Now you know why PRRM is celebrating.
You have seen our presentation. You heard our Chairperson Helena Z Benitez tell the short story of how PRRM was born, how it has grown, how it has become stable and yet has not stood still. You’ve gotten a glimpse of what PRRM has done for the poor in the barangays, what it has done for our country, and what it intends to do from here on.
Indeed, I’m proud and honored to be presiding over the celebration of a turning point in PRRM’s life—from the past 50 to the next 50 years. I tell you, it’s such a great feeling of fulfillment and hope, but also one of anxiety and concern, much like the way we felt at the turn of the millennium two years ago.
I’d like to share this feeling with all of you who have come to join and celebrate with us today. And of course, I would like to start by paying tribute and giving honor to all our founders, pioneers and volunteers, to our past and present officers and members of the Board of Trustees, to our past and present staff, our PO partners, our chapter members, our funders. Were it not for all of these patriotic Filipinos and friends we would not be here today celebrating PRRM’s 50th anniversary. Special mention must be made of our Chair – Sen. Helena Benitez, our Vice-Chair – Mr. Ting Jayme, our Treasurer – Mr. Luis Garcia, and of course my predecessor – Mr. Boy Morales – their leadership, wisdom, dedication, perseverance and tenacity carried PRRM through turbulent times. Indeed PRRM is a movement that refuses to die and just fade away.
We have now heard our marching orders. The strategic plan, whose production involved many of us here, lays out what needs to be done. Our banner theme “Building rural capacities for sustainability” mandates PRRM to continue as a movement creating broader local movements for sustainability. We will help create the foundation of a just and sustainable society at the base, in the rural communities, in the coastal areas, up in the mountains, where we find poverty at its worst. We will strive to educate ourselves and others to learn the way out of the poverty dilemma. Together with our many partners, we will strive to help forge broad-based consensus around the socio-economic, socio-political development issues that have put our nation down for so long. We will work as one with anyone and with any group of citizens striving to restore the pride and honor that our country deserves to enjoy in the community of nations.
That, in brief, is what PRRM wants to do. That is what PRRM will do to help our country move forward and get out of the deep crisis it is in.
Let me say, though, by way of self-criticism, that we in PRRM have not done all we can for our country. For certainly PRRM can do more. PRRM can do better. I however do not agree with what some are saying that PRRM has been parochial and minimalist. The evidence on hand shows otherwise. Helping in nation-building and promoting international understanding have always been with us throughout all of those 50 years. Our signal contributions from the ground up, and elsewhere, are proof enough that PRRM has been striving from birth to help lay the basis for a better future. Of course, we’ve had our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures. But we continue to learn, to improve our ways, to be more responsive and effective in doing our tasks.
But still we cannot avoid asking the nagging question: Why is poverty still with us today after all the years of striving to end it? What really has gone wrong and continues to go wrong with our country?
We believe we now know poverty like the palm of our hand. Our best minds have analyzed it inside out and from every conceivable angle. We can recognize its many faces and guises. We resolved long ago that it’s a social aberration that cannot be allowed to continue. Our policymakers never miss making it the centerpiece in the national agenda. In fact, every regime has promised to reduce poverty; one even declared all-out war against it. Unfortunately, not one has made good on its promise in a real way. Poverty is as stubborn as ever and even getting more nasty. We should realize by now that doing away with poverty requires more than words and promises, more than purity of heart and intention. We should realize by now that reducing poverty won’t happen without the right vision and a superior strategy supported by a broad consensus and a stronger commitment to make the strategy work, as our Gani Serrano so well put it.
PRRM believes that economic growth is necessary but not enough. The fruits of growth must be equitably shared. We cannot let the benefits from growth to trickle up to the already rich of our society. Policies that aim to narrow down the equity gap between the richest 20 percent and the poorest 20 percent, like land reform and progressive taxation, need to be forcefully implemented.
PRRM believes that long-term sustainability will be compromised if the environment continues to be depleted and polluted. Thus, we must pay the environmental costs of growth now and not later. Resources must be allocated for the regeneration of poisoned soil, water and air, and of course we must invest in our education on the ways of sustainability.
PRRM believes that the poor should be at the center of development. The rich can help, but the poor themselves must do the job. To reduce poverty, the poor themselves must fully participate, if not take the lead, from the point of diagnosis of their poverty to prescribing and acting on what needs to be done. In other words, poverty reduction is not possible without people empowerment.
Poverty also must be approached from all sides. This suggests a complementary and synergistic policy and project intervention. Direct attack on poverty, as in income-generating projects, cannot get far enough nor can it be sustained for long without a compatible and proactive state policy. Conversely, by showing how poverty is effectively dealt with at the micro level, we will have better chances of changing bad policies decided at higher levels.
There are good lessons to learn from our Asian neighbors. In South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, absolute poverty has been significantly reduced through development strategies that ensured economic growth accompanied by relative social distribution. This has been implemented by first giving the poor access to land, capital and technology. Also, huge investments in human development, especially education, have enabled these countries to rebuild their economies and sustain growth to ‘miracle’ levels.
Unfortunately, our government continues to believe in its trickle-down development strategy and in its inequitable financial and trade liberalization policies.
Liberalization or protection is not bad by itself. The more basic question is what for and for whom. From the perspective of ‘equity with growth,’ liberalization and protection are targeted in the interest of the poor and the environment. The rich, especially the richest 10 percent, can very well protect themselves. It is the poor people who need a liberal and protective treatment the most. If government truly believes in free competition, it must first do away with all the barriers that keep the poor out of competition. This can be done by focusing on building the capacity of the poor to address their own basic needs – in food, health, education, housing and livelihood. Real development should encompass economic progress, ecological sustainability, social justice and equity.
There’s no substitute for relying on ourselves for our own deliverance. Self-reliance is essential, especially in a rapidly globalizing world. The point here is to build and utilize local capacities with a long view to the creation of self-governing and self-sufficient communities. This vision may still be a distant dream on the horizon, but it will be worth all our efforts to move in that direction.
I dare say the founders of PRRM would surely be mad to see poverty still very much with us in the next 50 years. Poverty certainly is not the destiny of our people. If only government would listen hard enough and do what many people and groups like PRRM have been saying all these years, things can and will change for the better.
There’s no time to lose. Many signs, here and worldwide, point towards a negative direction and dark future. We cannot wait a day longer to make a real change.
Mga kasama, mga kaibigan, isulong, itaguyod at ipaglaban natin ang tunay ng kaunlaran ng ating bansa na papakinabangan ng mahihirap at ng higit na nakakarami nating mamamayan.
Maraming salamat at mabuhay ang PRRM! Mabuhay ang Filipinas!
Speech delivered at PRRM 50th Anniversary, 19 July 2002, PRRM Headquarters, Quezon City
March 8, 2014, Cocoon Boutique Hotel
Quezon City, Philippines