28 April 2009

small rich and poor gap

While taking a break from "work," I decided to write down some of the things that I love about this place that I'm starting to call my home. Since I suspect that this will be quite lengthy, I'm going to dwell on one item per post. So here I go:

I love Leuven because...

1. of the small gap between the rich and the poor

After living in Manila for almost ten years, and being constantly distressed by the jarring contrast between the slumps and high walled subdivisions, nothing, NOTHING, can be more refreshing than living here. Belgium's government is a social welfare state. The citizens are highly taxed so that wealth may be redistributed to all. My professor says that this is what prevents the rich from being ridiculously rich and the poor from being inhumanely poor.

I suppose there's a greater number out there who will find this unjust, who will argue for those who work so hard everyday only to find their income generously sliced for other people whom they hardly know enough to care about. And I know that along the lines of such argument, some people would add that this system encourages laziness among some citizens.

They have a point. There's a growing number of immigrants in this country who are at the mercy of social welfare, who, according to someone's words, "are content with simply producing more and more children" as each child would win them an additional allowance from the government. I would say that this is really unjust.

Yet, if this is true, I believe that such people represent a very very small fraction of the population. And even if this is true, these people are still consumers and laborers. Ergo, they still contribute to the wealth of the rich whose businesses they patronize.

For me, their government is still a good example for social responsibility, a concept which most of us at home are alien to. Back there, I had to grapple with this tension between the rich and the poor every single day: the rich not understanding why they have to be responsible for the poor, who rationalize that the poor are poor out of their "own doing" anyway; the poor who satisfy their hunger for wealth through short cuts (stealing, etc.) and instant gratifications (preferring to buy expensive cellphones rather than saving money).

The fact that the likes of Ruffa Guttierez and Kris Aquino really sell on TV bewilders me. Here are people who cannot complete a sentence without mentioning how much they own. Yet they sell. Why? Because the rich love to see them, criticize and compete with them, and the poor project themselves in them.

I know, I sound like I'm hateful towards both the rich and poor. This is exactly how I felt after we have been robbed in our house. Clearly I understood that the robbers were those who sneered at the rich because of their indifference to the plight of the poor. But I wasn't one of them. I felt so betrayed after that, asking why me, us, of all people? Then when my husband and I were looking for a safer place to stay, we felt the snobbery and indifference of the rich. At one point, while I was driving along commonwealth, with flashy cars to my right, and squatters to my left, I had to say to both of them out loud: I hate you both!

But I'm sober now. I have learned to face this reality and look at it with hope. That's why I am here. Perhaps in learning more, I can teach better, and in teaching better, heroic genuises would come up with great ideas on how to solve this gap.

Meanwhile, can someone among those up there do the Filipinos a favor by putting a stop to the constant flashing of the socially unjust wealth of the rich? Because nothing can be more cruel, more dangerous than teaching our poor that the life of our unthinking celebrities is the only happy life there is.


ruthietheotaku said...

I just wanted to comment on the last few sentences. If you watch American TV long enough, you will see that they do the exact same thing. That's why the economy in the US is so bad now. Everybody was borrowing too much money to live beyond their means. One difference between us and Americans is our heightened sensitivity to this gap between the rich and the poor. But that doesn't mean extreme poverty and wealth doesn't exist in that country too. Now I'm not sure if that sensitivity is doing us any good. It damns us to accept that we are poor and we have no choice but to remain so. Its funny how Americans are blissfully unaware of this gap and just live their normal workaholic and wasteful lives. I'm wondering who's better off.

littleoneofgod said...

Neither. When our sis was talking to me about her friend and her financial woes in the states, I felt like being transported back to Manila. And then I told lakay that staying here is a big break for us because I rarely feel the tension that I've always felt in Malls or in the streets in Manila. I am actually enjoying the simple life here, and appreciate that prices are high to discourage wasteful consumption. I remember how just lining up in the cashier in grocery stores in SM can be so stressful as you can see how shoppers try to prove their wealth according to the fullness of their carts. Once, when I was rudely snubbed by a salesclerk, a friend said " Sana linabas mo yung cellphone mo (supposedly an expensive model then) nang makita nya kung sino ka!" Even if that advice was well meant, I found it alarming that that should be the measure of the amount of respect one should get. haay.

Gloria Oldham said...

You are absolutely right about the city life in the Phil. I taught for 3 years at Arellano HS,Sta. Cruz and just looking down from the window by the Pasig river are lines of squatters homes made of cardboards and torn pieces of woods brought in from who knows where? Kids coming to school with empty stomach with no "baon", some falls victims by foreign pedophiles just to have some pocket money. I felt so helpless then to even say anything, just closed my eyes since I myself was simply surviving with the small pay that they can spare us.I even have to spend for my own visual aids but the lessons seem to fall on deaf ears with kids who have more problems bothering them than listening to the lecture. If anybody have any solution to all these poverty problem,only those who are given the chance to get out of the country and work hard to send some amount to ease this cancer that's eating all poor Filipinos. What else can I say? There should be less politicking and more attention to creating more jobs. Our country is a basket case. However, Filipinos will never change...