Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Last March 19-20, the De La Salle Graduate School of Business sponsored a Conference on Social Responsibility and Human Development where Bro. Louis DeThomasis, President of St. Mary's University of Minnesota, presented a paper entitled "The Preferential Option for the Poor and International Debt: Is There a Solution?".

The title may sound too jargony/academic or a lip-service, if you will, type of proposition, where it not for the “Is There a Solution?” part. No one will argue that this is about an issue that has long stumped social, economic and political analysts and decision makers who represent a broad palette of persuasions. To be sure, this concern for the poor has been addressed, albeit insufficiently, in various fora and diverse documents.

Indeed, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Applying, mutatis mutandis, H.G. Wells’ observation of 18th century Britain to the Philippine context, 21st century man can very well understand that “ the immediate effect of the Industrial Revolution (capitalism) upon the countries to which it came, was to cause a vast, distressful shifting and stirring of the mute, uneducated, leaderless, and now more and more propertyless common population. The small cultivators and peasants ruined and dislodged by the Enclosure Acts (Globalization), drifted towards the new manufacturing regions (business centers), and there they joined the families of the impoverished and degraded craftsmen in the factories (sweat shops). Great towns of squalid houses (squatters area) came into existence. Nobody seems to have noted what was going on at the time. It is the keynote of “private enterprise” to mind one’s own business, secure the utmost profit and disregard any other consequences.” (parenthetical words supplied)
Beyond that awareness, the Philippine Constitution naturally says something about promoting “a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty …” The current cycle of the Philippine Medium Term Plan that ends this year even has the phrase “preferential option for the poor” spelled out in its document. So much for lip service? And we are not even talking about the slew of campaign promises of candidates standing for election to public positions on May 10.

Going back to Bro. DeThomasis paper, it presents in no uncertain terms the conviction that “there are shadows of death and devastation on this globe because of the growing international debt.” In the Philippines, we live under a dark pall of international borrowings of US$56 billion, up from US$2.3 billion in the early 1970s. Makes one wonder if we ever were out of the woods. After identifying and analyzing the factors that shaped the magnitude and scope of the international debt problem, Bro. DeThomasis continues with a series of exhortations/prescriptions in the form of 5 Commandments that build a spiritual, though not necessarily religious, element into his arguments. Briefly, they are:

1st Commandment: Faith and Finance cannot be separated in the future

2nd Commandment: Stop being religious and be God-like

3rd Commandment: Never ideology! Stop being principled and do what is right

4th Commandment: Pray that we may all be one – not the same

5th Commandment: Become educational CREATORS, ENABLERS and NETWORKERS for social justice, not
just institutions

Bro. DeThomasis’ paper is a refreshing change from the garden variety social, economic and political expostulations that we have been used to reading in the editorial pages, online or offline. One will note that he speaks of the international debt of marginalized poor countries, but his proposition could very well refer to the marginalized poor around us whose smaller but deep and widespread debts ultimately make up the larger international debt.

I have to admit that my reading experience was largely marked by anticipation of the next 5 Commandments, only to be told that it is up to the reader to make up the rest of the Commandments. And all this series of Commandments makes sense because it is underpinned by a “Love all, especially the poor and vulnerable” sort of mantra.

Surely we can extend Bro. DeThomasis’ prescriptions. Perhaps a personal set of commandments that includes being more positively aware of the needs of the poor. Or writing about them or getting more involved in some sort of poverty advocacy. Nothing grand. Anything that effectively gives fuller meaning to the preferential option for the poor should be a step in the right direction.

Victor Hugo in his preface to Les Miserables declared that: “ So long as there exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilisation, artificially creates hell on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems the age – the degradation of man from poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night – are not solved; … so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.” Yes, writings like Bro. DeThomasis’ presentation serve an extremely useful purpose.

The author is Director of the De La Salle-Canlubang School of Management and Technopreneurship. He did his MBA at the University of Liverpool, Institute of Public Administration and Management. He also attended University at the Pamantasan ng Pilipnas where he obtained degrees in Statistics and Law.

No comments: