartless and soulless and ready to use force to attain their ambitions and objectives.”

Mrs. Arroyo was again right, although some would modify that statement somewhat to read, “politicians of the Philippine variety are not only mindless, they’re also heartless and soulless and ready to use force as well as deceit and any other means to attain their ambitions and objectives.”

Mrs. Arroyo was speaking at the meeting of the National Security Council Cabinet Group, among whose denizens, some human rights groups contend, are those responsible for putting together and implementing the national policy of extra-judicial executions–which involves not only the use of force, but also the use of state violence in furtherance of the narrowest objectives–which should make it obvious that they, to begin with, have neither hearts nor souls, although some claim to be men for others.

It should be evident by now to everyone except to the hopelessly mindless that the peculiar breed of politician that has evolved out of the black lagoon of Philippine politics is uniformly and eminently useless for anything except securing its personal, familial and class interests.

It doesn’t matter whether Philippine politicians are identified with the opposition or the administration, and to what “party” they claim to belong. Whether in power or out, these creatures all seek out what’s best for themselves and theirs, and will make any compromise with even the devil himself (or herself) to further those interests. A scan of the political landscape should suffice, among the major characteristics of it being the preeminence of the backroom deals that have been forged between the Arroyo regime and those who still dare call themselves oppositionists, such as, among others, the Estradas, and certain stellar members of the Nacionalista Party in the Senate and the House.

Is politicking –and politicians–indeed to blame for the deepening poverty among Filipinos? The answer is yes, but not in the sense that Mrs. Arroyo means. Politics is crucial to the making of just and prosperous societies. But if competent governance is about the use of political power to address a nation’s needs, problems and aspirations, it should be obvious that what passes for governance in this part of the planet doesn’t qualify.

If wisely used, political power would address the roots of Philippine poverty in the unequal distribution of wealth that’s the inevitable result of a social system that allots the benefits of economic progress to a few while denying them to the many. That social system explains why hunger is spreading among the population despite claims that the economy has grown by 7.5 percent. The statistics are clear. The share of the poorest 30 percent of the country’s families in 2006, for example, accounted for only 8.6 percent of the country’s total income, while the top 10 percent families accounted for almost 36 percent (Ibon Databank).

Responsible governance–by politicians with heart and soul as well as brain enough to realize the urgency of seeing to it that Filipinos are adequately fed, housed and clothed–would seek the solution in reforming a social system that makes the poverty of millions and the wealth of a handful inevitable.

But the putrid politicians this country of lost hopes has spawned will simply not do that, because, in addition to not having either the intelligence or the imagination to envision an alternative to the terrible present, they also use politics only to feed their ambitions and fill their pockets first, last and always.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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