A call to overseas Filipinos

by Harvey S. Keh
Philippine Daily Inquirer

JUST a few weeks ago, I listened to a National Situationer report given by the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB), the socio-political arm of the Jesuits here in the Philippines.

SLB is known to be one of the most credible institutions who can give an honest to goodness analysis of what is the real state of our country and in their report they emphasized the following:

a.) Yes, the country’s economy continues to grow and, in fact, we have one of the highest growth rates in Asia. However, despite the economic growth, more than 25 million Filipinos continue to languish in poverty.

b.) 62 percent of Filipinos actually die without even having the chance to be seen by a healthcare professional. To make things worse, medicine prices are 5 to 45 times higher here in our country compared to other countries in Asia like Thailand, Pakistan and India.

c.) 3.7 million families continue to be homeless in our country despite efforts being done by non-profit organizations, such as Gawad Kalinga.

d.) P1.2 trillion had been lost to corruption in the last 5 years.

e.) Out of 10 Filipino students who enter Grade 1, less than 2 will be able to finish College.

f.) The brain drain continues in our country as 121 Filipinos leave the country every hour. By the end of this year, we can expect that there will be approximately 8.5 million Filipinos abroad.

These sad realities made me discern the reason why we continue to remain a poor country, despite the fact that we have such a beautiful country blessed with the brightest people in the world. Is it because many of our best people choose to work and live abroad?

Was Conrado De Quiros correct when he mentioned in one of his columns that the middle and upper classes of our country couldn’t care less about what happens because we always have an escape hatch of migrating and living abroad when all else fails in the Philippines? I don’t think that these are entirely correct assumptions since I continue to believe that majority of Filipinos still want to see genuine change and reforms in our country.

Many Filipinos living and working abroad whom I have talked to and corresponded with via email still continue to hope and dream that they will one day be able to come back and live in a Philippines that can provide them and their families with the right opportunities to live a just and prosperous life.

In the end, I think everyone will agree with me that one of the major reasons why we are here is the fact that we continue to elect poor leaders who would rather protect vested interests of their own families and those that have supported them in the last elections.

It’s depressing to note that the reality of Philippine politics is that a good, competent and decent person cannot be elected to power if she or he doesn’t have millions of pesos to use in the campaign.

Of course, we have already seen some exceptions to this “rule,” in the persons of Pampanga Governor Eddie Panlilio, Isabela Governor Grace Padaca and Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo. All three have clashed with moneyed and well-entrenched political dynasties and have come out victorious. But their victories remain only at the local level and it seems that we will need a more herculean effort to finally elect a President that will not become beholden to a few individuals, interests and families.

According to some friends who have had experience in being part of a national campaign, they say that you need at least P1 billion to have a chance at the Presidency.

Is it impossible then to elect a President that will not become beholden to a few wealthy families and will genuinely serve the interests of Juan dela Cruz?

I don’t think so but if we want that to happen, we should all make that happen starting with the growing Filipino middle class who are mostly living and working abroad.

Imagine if every single Filipino living and working overseas will pledge to donate at least $5 each to support an upright, ethical and God-fearing candidate who has a proven track record in public service, then that would amount to $42,500,000 or a whooping P1.9 billion!

This candidate could then have a fighting chance of being our next President and if she or he wins, she or he can govern properly without being beholden to a few people and their vested interests. As soon as we have enough pledges from Filipinos all over the world, we can then do something similar to a primary process to select the right person whom we can all support.

I propose this idea to every Filipino working or living overseas who still dreams of a new Philippines. I think it’s time that we all invest in choosing the right President for our country. We have less than two years to go before the 2010 National election. Thus the time to act is now. The power to choose our next President should not be in the hands of a few but rather it should be with each and every Filipino.

If you believe in this idea and proposal, please send me an email at harveykeh@gmail.com so we can work together in choosing the right leader for our country who will run a government that will genuinely work towards promoting the common good.

Harvey Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government, and is also the Executive Director of AHON Foundation, a non-profit organization that builds public elementary school libraries all over the Philippines. Harvey also teaches Theology at the Ateneo de Manila University-Loyola Schools.

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