An Open Letter to Mr. Genaro Ruiz Gojo Cruz

(On Behalf of the Poorest of the Poor Filipinos)

April 9, 2020
12:22 A.M.

Dear Mr. Cruz,

I came across your open letter dated April 7, 2020, addressed to those who had received or are expecting to receive the PHP 5,000.00 to PHP 8,000.00 aid from the government. I am not one of them, because by Divine Providence, my parents’ hard work, my own efforts, and sheer luck, I happen to be in a position to possibly weather out this disruption in our economic lives without requiring assistance from the government. But I cannot stop myself from speaking for the poorest of the poor to whom your letter was addressed, because I know a lot of them personally, I had walked with them to assert their rights, I had eaten with my hands and drunk beer with them. I had known them as human beings, most full of hope for the future, but crushed by the oppressive sociopolitical structure that we have, compelling them to remain poor even generations after generations of hard work. They are not abstract concepts to me.

You point out that the aid being given to the poorest of the poor are from taxes that employees like you and professionals like me are paying to the government. But you seem to forget that income taxation from us who have something to spare is just one aspect of the entire revenue generation of the government from taxes. True, the poorest of the poor do not pay income taxes, but everytime they purchase goods, even basic goods, a portion of that price goes to the government as tax. Every exchange of money for some service or good carries with it some form of taxation for the government. So no, your point that the aid given to this people came from you and me is not completely accurate. It also came from them.

You fault the poor for demanding more. You want them to make do with the little given by the government. Pagkasyahin nyo, you tell them. But have you really put real thought on how to make do with PHP 5,000.00 for a family of four for even just a month? And yet you have the gall to insult them by alluding that they will use that money to gamble or to drink. True, some of them might do that, but to generalize the act of a few as the act of the entire group is to belittle the fact that for most of them, the aid is not just enough.

You fault the poor for not dreaming enough. No, Mr. Cruz, you simply do not know them. Walk with them, listen to them, feel their hurts and their pains, and smile and laugh with them in simple joys as having their sons released on recognizance or in bigger victories as having their shanties staved off from demolition for a few more days. They do dream dreams, some even bigger than ours. But this oppressive sociopolitical system that we have had kept them in their place, except for some luckier ones, like you and me, who managed to move upward. It is easy to pontificate and tell them to get an education, but have we really invested in our public education? The proliferation of state universities and colleges does not necessarily translate to a liberating education – without the necessary funding to truly provide each Filipino with a liberal and critical education geared to fulfilling true human potential, most of our graduates would nothing be more than cogs in the economic system designed to perpetuate itself. And you simply talk about those cogs as paying taxes.

You describe them as lucky, because they are prioritized by the government. I dare you to step down from your pedestal of privilege and join them and enjoy luck with them. By then perhaps, you would realize that indeed, mahirap maging mahirap.

I would not have answered your letter, but I feel that it is my responsibility, because there is a war of opinion in the horizon. On one side are people like you who believe that the poor could have risen from their position had they worked just harder enough. On the other side are people like me who view poverty as symptomatic of a bigger problem in our current socioeconomic structure – thus of us who believe that no matter how the poor try to better themselves, until and unless fundamental societal inequalities are addressed, the poor will become poorer and the rich will become richer.

Ultimately which side will win – and I admit I sense that the side I am with is losing the war of opinion – will decide how our country will be in the future. If opinions like yours continue to prosper, then these fundamental societal inequalities will continue, and the next time a national emergency comes, our taxes will still be used to protect the most vulnerable. But if our side tips the balance, then perhaps we can be truer to the ideals of the Constitution, and we will be truly building a more just and humane society, where the protection of the most vulnerable sectors, the poorest of the poor, is second nature, and we reach out without counting the cost.

Vincent S. Isles


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