The People’s Grace

The People’s Grace

It is customary for a lot of people to say grace, a short prayer before eating a meal. The most common grace among Catholics is: “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” But to a lot of people in the Philippines, which is predominantly Catholic, saying grace is meaningless because they don’t have food or not enough food on the table. That’s the kind of existence that 43% — 9.3 million families – consider themselves “food-poor” from a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey.

The SWS survey was what Sen. Grace Poe referenced when she delivered a privilege speech on the Senate floor last October 27, 2014. She said that out of the 43 million “food-poor” individuals, three million battled severe hunger, a condition she said of being “always” or “often” hungry.

She prefaced her speech: “October 16 was World Food Day. But for many Filipinos it was ‘no food day’ as usual. That would be hard to believe in a country getting glowing economic report cards and whose capital is brightened by blinding billboards advertising all kinds of food. But the fact is millions of Filipinos go to bed, go to work, or go to school hungry.”

Sen. Poe also referenced the 8th National Nutrition Survey, which found that 7.36 million children below the age of five are malnourished. However, she said, “The Food and Agriculture Organization or FAO gives a higher estimate — 15 million or bigger than the population of Metro Manila. UNICEF says globally, we rank 9th in the most number of stunted kids.”

Indeed, for a country that boasts of a robust economic growth – highest GDP growth forecast among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-6 (ASEAN-6) members for 2014-2015 — during the presidency of President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III, the hunger rate increased in the past two years. The SWS survey for the fourth quarter of 2013 showed hunger at 18.1% of families. For the same period in 2012, hunger was at 16.3% of families. It’s sad to note that at a time of unprecedented economic growth, poverty went up in large numbers. Where did all that money go? Or could it be that there was really no “economic growth” in spite of the country’s impressive Gross Domestic Product (GDP); thus, defying commonly-accepted economic truism?

Corruption vs. poverty

This reminds me of P-Noy’s campaign slogan, “Walang korap, walang mahirap,” which translates to “No corruption, no poverty.” If that equation were true, could it also be correct to presume that if corruption increased, then poverty would increase?

In my article, “Rx for Poverty and Corruption” (December 9, 2005), I wrote: “What is the cause of corruption? Some people say that poverty is to blame for the ‘culture of corruption.’ A veteran Philippine Senator once said, ‘Poverty breeds corruption.’ Does it, really? Or is it the other way around, ‘Corruption causes poverty’?

“A study made by Management Systems International in Washington, DC, in 2003, has concluded: ‘Corruption has direct consequences on economic and government factors, intermediaries that in turn produce poverty.’ The study produced two models. On the one hand, the ‘economic model’ postulates that corruption affects poverty by first impacting economic growth factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels. In other words, ‘Increased corruption reduces economic growth which would increase poverty.’ On the other hand, the ‘government model’ asserts that corruption affects poverty by first influencing governance factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels. In other words, ‘Increased corruption reduces governance capacity which would increase poverty.’

“Is it then fair to presume that increasing economic growth and increasing government capacity would decrease poverty? If so, in order to eradicate poverty, corruption should be dealt with in a fashion that would deter people — particularly government officials — from practicing corruption. However, the problem is: The Philippines does not have an effective deterrence to stop corruption.”

Strong leadership

So, what does it take to have an “effective deterrence” to stop corruption? It sounds like a simple question but that requires a complex answer. Or, could it be that the answer is as simple as the question, which is “strong leadership”?

History tells us that a strong leader who is imbued with a fervent desire to change – nay, revolutionize — the way our government is being run, produces the best results. And when I said “strong leader,” I’m not talking about the likes of Ferdinand Marcos but in the mold of Ramon Magsaysay, Lee Kuan Yew, and Nelson Mandela.

And looking at the current crop of presidential wannabes who call themselves “leaders,” none qualifies for the job. They’ll just be the same as most of those who held – and abused — power before them; that is, corrupt to the core.

What the country needs is a person untainted by corruption and who is committed to eradicating poverty. Does it sound like an impossible dream? Yes, it does. Yet, there is always hope. And sometimes it comes in a strange way… a miracle. But if we lose even a glimmer hope, and stop looking for the right person to lead our nation, then the Philippines would be consigned to perdition.

Amazing Grace

What we need is a modern-day Joan of Arc. Who I have in mind is Sen. Grace Poe, who stands out as someone who would galvanize the people waiting for the leader to free them from the clutches of poverty.

Many people believe that Grace’s emergence from relative obscurity and rising to number one position in the 2013 senatorial elections was providentially inspired. Indeed, never in the history of Philippine politics had a neophyte politician — who never held an elected or appointed position in government — attracted the support of 10 million voters, one million votes more than the attractive and experienced politician who placed second.

It is interesting to note that Grace’s father, the late action hero Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ), garnered 11.7 million votes when he ran for president in 2004… and lost. However, many believe that he would have won had his opponent, then incumbent president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, did not cheat. Election experts averred that Arroyo cheated Poe of at least one million votes using dagdag-bawas (vote-padding/vote-shaving system), which would have been enough to offset Arroyo’s lead. It is expected that FPJ’s “command votes” would go to his daughter if she runs.

With the election still a year and half away, Grace is not expected to make known her plans. Not yet. But as the election gets nearer, a groundswell of support is expected to build up, which begs the question: Would there be a movement to draft Grace for President? Personally, I believe that a campaign to draft her would soon materialize and could easily get at least a million signatures. And riding high on the crest of popularity, Grace would be the people’s candidate… the people’s Grace, indeed.