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[OPINION] Game of poverty

Jade Harley Bretaña
[OPINION] Game of poverty
'Poverty has become so normalized that society tends to believe that the only solution to get out from it is hard work – as if being poor is the lack of an individual’s will to get out from poverty'

People want to be successful. They work hard to achieve their dreams. They tend to push their limits to accomplish something. But does hard work really lead to success?

Society tends to believe the idea that success has a ladder that everyone should climb. It has a formula that people should strictly follow to achieve success. But the reality is that’s not always the case.

Stories of hard work

It was past 8 pm when I met Lola Nida, 68.

She was selling string beans for P35 per bundle. There were 8 bundles left.

I was moved as I watched her eat and sit on an elevated platform beside the building’s stairway while she sold her string beans. I asked her where she was from as she placed my bundle of string beans inside a plastic bag. She told me that she needs to travel to Malaybalay, Bukidnon, at least twice a week, riding a habal-habal (a public transport motorcycle) for an hour to sell her product and another hour to go home. She needs to work hard for her grandchildren.

On my way home, I also met Lola Flora, 62, a balut vendor. During our conversation she told me that she needs to sell balut from 9 pm to 4 am. She sacrifices her sleep yet her income is still not enough for her entire family. (READ: [OPINION] To escape poverty, hard work is not enough)

Meanwhile, Jeffrey, 22, a part-time college student, sells SIM cards every day along the streets. I always notice him when I pass by. According to him, his life is very difficult because he needs to sell the SIM cards to earn at least P150 a day for food, allowance. and other personal expenses.

These are just some of the social realities facing Filipinos, not just Lola Nida, Lola Flora, and Jeffrey.

Filipinos living in poverty

The World Bank reported that there are 22 million Filipinos – more than one-fifth of the population – who still live below the national poverty line as of 2015.

While society romanticizes the idea that “poverty is not a hindrance to success” and  rags-to-riches stories, a majority of Filipinos work hard day and night but their socio-economic conditions remain deplorable.

During graduation, society celebrates the hard work of poor individuals who finished their college degree. But they’re not concerned why most of the poor have not reached the college level.

Sociology taught me that human society is fundamentally socially structured, regulated, and organized. Human social relationships and dynamics are not a product of coincidence but rather arranged patterns. This pattern is called social structure which guides human society, though it could still be oppressive and manipulative. (READ: It’s about privilege, not about working or studying hard)

Sociologists recognize that human actions are shaped by social forces that are far bigger and more powerful than what a person could ever change by himself.

Truly, these words resonate: “Lower income, less educated voiceless people are so much easier to control. Poverty is not by accident, it’s by design.”

Today, I am so alarmed at the growing number of street children and vagrants in our city. Poverty has become so normalized that society tends to believe that the only solution to get out from it is hard work – as if being poor is the lack of an individual’s will to get out from poverty. People usually blame them for being lazy or not working hard. But hard work is not enough. It goes hand in hand with structural change and opportunities. (READ: [OPINION] The persistence of blaming the poor)

Not everyone could climb up the social ladder despite how much effort and hard work they put into achieving success. Does society intentionally forget to care and help those in need? Or is poverty something that can never be eradicated?

It is heartbreaking to see how society has accepted poverty as a normal and incurable social problem.  

Beacon of light

During the tribute to parents before college graduation day, Ariel, a Manobo – one of the 7 tribes of Bukidnon – gave a speech in our school.

I felt his resentment and conviction as he said “Gika-minusan mi tungod kay Manobo mi (We are being underestimated because we are Manobos)!” 

Most of the Manobo in Southern Bukidnon are poor and socially discriminated. Ariel was struggling financially because his parents could not support him. But due to his perseverance and hard work through the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, he graduated this year.

Together with the Universal Health Care Act – a milestone in healthcare reform in the country – these two laws aid Filipinos, especially the poor. However, in reality, they are not at all sufficient to eradicate poverty in the Philippines.

Through changes in the structural level, those who are on the margins of society could be given opportunities to improve their lives.

As the late Nelson Mandela said: “Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”

Despite the depressing news from different corners of the world, let’s continue fighting against injustice and inequalities.

There is still hope, so long as we continue dreaming for a better society. –

Jade Harley Bretaña is a college instructor teaching sociology subjects at Bukidnon State University. His research interests focus on marginalized sectors and communities.


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