Last 25 August, Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB) held its Kwentong Bayan, its regular presentation of the national situation for its religious and social networks. The SLB invited guest speakers to share their reading of the economic, social, political, and environmental “signs of the times.”
Fr Pedro Walpole, SJ presented the current environmental challenges that the Philippines faces in mining, agriculture, biodiversity. Special emphasis was given to natural disasters, an area of particular concern for SLB. After typhoons Ondoy, Sendong, and the most recent floods caused by the “hanging habagat” or southwestern monsoon, the main challenge is to shift towards disaster risk reduction and preparedness. This will involve going beyond disaster relief operations, which has been the traditional mode of operation. Government must take greater for land use planning and allocation of land for safe settlements. Most critical at this point is to permanently relocate people out of high-risk areas. It is a tall order, but it must be done. Civil society must focus on capacity building among vulnerable communities, in order to increase their preparedness and help them adapt to an increasingly unpredictable climate.
Fr John Carroll, SJ gave a presentation on the social situation. The theme of his presentation was security – or in the case of many, insecurity. He enumerated several issues that are constant sources of concern and anxiety such as housing, employment, and crime. Health is a worry, particularly for the poor, because of the costs of medicine and loss of income, especially when the family’s breadwinner is the one who falls ill. Although the recent State of the Nation Address by President Aquino lauded the increased coverage in health care insurance, the numbers need closer analysis as they may be overstated. In the case of health care, the conditional cash transfer program can make a real difference if properly implemented.
Fr Carroll also presented some of the recent responses to the situation of insecurity. In some cases, the response has been divisive: the wealthy and powerful seek to assure their own security at the expense of the poor and weak, who are the most vulnerable and the most insecure. We must seek ways to respond to insecurity in ways that are unifying and that increase our solidarity with others. This requires constant personal contact. Although we see an outpouring of generosity in times of emergency – for example, during disaster relief operations – must we wait for disasters before we get involved? How can this generosity and action be sustained? Creativity is needed and new structures must be built in order to facilitate more consistent engagement that can help increase people’s security.
Fr. Noel Vasquez. SJ shared some important insights, particularly in light of the elections. In the Philippines, the power and resources are concentrated in the hands of a few, and the poor are vulnerable to manipulation by those who seek greater political power. The informal settlers who reside along waterways are important sources of votes for politicians, and as a result their situation of risk and insecurity is perpetuated.
The Kwentong Bayan was a call to action, not merely a reporting on the country’s situation. The speakers called for greater engagement with the issues that confront Philippine society today, even controversial issues. Often, we allow ourselves to be paralyzed into inaction by the sheer magnitude of the problems we face. We must learn to frame and formulate today’s challenges in ways that prompt creativity and trigger response.