POSTSCRIPT / January 1, 2015 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Peace, progress: Twin focus in the New Year

COMMON PRAYER: From the Vatican to Malacañang to the lowly parish in the countryside, the common prayer for the New Year is the promotion of peace and the reduction of poverty.

The universal prayer intention of Pope Francis himself for the first month of 2015 is: “That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of goodwill may work together for PEACE”.

And the Holy Father’s intention for evangelization is: “That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to SERVE THE POOR with zeal”.

In Malacañang, President Noynoy Aquino and his advisers press their own search for an entente cordiale (if laying down rebel arms is still a distant dream) with separatist Muslim bands and the communist-led insurgency.

Parallel to that, the Aquino administration keeps looking for a way out of the box where, despite statistics showing macroeconomic gains, millions of Filipinos are still mired in poverty.

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MUSLIM VOICE: A positive note comes from Imam Ebra M Moxsir Al-Haj, an Islamic scholar and a chaplain of the Philippine National Police, who called on his “Muslim brothers and sisters to join the Holy Father in his efforts.”

In a New Year message, Moxsir urged his fellow Filipino Muslims to welcome Pope Francis, who will visit Manila and typhoon-devastated Leyte this month, and support his call for interfaith cooperation based on honesty and goodwill as the way to peace.

He shared the Pope’s call against extremism, noting that only peace between religions can stop it: “Good Muslims and Christians all want peace… Education has an important role to play to make it happen… We must see to it that our brothers and sisters are properly educated in their faith so that they will not be swayed by extremists”.

From our corner, we urge our brother Muslims not to force in one grab the carving out of a federal-type Bangsamoro state in Mindanao. The Congress has to take out the unconstitutional sections of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

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WHAT’S BEING POOR?: The latest survey in the last quarter showed that slightly more than half (52 percent) of Filipinos or some 57 million (multiply 11.4 million households by 5 members each) claimed they were poor.

The Social Weather Stations poll, conducted from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 in face-to-face interviews with 1,800 adults nationwide, brings the full-year average to 54 percent – the worst under the Aquino administration. The same average was recorded in 2006.

Just when is a family considered poor? The self-rated poverty threshold is the monthly budget that poor households need for home expenses so as not to consider themselves as poor in general.

The survey found the self-rated poverty threshold at P20,000 from P15,000 in Metro Manila, and P12,000 from P8,000 in the Visayas. It stayed at P10,000 in Mindanao, and fell to P8,000 from P10,000 in balance Luzon.

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INTRUDERS: Being poor is relative. A Filipino unaffected or who does not care about the lifestyle of his peers or neighbors can lead a life of contentment without reflecting whether he is poor or not.

But when an interviewer comes to ask if he considers himself poor, the respondent is prompted to examine his situation and compare it with that of others. His self-assessment is distorted by the intruding pollster and other external factors come into play.

A farmhand may lead a contented life eating vegetables, rice and fish. But when assaulted by advertisements tempting him to try hamburgers, soda and french-fries, which he cannot afford, he may sink into a state of self-rated poverty when interviewed.

His Church’s admonition that “blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth” may not easily find his now-cluttered mind a fertile ground for those seeds from the beatitudes.

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COMMITMENTS: Poverty and perceptions of it come in various guises. Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman sometimes points out the matter of dressing, which could be misleading both for the dresser and those looking at the person and his attire.

She talks of some poor recipients of the administration’s multibillion-peso CCT (Conditional Cash Transfer) doles who sometimes bother to dress up a bit when they go to claim their cash ration.

The government plans to eradicate poverty under the Philippines Development Plan 2011-2016 assuming an annual economic growth of 7-8 percent and its achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Under the MDG, the Philippines committed to cut extreme poverty from the 33.1 percent in 1991 to 16.6 percent by 2015.

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SPIRITUAL POVERTY: There is another kind of poverty which is the poverty in spirit that Christ actually preached.

On the possible confusion, preacher Billy Graham explained: “The Bible does warn us against being empty and impoverished in our souls, and urges us to seek spiritual riches instead. Jesus said, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.

“But Jesus also said that there is another kind of spiritual poverty — one we should seek. He said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. What did He mean? Simply this: We must be humble in our spirits. If you put the word ‘humble’ in place of the word ‘poor’, you will understand what He meant.

“When we come to God, we must realize our own sin and our spiritual emptiness and poverty. We must not be self-satisfied or proud in our hearts, thinking we don’t really need God. If we are, God cannot bless us.

“Don’t let pride or anything else get in the way, but turn to Christ in humility and faith — and He will bless you and save you.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 1, 2015)

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