Just before Independence Day was celebrated on June 12, a group of newly enrolled children from a shelter excitedly set out on their first day to walk to school at Gala, Sacatihan, Pamatawan, Subic town, Zambales.
The road up the hill would give them an easy walk to freedom through education—the great liberator. But then, as they crested the hill, to their dismay the asphalt abruptly ended.
The rains had turned the rest of the way into a muddy quagmire that had the children squelching their way through ankle-deep sticky mud, symbolic of the political corruption, waste and abuse that mires almost one-third of the Filipinos in pitiless, grinding poverty from which there is no freedom.
Like thousands of others, the road is a fake, or ghost project that had never been fully built. Even urgent requests to the governor to throw gravel from the exposed river bed on to the muddy road have so far gone unheeded.
The children suffer and it became so bad in the past week that 26 children transferred to another school.
This mess and the plunder and looting of public funds at the highest level of the congress are just two very small indicators of a greater harm done to the people by some depraved politicians.
How many more fake and fraudulent infrastructure projects are there like the one in Gala, Subic? There is no freedom from greed, it seems.
Besides these small, allegedly corruption-ridden projects, the extremely wealthy ruling elite in the Philippine congress are alleged to have plundered billions of pesos from the treasury.
Three prominent senators have been charged and many congress members will join them in jail. But their jails are posh, luxuriously tiled, well, appointed bungalows built for ranking officers.
They are incomparable with the stinking jail cells where hungry street children are incarcerated, abused, beaten and raped for taking a banana from the market.
The indictments by the administration of Noynoy Aquino give us a glimmer of hope that improvement is possible, but with billions of pesos in bribes at hand, justice is likely to be thwarted and they will never answer for these alleged crimes.
These funds came from the taxes imposed on the people especially the 17 to 20 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) that were supposed to be used for rural development to alleviate poverty and build barangay roads to bring the children to school.
Independence Day was to celebrate the political freedom of a nation from colonial domination and exploitation. It is a tortured history. First, the impoverished Filipinos struggled for liberation from the Spanish and almost succeeded. On the eve of independence, the North Americans declared war on the Spanish, landed troops in Manila in 1898 and took over, as the defeated Spanish retreated.
The Filipinos fought back, but after a few years of bitter war marked by atrocities, the American forces conquered them. They subdued and tamed most of the Filipinos, then the Japanese invaded and ousted the Americans in World War II.
The people suffered greatly and the Japanese were eventually defeated and again the Filipinos struggled for independence from the United States of America and in 1947, they got it with a string attached.
They got political independence and a lot of exploitative trading arrangements and unequal treaties that have enabled American corporations to exploit the country at will. They were swamped with Americanisation.
So it was not true independence, a great dependency has been skillfully arranged. The democracy was a sham. In reality, the rich Spanish-Filipino families in close cooperation with the American corporations ruled without much opposition.
The vast majority of Filipinos remained bitterly poor peasants and isolated tribal people. Natural resources were ruthlessly exploited, the riches of the nation flowed across the Pacific to America.
The people were exported also. Filipino overseas workers flowed to the pineapple plantations of Hawaii to work in slave-like conditions.
Little has changed. Eleven million Filipinos are now abroad in the search for economic freedom. The majority live with 25 per cent unemployment and freedom from poverty for the majority of Filipinos is still a dream.
The economic news may boast of a seven per cent economic growth, but that is only for the oligarchy who have 70 per cent of the wealth in their pockets.
To quote from an editorial in a national broad-sheet of March of last year: “The increase in the wealth of the 40 richest families in The Philippines that made it to the 2012 Forbes list of the world’s billionaires accounted for 76 per cent of the growth of the gross domestic product.
It is one of the biggest rich-poor gaps in the free world and,” Habito observed, “the highest in Asia.”
Is that what we call independence?
λ Father Shay Cullen