COMMENTARY: “…The strength of a people is measured by the welfare of the weak…”

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 03 Sept) — The foregoing words are culled from the Preamble of the Swiss Constitution.  These are the words just before the usual injunction (as in any preamble), “we…hereby adopt the following Constitution…”

Having had the privilege of visiting Switzerland twice, I can’t help but ask myself questions that redound to comparing our system with that of the Swiss.’  I know, it is like comparing (sweet) apples to (tart) oranges:  there is no basis for comparison, for almost all aspects in the lives of the Swiss and the Filipinos.  But having lived in some conflict-affected areas in Mindanao for more than four decades of my life, I can’t help asking myself why Switzerland and similar European countries are generally peaceful, economically progressive, and where the inequalities among different sectors are not as sharply divergent as it is in our country.

This year, 2017, Switzerland is said to achieve one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, with very low unemployment.  And in Switzerland, you can never hear any random, extra-judicial killings, or even a hint of state-sponsored unrelenting campaign against illicit drugs.  In contrast, these are our daily fare in the Philippines these days, spiced up real hot with expletives and crass cursing, coming no less than from our highest government official.

At home in Gensan, I continue to commiserate with my Meranaw brothers and sisters (among whom are my dearest family friends) of their on-going state of anxiety and misery.   The bombing spree in Marawi City continues, with no sign of a let up, despite the admission of government troops that they are very close to pin down the very few remaining terrorist rats in a very small land area comparable to that of a midsize house lot (500 square meters – maybe they should check their data on this?). Now it seems that the behemoth (our government troops), is no match for a group of ragtag, nimble adversaries who have managed to bring this fight to seemingly endless rounds of fiery exchange.

Unlike in boxing, the rounds in the fighting ring that is Marawi are interminable, and no referee is there to call the fight to end when one party in the fight is down and weakened to stand more hard punches.  And no one is cheering the victor, unlike when our boxing champ raises his fist in victory over the fallen boxer.    The  Meranaws are of course not cheering, but imploring government to end this mayhem, and to allow them to return home. More than 100 days of the siege have weakened them not only physically but also emotionally, and psychologically.  Evacuees in Iligan and in other evacuation sites are known to show telltale signs of mental disturbance and there are only a few professionals who are deemed fit to handle these cases.

But of course, the President has declared no such end to the bombings, and in fact, has pronounced a possible extension of Martial Law in all of Mindanao, claiming among others, that the ISIS scare has spread to Buldon, Maguindanao (one of the Iranun towns near the Lanao-Maguindanao border).  (Digressing a bit, is this claim backed up by real intelligence reports?  I am quite bothered by his pronouncement, because it might turn out to be a “failure of intelligence,” as this has been made the reason for not having addressed the brewing restiveness in Marawi and elsewhere in Mindanao.  Failure of intelligence is a non-phrase or oxymoronic – I believe there was no intelligence at all.)

Going back to the title of this piece, I am saying that Switzerland is running true to its basic law, of being concerned about the welfare of the weak.  This is where their strength lies:  there are no rebels and dissident groups; people are generally welcoming even of the most different-looking people who visit their country.  I refer to my fellow Muslimat who continue to assert their faith through their niqab (complete facial veil).  During my visit, I was a little bit nervous that my hijab (head cover) will get in the way during the required immigration checks, but I was happily surprised it did not.) And they don’t only look after their own “weak” sectors; they have extended this empathy with weak populations in other parts of the world, like our country, for instance.

Compare this thrust with that of ours:  all throughout the years, from one President to the other, the Philippines has never expressed collectively, in its Constitution or any other legal instrument, that our strength as a nation depends on how we look after the weakest part of it.  We can cite a statement associated with the late President Ramon Magsaysay:  “to those who have less in life, there should be more in law.”  This means that government, through its laws and other legal instrumentalities and policies, should protect the weak, rather than the strong, when it comes to ensuring the former’s overall welfare.  But I still have to see this made operational in day-to-day life anywhere in the Philippines.

On a daily basis, we see the deep chasm between the rich and the poor, the politicians and the people they are supposed to serve.  Ironically, politicians only become “servants” when they beg the people, rich and poor alike, for their votes in the next elections.  Afterwards, they forget their promises to look after the welfare of the poor.  They don’t even mind them, even if they see the downtrodden walk barefoot or in hole-ridden cheap rubber slippers.  They are quite comfortable in their air-conditioned cars, listening to their favorite music piped in through the sophisticated sound systems of their vehicles, or in their top-of-the-line, ostentatiously decorated smart phones (only the phones are!).

The government has come up with some poverty alleviation programs, like the Conditional Cash Transfers.  But this and other similar programs are not really working toward making the poor and the marginalized economically and politically strong.  It is pushing them to the edges of abject poverty, not to recover or trampoline out of it, but continue to be depending on it, like one addicted to illegal drugs.  Expectedly, it is from their ranks where the foot soldiers of drug lords are recruited, and they are the ones who get killed first.  The victims become victims more than threefold, and they continue to be persecuted, despite studies and expert opinion on the reproductive nature of poverty spawning not only petty but even capital crimes.

The frame upon which this program, and all other poverty alleviation ones has reinforced the power relations between the state and the ordinary, marginalized groups, complete with the condescending and exclusive policies that are the hallmarks of a government that looks at the poor as a burden to governance.  This is so much unlike that of the Swiss government’s orientation to lessen the inequalities among the diverse populations there.  The Swiss Constitution enjoins almost all citizens to live with “diversity in unity” and to always consider an inclusive approach to governance – by the principle of recognizing that the state can only be strong if the welfare of the weak is foremost on its agenda.

And then we have the Marawi “war.”  It is true that not all Meranaws can be classified as among the “weak” in our country; but the fact remains that they are still politically poor as far as representation and voice, or even agency is concerned.  They may not be economically poor like many indigenous populations are or isolated groups in geographically-challenged areas, but they have their fair share of being misunderstood, being discriminated against, like all other Muslims in the Philippines.

Again, given present circumstances, I ask myself another question:  if the terrorists attacked Makati City, the hub of business of the country and probably one of the wealthiest and economically strong areas in the country, will the President have declared “carpet bombing” to get rid of the terrorists?

Your guess is probably like mine, that he will be careful in making decisions where Makati is concerned.  It is the center of financial strength, and like all other past Presidents before him, he will not dare weaken a strong center.  If he does, he will curse the terrorists no end, but will never blame the people of Makati for his crazy decision to bomb it, unlike what he did in the aftermath of his decision to raze Marawi to the ground.

“You brought this upon yourselves, for having coddled the terrorists among your communities…” or something to that effect.  But he can always throw his concern to help the weak out of the window for areas like Marawi.  After all, he and the government he heads do not consider that the strength of a nation lies in looking after the welfare of the weak.

(MindaNews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam has just “changed tires” or “re-tired” from being a Professor at the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Mindanao State University – General Santos City. Presently she is busy doing what she likes best- doing social development/research work on the side while tending to a very playful cat, Princess Naddiyah, for lack of a grandchild, most of her time at home)

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